HomeSportThat was the era

That was the era

I WAS a child, growing up in a dusty “location”, when it was quite an achievement to go to the city on a cream-and-maroon Harare United Omnibus Company coach.

Those trips were rare and usually came when our parent wanted to buy us “Christmas” clothes or school uniforms.
My mother — God bless her soul — would chide me for chiringa. I was easily distracted, like many children from the locations, when we bumped into a white man or a rich kid licking a vanilla cone.
Friends would listen enviously as I recounted my expedition to town on a round-faced “Dakota” or AVM bus and how we had been to First Street and Amato — of course most of the children in the “location” knew about the supermarket because of a popular radio advert.
I wouldn’t miss talking about the mannequins — yes, those human-size zvidhori on shop display windows that at times scared us.
This was a chance too for me to brag about the candy cake or overcooked “fresh chips” I would have been bought at an Indian restaurant. The vinegar, brown, as well as the tomato sauce made the chips quite delectable.
But if you showed off too much, you risked being left out of the teams to play hweshe (plastic-made football) in matches that would only end if one of the sides scored four goals.
Those days, the only holidays I knew about were all about visiting our grandparents in the rural areas.
There, your homestead was regarded highly for using candles instead of kerosin lamps which resembled molotovs.
The holidays rarely ended without ambuya slaughtering a cockerel for us as a token of appreciation of our visit.
And how can I forget this: owning a television set — black-and-white for that matter — was the greatest thing a family could achieve.
Those who didn’t have TVs would go to those who had to peep through the window and catch a glimpse of Mvengemvenge and Mukadota.
Unfortunately, there was no live coverage of football — local or international. The only time ZBC screened live football was when English teams played in the FA Cup final.
Which left us to believe how great footballers such as Sunday Marimo, Ephert Lungu, Willard Khumalo, Joseph Machingura, Hamid Dhana, Edward Katsvere, Joel Shambo, Stix Mtizwa and Moses Chunga were as we were told by our fathers, brothers and elders who had opportunities to watch them at Rufaro.
After watching last week’s derby between Dynamos and Caps United at Gwanzura, I just found myself wandering down memory lane with a nostalgic feeling.
I felt like I would give anything to relive those days when having bread with margarine was a sign of comfortable survival.
We were comfortable in our poverty because we knew no other sweeter life.
But can anyone stand up today and claim that football standards those days were much better than these days?
It seems quite a number of former footballers believe they played better in the 80s than the performances we are subjected to these days.
I’m old enough to have watched a few Super League matches in the first decade of Independence and I remember fondly the first match I attended at Rufaro between Dynamos and Callies in 1985.
This was my first time to see Moses Chunga, the famed Razorman who could stand on a ball or score directly from a corner-kick.
Mike Abrahams, or Mabhurugwa, was quite a handful for the Dynamos defence that day too.
My next match was a derby between Dynamos and Caps United.
The euphoria was just too much for a “location” boy just excited to have entered Rufaro to sit on the dhunduru — the Musika end stands today — where I had to be careful of ants that could crawl into my shorts and cause commotion.
But I can’t claim to have watched enough football those years to make a fair comparison with today’s standards.
If we could not listen to radio commentary of football matches, the tales we heard were incredible.
I remember being told how Blue Line Aces player Herbert Mukohiwa or Majengwa as he was popularly known in Mbare had roasted Misheck Marimo into retirement.
In the 1980s, David “Yogi”Mandigora is said to have scored directly from a throw-in in a match which they eventually won 3-1 against Rio Tinto.
I remember too being told how Blue Line Aces had lost 7-1 to Dynamos when the match had been 1-1 at halftime. Aces were subsequently relegated from the then Super League.
Majid Dhana wrote his own piece of history when he was said to have “torn” the nets at Rufaro with a stinging shot.
Those days it appears wingers were more prominent. Edward “Madhobha” Katsvere was Dynamos’ talisman, while Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma was a hit at Caps United before he moved to Black Rhinos.
Friday Phiri, Stanford Mtizwa, Hamid Dhana, Ephert Lungu as well as the brothers Garnett and Eddie Muchongwe were obvious heroes in the “locations” as were the likes of Japhet Mparutsa, Gift Mpariwa, Mercedes Sibanda, Rahman Gumbo and John Phiri.
But can anyone safely say that era of football was better than what we see today?
Can we say the likes of Peter Ndlovu, Benjani Mwaruwari, the late Benjamin Nkonjera, Norman Mapeza, Tauya Murewa, Stewart Murisa, Alois Bunjira, Vitalis Takawira, Morgan Nkathazo, Edelbert Dinha, Cain and Abel Muteji, Chamunoda Musanhu were not better than the early and mid-80s class?
How about Clemence Matawu, Honour Gombami, Cephas Chimedza, Vusa Nyoni, Method Mwanjali, Leonard Tsipa, Roy Mteki, Obadiah Tarumbwa, Murape Murape and Kingstone Nkatha?
Well, with all due respect, I find it hard to buy the assertions that those guys in tight-fitting shorts that left their thighs exposed were the better than what we see today.
Football has evolved over the years. In the past it was sexy to play to the gallery, but now the game so technical to an extent that flair can be stifled.
People them paid to just see Archiford Chimutanda control and bring down the ball with his chest or Zimbabwe Saints’ Joseph Machingura tearing past defenders on the right wing. It was these antics that mesmerised spectators.
I recall Black Rhinos’ leftback Fanuel Nyamukapa marking Chunga out of the game one cold evening at Rufaro Stadium. Dynamos fans wanted a piece of him because Chunga never got a chance to stand on the ball.
Goalkeepers of the era, Langton Marizani of Ziscosteel, Mparutsa, Mike Mhlanga of Arcadia and Peter Nkomo of Highlanders, believed that they had wings. They would fly at every ball even when it made more sense to just move a step across to catch the ball.
Players who played in white or red boots became an instant hit. This by the way was before the dreadlocks craze.
But all this was entertainment value which added little to technical aspects of the game. Football has evolved immensely since then.
It’s now sexy to watch neat build-ups without anyone having to dribble past five opponents. It’s the in-thing to place the ball where it’s hardest for the ‘keeper to reach than to pack a booming short that would kill him. Gone are the days when a huge, aimless clearance would win the Number 5 women in the locations.
But in modern football there are still players who behave like denizens of the heady days of showing off.
Given the latitude to do so, Real Madrid’s Robinho would like to embarrass defenders with deft dribbling. Remember the unfortunate Ecuadorian defender who lost his bearing four times in a space of 20 seconds after succumbing to the Brazillian’s deft footwork?
Manchester United’s Nani recently juggled the ball around in a match against Asernal as if his life depended on it. These are still entertaining moments to any fan, but coaches think otherwise.
Now if you ask me again, I wouldn’t want to relive the 80s life except that I would miss using a one-cent coin to buy.
Football-wise, all that modern footballers can emulate is the commitment that the old school showed at a time the sport didn’t pay.

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