What we have learnt during these testing times: We all love football

THE worldwide coronavirus-sponsored sports drought has seen a relaxation of rules on one local cricket forum I belong to — where participants live and breathe the gentlemen’s game — allowing members, for once, to discuss topics other than cricket: politics, current affairs, economics and, of course, this pandemic that has declared global warfare and probably changed forever the universe as we know it.

Enock Muchinjo

But, after everything has been said and done, after jumping from one topic to another, there is a global phenomenon that you will always come back to, especially when you are born and raised in Africa: football.

It all started with Kudakwashe Sithole, a regular participant living in England, thinking loudly and telling group members that he rates Ronald “Gidiza” Sibanda as the greatest midfielder ever to emerge from Zimbabwe.

While many agreed — glorifying the former Warriors midfield magician’s ball distribution skills, vision, and ball-playing ability — others felt that Gidiza’s rather lax work rate around the park and tainted disciplinary record kind of robbed him of a kingpin status his talents otherwise thoroughly deserved.
Of course, when footballing talent is debated, the cross-generation question is always a factor, as people of different ages and eras tend to side with those they are much more familiar with.

For United Kingdom-based Patrick Gada — creator of the lively cricket forum and as good as they come a domestic Zimbabwean domestic player of the 1990s and a member of the first CFX Cricket Academy intake in 1998 — his late brother-in-law Joel Shambo, who he had the privilege of watching as a young boy growing up in Highfield, ranks up there as probably the finest this country has ever seen.

Hailing from the high-density suburbs, guys like Gada had, of course, grown up on a solid diet of football and he has many heroes in that sport, including such men as former Arcadia United star Byron Manuel as well as ex-CAPS United midfielder Cheche Billiat, uncle of current Zimbabwean football poster-boy Khama Billiat.

You see, as much as different people have their different passions, football is where everybody turns to as a sporting benchmark, particularly so in an era where boys of diverse backgrounds have grown up in the age of global superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi.

There will always be that undying soft sport for the world’s most popular sporting discipline in pretty much each and every one of us. When we arrived as Form 1 pupils in 1996 at one of the Harare’s old government boys schools, one much older lad who had broken all sorts of records on the cricket field was in his final A-level year — the kind of schoolyard hero whose reputation they pressed on you as some kind of initiation to this whole new world we were entering.

His name was Tererai Mubwandarikwa, Terry to everybody, and years later we would have the greatest pleasure of being workmates at Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC), the body that governs the game in this country. Today, Terry struts his stuff at Eaglesvale High School, where he coaches both cricket and rugby.

Raised in Waterfalls and Mbare, Terry had apparently grown up as a fan of, not Dynamos but Caps United, where as a youngster he enjoyed a stint with the club’s junior teams before school stars like Nokuthula Tshaka, Andy Makelvey and Tutani Mbondiya turned him into a cricket diehard upon arrival at Ellis Robins Boys’ High.

But ever the football man, in the late 1990s Terry was one of the pioneering founders of a very ambitious project called TJ Academy, which had as much as 35 boys in each of three age-groups and was the earliest home of former Dynamos captain Augustine Mbara.

One of Academy’s products, a slippery winger called Patrick Tenesi, would later take his raw pace to rugby, becoming a try-scoring machine for Old Hararians and courting the interest of scouts in Germany, when he now plays rugby.

Well, a few days ago, Terry, as they say these days, emerged from the terraces when stories of football broke out on the cricket forum, telling some of his favourite footballers of all time: Shepherd Muradzikwa, Willard Khumalo, Percy Mwase, Shacky Tauro, Maronga Nyangela, Gift Mpariwa, Vitalis Takawira — two of them also personal favourites of mine.

Stories of old we will share while, hopefully soon, like everything else in life, sport gradually returns to normalcy.

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