FOR many keen travellers worldwide, a trip to one of the seven natural wonders on earth — the majestic Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe — is a lifetime dream.
The dream came true last week for 18 schoolboys, the majority of whom were setting foot on the iconic resort town for the first time. Following the 2018 edition of the Hammer & Tongues St George’s College Invitational Tournament held in May, 18 players who caught the eye of selectors from the 24 participating teams were picked to go on a five-day tour through Ngezi and Bulawayo, culminating in the three-day stay in the world famous Victoria Falls.
The Hammer & Tongues Invitational XI, captained by Tanaka Mvura of Mufakose 2 High in Harare, comprised of Ngonidzashe Nyanhete, Brian Mpambi, Peace Chinemo (all Marist Brothers Nyanga), Lloyd Madanha, Learnmore Muzunye, Lewis Kagombe, Bernard Mudimu, Tinashe Chipeta, Gamuchirai Katiyo, Mbongeni Moyo, Misheck Machisi (all Inkomo High), Chris Chawora, Takunda Rojasi (both Nhowe), Kudakwashe Matanhire, Simbarashe Mutenga (both Kutama College), Kristian Nyamutsaka (Gateway High) and Ryan Aliam (St George’s College).
Four games were played on tour by the Hammer & Tongues select side: winning one, drawing two, and losing the other.
The team’s comfortable tour bus set off early Thursday morning from St George’s College in Harare on the all-expenses-paid trip, stopping over in Ngezi for a match with the junior side of Premier Soccer League (PSL) club Ngezi Platinum Stars FC.
Arriving at Ngezi’s Baobab Stadium, the delegation was warmly welcome by the friendly and cautious coaching staff and management of the PSL title contenders.
To open the tour at Baobab Stadium, an impressive little arena situated in the middle of mining and rural settings, was the first major experience for the touring teenagers. The immaculate pitch at Baobab allowed some free-flowing football, action swinging from one end to the other, and the match culminated in an entertaining 2-2 draw.
It was a morale-boosting result for the Invitational XI against a Ngezi Platinum junior side that included some of the club’s rookie PSL players. Befitting a professional outfit like Ngezi Platinum, as well as the competitive spirit of the young visitors, the match was played at a high level of competition, but both teams showing outstanding sportsmanship throughout.
Quicksilver forward Simbarashe Mutenga of Kutama, a threat to the Ngezi defence the whole afternoon, scored both goals for the Hammer & Tongues team.
A highlight of the stop-over was a post-match pep talk by Ngezi Platinum head coach Tonderai Ndiraya and goalkeepers’ coach Gift Muzadzi, both renowned retired players of Zimbabwe’s most successful football club, Dynamos. Both spoke of discipline as a fundamental key to success.
“I know most of you want to make a career out of football one day,” said Muzadzi. “But without discipline you are not going to get there. Those big stars you see and idolise, yes, they’ve made it and they’ve earned quite a lot of money.
But never think it was a stroll in the park for these guys. It takes discipline and a huge amount of sacrifice.”
Ndiraya, ever the model professional, chipped in: “Discipline isn’t just about being a nice guy. It’s about following instructions. If your coach tells you to do something and you go and do otherwise, that’s indiscipline. I welcome you all to Ngezi Platinum Stars FC and thank you for coming to see and play with us. A big thank you to Hammers & Tongues for their effort in football development in our country. In this kind of economic environment in our country, it is heart-warming to see someone channelling resources towards something like this.”
After lunch at the Ngezi Platinum club house, the delegation said farewell and carried on with the road trip.
Overnight accommodation in Bulawayo was at the Holiday Inn, with an exciting tie against Mzilikazi High School awaiting the Invitational XI on Friday morning.
On their home turf, Mzilikazi proved a real handful for the Hammer & Tongues select side, in another match that kept the crowd on its toes. A hat-trick by the diminutive attacking midfielder Chris Chawora — an elusive dribbler blessed with dazzling skills — and one goal by Peace Chinemo, earned the visitors a 4-4 draw against a school famous for producing the great former Zimbabwe captain Peter Ndlovu amongst an array of well-known local stars.
“Mzilikazi is a big name in sport in this country, particularly in football,” said Hammer & Tongues representative, Ransome Chimonyo, while extending an invitation to Mzilikazi for next year’s edition of the Hammer & Tongues St George’s Invitational Tournament. The contribution your school has made to football in our country, the quality of the players you have produced, must ever be cherished and with that I would like to see you play in the Hammer & Tongues St George’s College Invitational Tournament next year. I hope that from among you Mzilikazi boys who played today, some of you will be part of this touring select team next year.”
By the time the tour bus headed off to Victoria Falls after the game on Friday, the team was in high spirits and clearly having good fun off the pitch as much as on it. Camaraderie bonds to last lifetimes had already been created between the young players – who sang heartily in unison on the way.
The ancient-modelled Kingdom Hotel in Victoria was to be the team’s home for the next three days — unmatched hospitality and delightful service appreciated by all members of the delegation.
With no match lined up on the Saturday, it was time to experience the magic of Victoria Falls. The Falls are just a short walk away from Kingdom Hotel. Upon arrival, the experience is something you have never seen before, really breath-taking stuff. The Hammer & Tongues team, as you would expect, was awestruck. A stretch of waterfall across several viewing points, great gushes of water crashing down with frightening noise, deep down into the mighty Zambezi.
The overall experience — the unique vegetation, getting wet from the springs of water raining off the waterfall — will remain etched in the memories of everyone on the trip.
In the afternoon on Saturday, the delegation embarked on a game drive at Stanley and Livingstone Game Reserve, where again the majority of the Hammer & Tongues touring party experienced a first in their lives — viewing at close range some of the Big 5, and having drinks and snacks in the middle of the bush. To cap Saturday’s activities was the popular “boma dinner” at the Boma Restaurant, an unforgettable African experience infused with Zimbabwean cuisine.
It is a truly unique experience, no one comes to the Boma and not get wrapped in the sights and sounds of the place.
The Hammer & Tongues players left a mark on the Boma, joining fellow tourists, local and foreign alike, in beating and dancing to the drum on a night never to be forgotten.
Football action resumed on Sunday morning with a game against the local government school, Mosi-oa-Tunya High.
A relatively easy affair for Hammer & Tongues ended in a comfortable 4-1 win courtesy of goals by the free-scoring Simbarashe Mutenga, Chris Chawora, Takunda Rojasi and Kudakwashe Matanhire.
Then it was time for the spectacular sunset cruise on the Zambezi River — crocodiles and elephants on the river banks and islands, hippopotamuses in the water — something you would like to live through again in a lifetime. Victoria Falls does not disappoint, and it did not. So after three days of fun-filled adventure, the group packed bags into the team coach Monday morning, and waved goodbye to this amazing place.
After a day of travel, another night was spent at the Holiday Inn in Bulawayo. At Induna High School on the outskirts of the city on Tuesday morning, the final tour match against the host school was played.
Somewhat tired from the thoroughly enjoyable but taxing trip, an out-of-form Invitational XI lost the game 2-1 to Induna, with captain Tanaka Mvura grabbing the consolation goal for the select outfit.
Coach Bonny Simango, chosen from Inkomo, was full of praise for his team, predicting a very bright future for all the players privileged to be part of the tour.
The players also showed a huge deal of gratitude for the tour opportunity.
“I have always wanted to come to the Victoria Falls, and thanks to God-given soccer skills, and to Hammer & Tongues, I have seen the Mosi-oa-Tunya,” said Nhowe’s Chris Chawora.
The inclusivity of the team was also a cause of hope for the future of football in Zimbabwe. “It’s a misconception that soccer is a minor sport at Saints,” said Ryan Aliam, the tall forceful striker from St George’s.
“Many boys love football at our school and in few years to come you will start to see the results. I’m just thankful to have been part of this enriching experience.”
The delegation travelled back to Harare on Tuesday, exchanged handshakes and hugs before returning home — carrying memories of a trip of a lifetime.