LOCAL derbies â€“ matches pitting teams from the same city or region is the stuff of dreams to many.
There is a lot at stake in these matches. The bragging rights mean so much more to the opposing players and fans alike because they live in the same area, and are even friends or family members.
Such players as Michael Owen, Steve McManaman and Robbie Flower received plenty of ridicule from their teammates during their Liverpool time, for being boyhood supporters of Merseyside rivals Everton. Evenly, a number of Everton players too grew up supporting Liverpool. The North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs is probably the most electrifying in the UK premiership.
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid turn the Spanish capital into a near war zone each time they meet, so does AC Milan and Inter Milan in Italy.
In South Africa, the Soweto Derby pitting Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates divides Johannesburg’s largest township to startling levels. Although the derby has lost sparkle in recent seasons, itâ€™s raising tempo again.
In Zimbabwe, the biggest local derby is, of course, between rivals Dynamos and Caps United, both from Harare.Â But this forthcoming season, local fans are in for a new, blood-and-thunder derby. ]
The city of Mutare has given birth to one of the potential highlights of the 2009 Premier Soccer League season; the Eastern Highlands Derby: Eastern Lions versus Highway.
Highway gained promotion from Division One football last season, joining who survived premiership relegation by a whisker.
For a town that has given this country some of its finest footballers â€“ it is entirely appropriate, and in fact overdue â€“ that Mutare should have two clubs in the top flight league.
Because of the lack of top level football in the city for a number of seasons, players from Mutare have had to pack their bags and pursue better exposure and greener pastures elsewhere.
The great trek saw such players as the late Blessing Makunike, then later on Washington Arubi and Brighton Tuwaya joining big clubs Caps United, Highlanders and Dynamos respectively. In the case of Arubi and Tuwaya, they had to use Midlands side Lancashire Steel as stepping stones.
Arubi and Tuwaya are but a few forerunners of talented players from Mutare to make a mark on the countryâ€™s domestic scene.
There was a time most PSL teams seemed to scramble for Mutare-born players, and remarkably, it was a crop of players from the same generation: The conveyor belt of talent saw the likes of Blessing Gumiso (Highlanders), Taurai Makukutu, Joseph Kabwe (both Amazulu), Clement Mukudu (Shooting Stars), Cyprian Muchabaya (Masvingo United), Lazarus Muhoni (Black Rhinos, later Dynamos), becoming household names.
Now new Zimbabwe champions Monomotapa have added Muchineripi Waerera, arguably the best centre-half in the country.
Zimbabweâ€™s brightest international prospect and one of the finds of the last two years, Onismor Bhasera, a Mutare prodigy through and through, cut his teeth at the Agatha Sheneti Academy in Harare beforeÂ the lure of the â€œgoldâ€ in Johannesburg, where he plays for Kaizer Chiefs with distinction.
And donâ€™t ever think that the Mutare folk are entirely content with the gems their town keep churning out. They certainly donâ€™t sell themselves cheap.
Last season while Dynamos supporters were thankful for landing midfield linkman Wonder Sithole, who was signed from Masvingo United, it was not such a big deal to those who know him well from Mutare.
â€œHa-a, Wonder Bomber, mamuona atopera uyu, anga akatodziya achiri kuno!â€ (He was far better when he was here. Heâ€™s past his peak now!)
There will always be a larger concentration of talent in the bigger cities, but, at least, thereâ€™s now a derby for Mutareans to witness their local icons square up at the biggest stage at their beloved Sakubva Stadium.
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO