Sharuko On Saturday

ORDINARILY, this should be a day of celebrations, and reflections, of the 35-year journey of Zimbabwean football — from the rise and triumph of the iconic Dream Team to the tragedy at the National Sports Stadium.

From the tears of Yaounde in ’93, when reality sank in that our World Cup dream was over, to the heartbreak of Abidjan in ’98, when the Glamour Boys could not clear that final hurdle in their remarkable quest, it has been quite an adventure.

For 23 years, I have had the privilege of having a ring-side seat, the embedded journalist, who covered most of the game’s landmark events, from the Reinhard Revolution to the Sunday Salvation that ended two decades of heartbreaking failure to qualify for the Nations Cup finals.

It took the Warriors 23 years, to finally secure a ticket to dine with the aristocrats of African football, and as fate might have it, today I was supposed to just sit down and reflect on a 23-year journey with them, in particular, and our football, in general.

How coincidental?

This was supposed to be about the drama and emotions that came with walking with them, the good times — like when Agent Sawu headed home a last-gasp winner for a priceless victory over Cameroon at the giant stadium, and I went into their dressing room, for an interview, and still found out that he was still uncontrollable, tears everywhere, as he cried for delivering for his nation.

The resounding support that was given to Bruce Grobbelaar by a capacity crowd at the giant stadium, after he came home on a passenger plane full of scores of British journalists, on the trail of a major story that had broken out in The Sun in the UK, accusing our ‘keeper of being a match-fixer.

For someone who called himself The Jungleman, whose nerves had not given in to the pressure of the grand occasion during the 1984 European Cup final penalty shootout drama against Roma of Italy, sending his legs into a dance as if he didn’t care, and then distracting Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani, who both missed, just seeing him being overwhelmed by the emotions of that outpouring of public support, was incredible.

This was supposed to be about the heroes of this game, none bigger in our context than King Peter Ndlovu, the most successful Warriors skipper of all-time, a man I first saw as a teenager and whose class struck me on that very occasion, making me feel privileged to be in the presence of such budding greatness and knowing that this was the Next Big Thing.

That, along the way I ended up earning his trust, and Peter Ndlovu was always known to be suspicious about journalists, photo journalists who worked on the domestic scene in the ‘90s will testify to that, he even travelled – at his considerable expense at one stage just to meet me for an interview in England – was in itself a highlight of my adventures with the Warriors.

This was supposed to be about those Gallant Glamour Boys’ invasion of Abidjan in 1998, where once again I found myself in the privileged position of being the only Zimbabwean newspaper journalist to record the moment, and the trip coming against a background of frosty relationships between me and the club’s leaders, was quite an adventure.

Our hosts were never going to make it easy for us, three years earlier a defeat in a similar game for the same team, ASEC Mimosas, had had serious political repercussions for a country that was always on the edge, and you could feel that the whole national machinery had been activated to ensure that, come what may, we were never going to leave with the trophy.

And, that machinery, in my little book, also included CAF, and that the continent’s football leadership had decided, against all odds, to ensure that the decisive second leg of ASEC Mimosa’s second Champions League final appearance, in three years against Southern African opposition, would be played in their home ground, justified my fears that this wasn’t just an ordinary football match.

Seventeen years later, I can see myself, looking up the VVIP Enclosure and hoping to find outrage, on the face of Issa Hayatou, as a the stretcher carrying a motionless Memory Mucherahowa, was being pushed into an ambulance, robbing the Glamour Boys of their finest Warrior in their biggest game, the victim of a vicious attack by the hosts’ players, in the pre-match workout, and being shocked as I saw the CAF president unmoved by this chaos.

Just imagine what would have been UEFA’s reaction, if this had happened to the Real Madrid skipper just before kick-off in the final of a Champions League showdown, how the world would have reacted if this was Wayne Rooney, being sent to hospital, before Manchester United played a Champions League final, for a moment — don’t be blinded by your hatred of these Glamour Boys, for which you are entitled to — but just look at the case on its merits?

But today won’t be about those heroes, who were let down by a football establishment hostile to their interests, that can wait for another day, another week, the story will be told, the madness across the Limpopo deserves attention, those thugs who believe foreigners are devils that should be destroyed at sight, deserve their space.

WHEN THE KING, MY KING, SUFFERED FROM EARLY WINTER SICKNESS

Maybe, we should have picked it up, all those months ago, when a section of Kaizer Chiefs fans made it their specialty to boo Kingstone Nkhatha, not because he was the worst performing forward in their team, but simply because he was a foreigner from across the Limpopo.

Yes, he wasn’t the most prolific forward during his time at the Amakhosi but, then, who was?

Kingstone scored seven league goals last season, not a healthy or impressive return for a man who make his money operating in the final third of the field, but the man who won the Golden Boot, for being the leading goal-scorer that season, was from his team, Bernard Parker, with just three more goals.

And, those 10 league goals, included three penalties, which means the race could possibly have been won by Kingstone, if he was the one tasked with taking the spot-kicks, but still the Zimbabwean forward was relentlessly booed, by his fans, as if he was a clone of Satan himself.

When this season started, the booing didn’t stop, it even grew up a notch, even though poor Kingstone was working tirelessly for the team, even his coach, Stuart Baxter felt this was disgraceful and threatened to walk away from one of the best paying jobs in the game on the continent.

Kingstone had to go, no matter what, he wasn’t one of them, he was a foreigner, probably an ant or lice, as if Willard Katsande wasn’t a foreigner too, as if another foreigner, Knowledge Musona, hadn’t crossed the Limpopo to give them memories to last a life-time, as if Rabson Muchichwa hadn’t gone there to star in those colours and as if Ebson “Sugar” Muguyo wasn’t voted one of their greatest players of all-time.

Yes, Kingstone left, they were unbeaten in the league when he moved to SuperSport United, and when the two teams met, they still turned on him, throughout the match, until the football gods felt this was too much and ensured that he had the last laugh, as Matsatsansa inflicted the first league defeat on the Amakhosi.

Then, all the swear words we had heard coming from the stands, which some dismissed as banter, then came from the mouth of royalty, Zulu King, My King, Goodwill Zwelithini, and in a chilling address, ordered, because a King doesn’t ask, foreigners to pack their bags and leave, because in his eyes, they were ants and lice.

Why My King?

He is My King because I trace my family tree to the royalty of Chief Mpezeni, nkosi ya mankosi, the Paramount leader of the Ngoni people, my forefathers were part of Zwangendaba of the Jele clan, we are offshoots of the Ndwandwe people, we used to be part of KwaZulu when the Zulu Kingdom was a very weak tribe under Senzangokona.

Shaka changed all that, and turned the Zulu Kingdom into a very powerful entity, thanks to his military brilliance, but this was an empire that grew out of absorbing the women and young men of the clans and villages they conquered, foreigners who became part of the big family.

Why then, today, would my King Zwelithini have so many issues against foreigners given that he leads a kingdom that was built, all those years back, on absorbing foreigners?

Maybe, my Zulu King hasn’t heard of a man called Ray Mordt, an explosive winger who was described as a “wounded rhinoceros in the body of a man”, who was a foreigner from Zimbabwe but played 18 Tests for the Springboks, the team they say changed the destiny of this nation at the ’95 Rugby World Cup, in the ‘80s.

Or Adrian “Turbo Prop” Garvey, who played 28 Tests for the Boks, who was born in Bulawayo, or Bobby Skinstad, another boy from the City of Kings, who was part of the Boks who won the World Cup in 2007 or Gary Teichmann, who captained the Boks to a record 17 consecutive wins in Test matches as an exemplary leader, the boy from Gweru, in the ‘90s.

Or Andy MacDonald, Ben-Piet van Zyl, Salty du Rand, Ian Robertson, and the list could go on and on, of the boys from here, who went on to play for the Boks, or maybe, in the King’s world, a foreigner can only be black, someone like me, but then, hasn’t he heard King’s Park scream, “Beeaaassstttt?”

I just concentrated on rugby because of the role that the Boks are said to have played in bringing this nation together, at a time when it was so racially divided, their ’95 Rugby World Cup triumph was just what the heavens had ordered, Clint Eastwood was so impressed he even made a blockbuster movie, “Invictus”, from it all.

THE POEM ABOUT KALAMAZOO THAT INSPIRED ME

The first South African footballer to play professional football in Europe, Steve “Kalamazoo” Mokone, who died at the age of ’82, had his ashes returned to his homeland last week, and his moving funeral service was carried live on television.

Steve was so good he even had a street named after him in the Netherlands and he played for Barcelona and Torino when the Italian side were giants in the game.

“If Pele of Brazil is the Rolls-Royce of soccer players, Stanley Matthews of England the Mercedes-Benz and Alfredo di Stéfano of Argentina and Spain the Cadillac of soccer players, then Kala of South Africa, lithe and lean, is surely the Maserati,” Italian football writer, Beppe Branco, once observed.

Now, that is great company, isn’t it?

That’s a great ambassador for South Africa, my King, isn’t he, not this nonsense about lice and ants?

As I watched Kalamazoo’s funeral last Saturday, as a nation paid tribute to a true hero of South Africa, I was bowled out by a poem that his daughter wrote for him, and read out, to those who gathered at that moving Jozi ceremony.

I wrote my little poem for the King, My King, in the wake of the chaos in South Africa, just to remind him why we are all one people.

I called it ‘Born in Nineteen Seventy.

When the Legs of Thunder struck in Abidjan, I was twenty five

Me and my drinking mates celebrated, as kids who had just turned five

It didn’t matter that, a year ago, our friend had been killed in Jozi by a knife

Leaving behind a young kid and a lonely, beautiful but heartbroken wife

He knew it’s a city where such crime was always rife

That was way back in nineteen ninety five

If God is kind to me and ensures that I live for, in terms of years, another five

I will be able to see my daughter Mimi turn twenty five

Her life every step of the journey that Pirates would have travelled for their Silver Jubilee

For me, who was born in nineteen seventy, a celebration of a mighty Golden Jubilee

And, for us, joined eternally by the Limpopo, a time to celebrate something else that’s not Bruce Lee

We are not ants or lice, nkosi ya mankosi, My King

One of us is so huge they even call him the Beast, can you believe it?

It’s his good name that the Sharks fans, who love him, always sing

In their stadium, in Durban, aptly called the Park of the Kings

For every crunching tackle he makes, the opponents feel his sting

And, interestingly, it’s your national anthem that he will sing

At the Rugby World Cup in Her Majesty Queen’s country this spring

The odds of our every decent footballer playing in your country are now four to one

It wasn’t always this way when Dynamos beat Pirates in ’76 four one

Or that day when King Peter dazzled your troops, and the Warriors beat Bafana four one

But this is all sport, My King, beyond it, as humans, we are all one

Including some of us, who were born in nineteen seventy, when colour TV and people became one

To God Be The Glory!

Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Text Feedback — 0772545199

WhatsApp Messenger – 0772545199

Email — robsharuko@gmail.com

Skype — sharuko58

Like my Facebook page, ROBSON SHARUKO JOURNALIST, follow me on Twitter @Chakariboy, interact with me on Viber and on ZBC’s weekly television football magazine programme, GamePlan on Monday nights, or read my material in The Southern Times.