TWELVE years ago when I stayed in Lozells, one of Birminghamâs most violent inner city areas, Villa Park, the home of English Premiership side Aston Villa , was in the adjacent neighbourhood and the Birmingham Evening Mail was my favourite daily newspaper. Those were the days before this tabloid, one of the biggest local newspapers in England with a circulation of around 90 000 copies, re-branded and shed its Evening middle name, and assumed the simple identity of the Birmingham Mail.
I have been a regular reader of the newspaper, online, since then and one of the finest articles that I have read, in my life, was written by the tabloidâs former journalist, John Slim, three years ago, when he found out he had terminal cancer and had just a year to live.
Slim is, or rather was, one of the iconic journalists to ever work at the Birmingham Mail, a man of all seasons, who in his lengthy career practically did everything there was to do in this job â including interviewing the greatest of them all, Muhammad Ali.
In the last 20-or-so years I have come across strangers who tell me they will never forget this and that article I penned, in what has been a lengthy career under the public spotlight, and my reaction has always been the same â âthanks for reading my stuff mate, it means a lot to me.â
But I have realised that, all this time, I have never told them that I also have some classic articles, written by journalists who made a lasting impression on me â guys like Oliver Holt, whose move from the Daily Mirror to The Mail on Sunday in England has made headline news.
Guys like Patrick Collins, who this week retired after 32 years on The Mail on Sunday, creating the vacancy that Holt now steps into, and 50 years on the frontline of sports journalism in which he covered 10 FIFA World Cup finals, every Olympic Games since 1972, except just one, from the tragedy of Munich to the glitz of a home swansong in London in 2012.
Guys like the late Christopher Martin-Jenkins, in my little book the finest cricket journalist who ever lived, whom I was privileged to meet and interact with during Zimbabweâs tour of England in 2003, and who would sadly die, exactly 10 years later, at the age of 68, a year after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup, which gets underway this weekend, will be the first, in a long time, to be played without CMJ being there to provide his expert analysis of a game that meant so much to his life since he joined The Cricketer, as a cricket writer, in 1967.
When Slim found out that he did not only have cancer, but he was going to die soon, he decided to tell his readers in a powerful blog that remains one of the best articles that I have read.
âThereâs a play â at least, there was, and I canât imagine that it has ceased to be since I saw it many years ago â called Why Me?â Slim wrote in a powerful, if not painful, personal blog about his life, illness and the inevitability of death.
âItâs about a chap whoâs poorly in bed with something unpleasant, and Iâve suddenly just thought about it for the first time in years â because I have been asking myself that very question.
âSeptember 20, 2013 â yesterday â was the day that a lovely, gentle doctor at Birminghamâs Queen Elizabeth Hospital told me that cancer, of which I had been informed on September 1, was probably going to finish me off in the next 12 months.
âCancer of the gut and unwanted spots on the lungs, Mr Big C (cancer) has caught up with me. Itâs taken him 82 years, but heâs done it.
âGood on him! Iâm sure heâs extraordinarily pleased with himself.
âBut I donât understand why 82 years of not a single cigarette have earned me his attention. My father chain-smoked for 60 years and got away with a heart attack.
âAnyway, unlike my dear old Dad, Iâve perhaps got 12 months to contemplate my coming farewell.
âI canât help feeling it would be a bit presumptuous to expect my four children, their four spouses and the nine grandchildren with whom they have furnished me so splendidly, to wave me goodbye not once but twice.
âIâm finding this easy to write, incidentally, far easier than I have found the business of telling people face-to-face that itâs nearly goodbye time.
âItâs not that I am afraid to go.
âIâm 82 and Iâve had a good run, a lot of jolly, happy decades in which I have deployed my insistence on failing to understand any given situation in the knowledge that if everything is not quite hunky-dory it will eventually go away.
âLife goes on. Until, eventually, it doesnât. And that, I think, is all I wanted to say. Itâs goodbye from me.â
A year later, John Slim, the iconic journalist, was dead.
CANCER ALSO TOOK AWAY THE GUY WE CALLED MATAMBA
Tichaona Chapfika, the giant referee who towered above everyone else in our football when he was blowing his whistle in the domestic Premiership, succumbed to cancer on Thursday, at the young age of 44, and he will be buried at his rural home in Uzumba this morning.
I knew Chapfika very well, 25 years ago, the football fields of Unit H in Chitungwiza were our playgrounds, he was a free-kick specialist, back in those days when he was still athletic and had not piled on the kilogrammes.
I knew his family very well, his late younger brother Kumbi, was our regular âkeeper in those weekend challenge social matches against opposition from the other parts of Chitungwiza, and we bonded well as we won as a team and lost as a team.
He became a referee, I became a football writer, and Patrick Mutesva, another member of our neighbourhood football team, became the team manager of the Young Warriors and the Warriors – quite a remarkable achievement for our social club.
Chapfika was a fine referee but he emerged on the scene when there were a lot of very good referees, the good old days when we could have a referee at the Olympic Games, as was the case in 2000 when Felix Tangawarima went to Sydney, when he handled a Nations Cup semi-final and when there was a national wave of sympathy towards him when, against all odds, he wasnât picked for the 2002 World Cup finals.
The good old days when Brighton Mudzamiri was picked as one of the elite assistant referees for the 2002 World Cup finals and Kenny Marange would be chosen to go to officiate at the 2008 Nations Cup.
In the shadow of these great men, Chapfika operated, and while his declaration at retirement that he was a Dynamos fan, turned him into an enemy at other clubs, the beauty of his revelation was found in its honesty.
Here was a man, after he had ran his marathon, who felt that he could share with the country something that it didnât know, something that we knew from those days on the football fields of Unit H, and while the reaction was expectedly hostile, from those who felt that he had aided the cause of his team at some point, his enduring alibi was that, at least, he had dared to say the truth.
And, refreshingly, he had added that while his heart was always with his Glamour Boys, he tried, as much as possible in the games that he was assigned to handle involving them, to be guided by the benchmark of fairness.
At least, he was brave enough to tell us his colours, even though he was swimming against the tide, in a game where the majority of the match officials have their favourite teams but, in the spirit of trying to sell the fans a dummy that they are non-aligned, will never have the courage to come out, even in retirement, to say it.
Now the fans and the players could go back and analyse his career, with the benefit of knowledge that this man was always a DeMbare fan, and where they felt he had given them a raw deal, they would curse him knowing that, at least, he had given them the respect to judge him for what he truly was and not as the salesman who had spent his career selling them a dummy.
Maybe, that declaration should have come at the very beginning of his career, and the football chiefs would have ensured that, given his soft spot for his boyhood team, he shouldnât have handled their games because, as a human being, he was always likely to be swayed by his heart, and his love for that team, in a crucial decision.
But it would have been unfair for that to start with Chapfika because he wasnât, and isnât, the first referee who grew up supporting a local football club, virtually all the match officials have their teams, and the fact that they didnât declare didnât make them immune from such scrutiny or such a rule.
In England the referees have to declare their favourite clubs and the football chiefs there have made sure that they donât officiate in games involving those teams â Mark Clattenburg and Martin Oliver are Newcastle fans, Jon Moss is a Sunderland fan, Martin Artkinson is a Leeds United fan, Mike Dean is a Liverpool fan and Chris Foy is an Everton fan.
Foy handled an Everton match against Villa, in 2002, but that was before he declared that he was a fan of the club and since then he has not handled any of their matches.
However, given that this entirely depends on the referee making an honest declaration, there are some fans who have questioned whether the teams that they associate themselves with are certainly their true teams, and itâs hard to convince many that Howard Webb wasnât one of us, at Manchester United, even though in his declaration he said that his team was Tranmere Rovers.
In 2010, a Scottish politician, Pete Wishart, demanded that all referees in Scotland should be forced to declare which team they support.
âI think the ordinary football fan deserves this information to remove doubt over any decisions being taken,â Wishart told BBC Scotland.
The Scottish FA declined to implement this.
So, this morning, Chapfika will be buried, six feet under the ground, and the Uzumba community will bid farewell to a son, a giant who made a big name for himself on the domestic football scene, his family will bid farewell to a breadwinner who was there for them when they needed him most and his colleagues will bid farewell to a friend.
There will be a fair share of his critics, which is very normal in life, itâs our fate as humans to have such critics, and there will be a good number of those who feel he ran a good race, but for us, who remember him from our days on the football fields of Unit H, back in the days, we know that our gentle giant has gone to sleep.
We called him Matamba and thatâs the name we will always remember.
THE MEDIA AND AGENDA SETTING
Chapfika was not happy with the ZIFA Referees Committee and now and again he confided in me about his frustrations regarding a lot of things he felt were wrong.
He kept saying that, at the right opportunity, he would come out of his shell and tell his story, for the public to consume and debate the stuff but, unfortunately, cancer took him away before he felt the time was ripe to make his media statement.
Thatâs the way life is, and it was cancer that took away John Slim, that legendary journalist of the Birmingham Mail, a newspaper that I read quite a lot, and one that decided, this week, that it had had enough of Paul Lambert as manager of English Premiership side Aston Villa.
In a cover story, after Villa had slipped into the relegation zone, the newspaper screamed â âBirmingham Mail Says â Lambert Must Go.â
It set the agenda, with the #lambertout campaign, and broke down the coachâs statistics as the Villa manager â Played 101 games, won 25, drew 26 and lost 50, his team scored 98 goals and conceded 164 goals.
For the Birmingham Mail, the paper for the people of Birmingham where Aston Villa is based, this was unacceptable and the time had come for the coach to be sacked and the newspaper was taking the initiative, leading the way, for the owners of the club to react.
Well, Lambert was duly sacked, a few days later, and the journalists at the Birmingham Mail believe that they did something that was important, piling on the pressure, because the people of their city deserved better from a team that they support.
Last week, ZIFA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze accused us of setting an agenda, with our stories, which have been critical of the way he has handled this key public portfolio of being the point man in the management of national football.
He doesnât want us to set the agenda when, clearly, we feel that, in the five years that he has been ZIFA chief executive, things have gone from bad to worse for the association and its assets are being stripped apart, every week, by creditors whose debt ballooned out of control because Mashingaidze sat on it for one reason or another.
Who fired Nicky Dlamini-Moyo?
It was Mashingaidze and when she contested her dismissal, and was awarded US$10 000, as compensation, who sat on her papers until the debt had ballooned to US$100 000 â of course, our good chief executive.
âTruth of the matter is I donât want to sell the ZIFA stuff. I am not anti-football but Mashingaidze needs to keep his promises,â Dlamini-Moyo told The Daily News on Thursday after the Sheriff of the High Court of Zimbabwe raided the ZIFA Village.
âWe have been waiting since last year October but nothing has come through. We had agreed on a payment plan but that was never adhered to. Itâs not right.
âMy kids love football but they are people in the organisation who need to be professional.â
Who had a problem with Ian Gorowa, someone whom the former national coach felt could be described as a âhabitual liarâ â of course, Mashingaidze.
Soon Gorowaâs papers, for not being paid in eight months, will be the latest lawsuits to hit ZIFA House.
Who had a problem with Jerry Maguranyanga, someone whom the former Mighty Warriors felt could be described as a âpathological liarâ â of course Mashingaidze.
Who came short, in Nelson Matongorereâs disciplinary hearing that resulted in this very qualified man being dismissed unfairly, something that the courts have now ruled in favour of him â of course, Mashingaidze.
But we should have learnt from way back in 2004, when ZIFA was engulfed with boardroom wars, which led to the banishment from the game, for four years, for seven councillors, including Francis Zimunya, Benedict Moyo and my good brother Andrew Tapela, who has just completed his tenure as Bosso secretary-general.
Of course, Mashingaidze was the chief executive of the association back then.
You trace all the boardroom wars that have engulfed ZIFA in the past decade, and how much it has cost the association, and you will see that they all lead to one man â Mashingaidze.
There are some people who even feel that Cuthbert Dube, for all his faults, would have been a better ZIFA president if he had been sucked into Mashingaidzeâs web and, rather than lead his chief executive, he appears to follow him.
Between 1982 and 1999, ZIFA bought four properties, between 1982 and 1988, in just six years, ZIFA bought three properties, and, sadly, they could all be lost simply because someone, who is supposed to be doing his job as chief executive, is failing.
And, he feels that we should not set the agenda, when even Omega and Miriam Sibanda, who only joined the board last year, have already seen that he is the problem and when Ben Gwarada has been isolated from all the financial transactions of the association even though he was voted in as the board member in charge of finance.
No, Mash, read the Birmingham Mail if you have time mate and you will see that newspapers, indeed, get to a point where they have to take a stance for the sake of ensuring that tomorrow will not be as grim as today.
OâDia, the Brazilian newspaper, told Big Phil â Go To Hellâ because they could not stomach being beaten by seven goals in their backyard in the semi-final of a World Cup and, you know what happened, the coach had to go.
When we slip to number 37 in Africa, our worst position since the FIFA/Coca-Cola rankings came into being, who can blame us for setting an agenda ?
We canât wait for this cancer to be terminal.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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