THE date was August 22, 2014, and the event was the Spanish Super Cup final’s first leg between hosts Real Madrid and their city rivals Atletico Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
It was emotionally touching, but bathed in stunning splendour.
A few moments before the start of the big match, a five-person mini-orchestra, comprising of two female violinists, one male drummer, one male guitarist and another male conductor, played a song in tribute to Real Madrid’s former goal-scoring sensation, Alfredo Di Stefano.
The Argentine forward, who played both for his native country and his adopted nation (Spain) at international level, had passed away a few months earlier that same year, aged 88.
His phenomenal exploits in front of goal resulted in him scoring in every European Cup (now European Champions League) final that the Los Blancos played and won in a staggering and consecutive five-year spell (1956-1960).
And up to this day, some pundits rate him as the greatest player of all time.
When he died, he was on the executive board of the Spanish giants.
A gigantic banner that covered almost half of one stand on that memorable night at the Bernabeu, had a striking message emblazoned on it: “Gracias Alfredo” (“Thank you, Alfredo”).
And as the band played on, the 60 000-plus crowd and both sets of players, who had already lined up on the pitch, joined in song and clapping as they remembered the prolific player.
Every year, the Real Madrid fans still pay tribute to Di Stefano and a few others who made the club the gigantic institution it is today.
The Santiago Bernabeu venue was also named after another legendary forward who terrorised defences and goalkeepers during his playing days (1911-1926) before serving as club president for 35 years from 1943 until his death in 1978.
Now, how many times have we had a similar occasion — or even a mini version of that tribute — in this country, to salute any of our living or fallen football greats? Almost none with the Mutare City Council being the only notable exception after they named a drive in Dangamvura high-density suburb after former CAPS United midfield general, Blessing “Yogo Yogo” Makunike, who died in a horrific car accident in 2004.
It appears as if the moment our players hang up their boots or are injured permanently, we completely forget about them. And when they die, it’s even worse because we don’t even bother to attend their funerals or bear to hear mention of their names!
The same applies to some of our erstwhile and finest administrators.
Just look at some of these late megastars who lit up our stadiums nationwide and see if you stilll remember some of them at all — Paul Tsumbe, John Dube (St Paul’s); Steven Chimedza, Garnett Muchongwe (Dynamos); Melusi Nkiwane (Zimbabwe Saints); Amon Chimbalanga (Highlanders); William Sibanda, Onias Musana (Zimbabwe Saints); Todd Chitimbe, Tobias Moyo (CAPS United); John Baison (Gweru United) and Reg Paizee, Stewart Gilbert (Arcadia United).
It appears as if we are the only soccer-loving nation that doesn’t pay tribute – in any form – to all those who used to entertain us week in and out with their glittering skills in stadiums dotted all over the country.
One need not look too far for shining examples of these noble deeds beyond our next door neighbours in South Africa where the authorities there have renamed stadiums after some living and late legends. They have also honoured their late or living politicians who spearheaded their nation’s fight against apartheid.
You have venues like Nelson Mandela Bay, Moses Mabhida and Peter Mokaba stadiums which were named after their great politicians.
In Pretoria, one will find a venue called Lucas “Masterpieces” Moripe Stadium, named after a living legend who used to play for Orlando Pirates and is widely regarded as the most skilful ball juggler ever produced in that country.
Then look up north of us to Nigeria where they have named stadiums after living legends Samson Siasia, Odion Ighalo and the late Stephen “The Big Boss” Keshi.
In this country there are many great players, coaches, administrators, journalists and even politicians and entertainers who were associated in the upward procession of the game that we need to immortalise through simple tributes before or during matches or renaming of stadiums, pavilions, recreational centres and more.
Why on earth can’t we rename Rufaro the George Shaya Stadium?
Why on earth can’t we rename Barbourfields the Joshua Nkomo Stadium?
Why on earth can’t we rename Cam and Motor the John Rugg Stadium?
Why on earth can’t we rename Mbizo in Kwekwe the Oliver Mutukudzi Stadium where the late great music superstar spent his early life supporting teams like Ziscosteel, Kismet and Kwekwe Cables?
Why on earth can’t we rename Luveve the Ndumiso Gumede Stadium?
Why on earth can’t we rename Ascot the John Baison Stadium?
The “Castle Soccer Star of the Year” event was the brainchild of the late and former Delta Beverges Public Affairs Manager (Sport), Tony Kanukayi and we surely could have at least one award, on that event’s banquet night in his honour, eg, the “Tony Kanukayi Soccer Achievement of the Year” award.
There ought to be a “Football Writer of the Year” award in the name and honour of perhaps the finest local football writer ever – Alan Hlatywayo.
I know that all this will require some money but surely those amounts can be sourced from the annual FIFA grants to ZIFA or from some of our “all-weather soccer friends”.
I’m not saying that every former footballer who is still living or passed on should have such a ceremonial tribute or a venue named after him/her.
Not at all. Why can’t we start with one or two players/administrators and so on and build from there?
We all know that Rome was not built in a day . . . but it is now long overdue.