I HAVE always found it remarkable that my journalism journey started in the same year the great Alan Hansen, one of the immortals of the all-conquering Liverpool team of the ’70s and ’80s, transformed himself into a television pundit, who would become the authoritative voice of BBC’s Match of the Day programme.
It’s one of life’s cruel ironies that for all his success as a Liverpool player — three European Cups, four League Cups, one Super Cup, two FA Cups, five Charity Shields and eight English league titles — in just 12 years, Hansen never got the privilege of analysing a Reds’ success story, in the championship race, in the 22 years of his television punditry.
From ’92, until his retirement last year, Hansen dominated BBC’s Match of the Day, setting the benchmark for television pundits, with authority and style that has been unmatched by a number of footballers who have emerged to become television analysts of the game.
But, while he might have set very high standards during his 22-year work on BBC television, Hansen will certainly be remembered, forever, for one defining statement he made on the opening weekend of the ‘95/’96 English Premiership season.
Manchester United, having sold three of the key players who had made them win back-to-back league titles in ’93 and ’94, Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis, just before the start of the ‘95/’96 season, started their campaign with a shock 1-3 loss to Aston Villa after fielding a number of young players — David Beckham, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt.
As the shock of that sensational defeat, and the shambolic nature of United’s performance that day, swept across England and the world, Hansen famously told his television viewers — “You can’t win anything with kids.”
Well, that United team, with those kids, went on to win a League and Cup double that season, captured the European Cup in dramatic fashion at the Nou Camp three years later, with one of those kids, Beckham, twice swinging in balls from corner kicks that resulted in goals, and went on to dominate English football.
In the 20 years after Hansen said those words, an entire industry has been built around his phrase, millions of T-shirts have been printed around the world with the words, “You can’t win anything with kids”, and that statement has always provided a reminder, to me, of the defining impact — for right or wrong — that journalism can have in the world.
It has also provided me with the reminder that, as journalists, we can’t always get it right.
And all this came flooding in my mind when scores of Dynamos fans blocked my car, as I made my way out of the VIP Enclosure at Rufaro on Saturday, after the Glamour Boys’ league tie against Harare City, singing about Force Majeure, the central theme of the subject of this column that day.
In the 16 years that this blog has run, I can barely remember any article I penned that generated as many responses as the one on ZIFA’s decision to order a replay of the 2015 Independence Cup, the controversy related to ordering a new game altogether, their use of Force Majeure to define the power blackout which rocked that game and justifying why a fresh match should be played.
I was literally bombarded with texts from all over the country, there were emails that came from as far as the United States, my Facebook page had a fair share of the feedback, including from people who had the honesty of telling me that this was the first time they had heard the phrase Force Majeure, and there were lots of messages on my WhatsApp platform.
At Rufaro last Saturday, as I left the grand old stadium, things got quite hysterical with scores of DeMbare fans, who blocked my car, talking about nothing but Force Majeure, singing about nothing but Force Majeure.
And why they felt I had been right to question how a power blackout, which forced the abandonment of their team’s Independence Cup final against FC Platinum, could be blamed on “an event or effect that may be considered IMPOSSIBLE TO CONTROL, OR ANTICIPATE, A NATURAL AND UNAVOIDABLE CATASTROPHE THAT INTERRUPTS THE COURSE OF EVENTS.”
And, as I sat in my car, listening to their songs, about Force Majeure, why they believed the football authorities were wrong to use it as cover for the decision to order a replay and why my argument had helped them not only understand this strange phrase but convince them that a fresh game would not be fair, I could not help it, impressed by their creativity, but pen a little poem for them in my mind, as I waited for all that mayhem to die:
‘Nhasi makutiti inonzi Force Majeure
Gore riye ndimi makambo bhana Jaure
Isu mukatiti panyaya yacho tisataure
Kunge tirimbwende dzisingahukure
Zvino replay yacho muchatotambira kure
Kwatenge tisiko isu maDeMbare’
I kept this poem to myself, after all, it was clearly evident I had already done enough to influence not only this debate, but also shaped the composition of their songs, and feed their argument, and when they finally let my car pass, I could not help but keep reminding myself of the responsibility that the privilege of my position carries.
And why it’s important that I should always take a lot of care, for whatever I might say or write, why I should understand why a lot of people get so disappointed every time they feel I had abused their trust and why, like Alan Hansen, I have to accept that there will be those who will, forever, remember me for something negative.
That’s the way life is.
IN THIS JOB, YOU TAKE THE GOOD
WITH THE BAD
Well, as those DeMbare fans chanted my name on Saturday, outside the stadium, I also thought about that day when scores of the Glamour Boys supporters came to Herald House, back in the ‘90s, to demonstrate against what they perceived was my negative reporting about their favourite club.
I had dared to describe DeMbare as a “perennial continental football misfit”, in 1995, after the Glamour Boys crashed to another quarter-final loss in the Champions League, despite all the odds having been in their favour, having returned with a priceless 1-0 win from the first leg in Kampala against Express of Uganda.
But a 1-2 defeat at the National Sports Stadium, so heartbreaking you didn’t need to be one of their fans to feel the pain of that loss, sent Dynamos crashing out and, even though I was relatively new on the Sports Desk, just three years old, I felt it was time to take on this monster.
Why, for goodness sake, I asked myself, would Orlando Pirates — newboys at this level of the game who had suffered from years of isolation from international competition — have the quality, or rather character, to make it into the semi-finals of the Champions League, that year, while these veterans of this terrain, could collapse in such spectacular fashion at home, of all places?
That Pirates even went on to win that tournament, just three years after the South African clubs had been allowed back in the competition, freed from the isolation that the wall of apartheid had cast around them, eliminating Express in the semi-final, only worked to convince me that time had come to take the gloves off and confront Dynamos and its perennial shortcomings.
I have always maintained that, if ever there was a DeMbare side that should have been crowned Kings of Africa, then it has to be that very powerful side of ’95 — a team that went to Khartoum in the first round and beat Al Hilal of Sudan 1-0, winning by the same score at home, for a 2-0 aggregate triumph.
A team that, after being held at 1-1 in Harare by Algerian side US Chaouia, went to Algeria and scored three times, in a memorable 3-2 victory, for a 4-3 aggregate triumph in the second round, a team which won its third straight game away from home, when they beat Express 1-0 in Kampala in the first leg of their quarter-final showdown, only to blow it all at home.
Certainly, I was convinced, the Glamour Boys, given they always collapsed on the big stage, were fit to be called “perennial continental misfits”, but such a strong, and probably negative, description of their team was too much for some of the DeMbare fans who responded by organising a protest and, such was their creativity, one placard was written, “Sharuko is a perennial sportswriting misfit.”
Well, 20 years later, I understand now that it’s all part of the job, it goes with the terrain, and only on Wednesday night, a British football writer, Ian Baker, was described as an ostrich by Leicester City manager, Nigel Pearson, during a post-match media conference.
Pearson then mimicked Baker’s voice and described him as “daft” and “very stupid” before abruptly ending the press conference.
The Leicester City gaffer has since apologised, with his apology being the back page lead in yesterday’s edition of British newspaper, The Daily Star, and Baker has even had the decency to see through the mist of the abuse by tweeting that this represents his career highlight.
MAPEZA CAN’T JUST TURN INTO
A BAD COACH OVERNIGHT
Norman Mapeza has had to deal with a lot of pressure, in recent weeks, as FC Platinum struggle to match the high standards that their fans demand and his employers wanted when they invested in his expertise midway through last season.
That he started very well, and gave FC Platinum hope that they have finally found the man they have been looking for, by winning the Chibuku Super Cup and taking the team into the top four in the championship race, meant that he boosted expectations — at a team that has always wanted to be the best — and the challenge is for him to deliver.
The anger, among some of the fans, is understandable because FC Platinum has, so far, punched below their weight this season, with their humiliation in Tanzania the catalyst for a bad run that only ended yesterday when Mapeza’s men beat Tsholotsho 3-0 at home.
The off-the-field distractions, including his row with reporter Paul Mundandi hasn’t helped his image, especially at a time when FC Platinum have been struggling, though I won’t try to give credibility to that shocking below-the-belt punch from the guys who run the Shabanie Dotcoms Facebook page by even mentioning what they said.
Mapeza carries a certain status in domestic football, something that he worked very hard for, and he has a lot of fans, who believe that he is a really good coach, and he should also understand that he will always have those who doubt him because that’s the nature of the game.
The only way he can silence those who doubt him is by winning trophies, as he did with the Chibuku Super Cup, and producing a team that wins the league championship, something that his employers demand, and proving wrong those who believe that his success with Monomotapa, when he rebounded from a four-game loss at the start of the season to be champion, was just a fluke.
I know a number of football writers who don’t believe Mapeza is the genuine article, when it comes to coaching, but they are within their rights to doubt him, and it’s his job to prove them wrong, not by plunging into a row with them, but by winning trophies.
The onus, too, should not only rest with Mapeza, or the coaches, behaving in a way that is exemplary, but also on football writers because we also have a responsibility, not only to the coaches and the fans, but also the club officials and all the other stakeholders in our game, to ensure that we also behave in a certain way and not take our privileges with the pen as the licence to destroy anyone who crosses our path.
I know a lot of football writers who believe Mapeza is a coach they can trust, to deliver most of the time, and they include my sister Grace Chirumhanzu, and they stick with their belief even on the occasions when his plane hits turbulence.
We are just mere mortals, sometimes we might get it right, and find scores of people chanting our names in appreciation when we help them understand difficult issues and phrases, sometimes we will get it wrong, and find scores of people throwing all sorts of bricks towards us.
If someone like Alan Hansen, with the playing experience that he brought into British sports journalism, of having won three European Cups with Liverpool, could get it wrong with his analysis of Fergie’s Fledglings, kids who would never win anything, it means these things can happen.
Maybe, that’s why I haven’t joined those who have already started writing Mapeza’s farewell speech at FC Platinum because, as United’s kids showed an authority like Hansen, this game can really surprise you.
To his credit, Hansen acknowledged that he got it wrong with that United team although he knows that, for all the great things that he did in that BBC studio for 22 years, he will always be mainly remembered for that.
Maybe, that’s something he can’t control —what they call Force Majeure.
To God Be The Glory!
I’m with Mayweather all the way and, please, don’t call me a racist.
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