AMID the global standstill in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, a question that reaches the core of journalism’s relevance has been posed: what do sports writers write about when nothing is being played?
What about coaches? What do they do when sport world-over has been brought to a sudden halt, when they cannot do what they know best – taking charge of training sessions and matches?
Or both, journalists and coaches. What dominates conversation during an accidental social encounter between a Zimbabwean sports writer and a Zimbabwean coach in the middle of an unprecedented global epidemic that has hit both their sectors so hard?
Johnson Marumisa is one of those coaches who will be counting their losses, financially or otherwise, due to Covid-19’s impact.
The 37-year-old former cricketer – a Zimbabwe squad member at the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 – was a very busy man until a few weeks ago, passing on knowledge to future generations of players as a coach at his old school, Churchill Boys High.
Away from his fulltime responsibility at Churchill, the big-hitting ex-batsman also helps out with franchise team Mashonaland Eagles – handy extra earnings – and he was also lined up as part of backroom staff of a Zimbabwe Chairman’s XI side that was scheduled to play English county Durham this month.
All this went up in smoke after Durham and fellow UK tourists Derbyshire cut short their pre-season tour here due to coronavirus’ spread while Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) suspended all forms of cricket in the country until further notice.
So away from pondering the impact that Covid-19 has on both of us in different ways, Marumisa and I found ourselves – old acquaintances of nine-month age difference – going on a trip down memory lane, as if to seek relief from a most unexpected universal crisis.
Stories jumped from one topic to another, and many of you, I thought to myself, would be fascinated just as I was to learn about the interesting origins of an old nickname of Tinashe Nengomasha, one of the finest Zimbabwean footballers of his generation.
While the former Warriors midfield maestro became popularly known as “The General” at South African giants Kaizer Chiefs in recognition of the organisational skills and combative nature that made him a firm fan favourite at the glamorous Soweto club, Marumisa told the story of how he was in fact the source of Nengomasha’s other nickname, “Father”, a moniker that also survived to this day.
It so happened that after playing his first match in Zimbabwe’s Premier Soccer League as a schoolboy in the late 90s, Nengomasha acquired instant fame at Churchill, more so amongst his classmates, who included Marumisa at one stage in his school days.
Nengomasha’s big breakthrough with Motor Action FC came with rather handsome financial gains, for a schoolboy at that time, and for the entire week after his debut he was kind enough to buy snacks for all his classmates and teachers.
These included the “freezit”, a very popular diet of students those days as well as samoosas, cookies and sausages.
“One of the days, while trying to stroke Nengo’s ego so that he could loosen his pocket again, I called him ‘mudhara we class (the old man or father of the class)’ and it worked wonders because he bought us again,” chuckled Marumisa.
“A favourite of us was the biscuits we called ‘maramba waraira’ (literally meaning one should only decline this delicacy after a first bite), or ‘maramba’ in short. The following day I went a step further and said to Tinashe: ‘your generosity is like that of a father to his children’. The boys had a good laugh about it, and the nickname Father stuck, to this day.”
The son of a Highfield policeman – Marumisa went to the sport-mad government school on the same ZC scholarship that brought to Churchill the likes of Tatenda Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza, Vusi Sibanda and Stuart Matsikenyeri.
Marumisa had passed through Chipembere Primary School in Highfield – also the almer mater of Taibu, Sibanda and Matsikenyeri – who unlike him went on to enjoy lengthy international cricket careers with Zimbabwe.
There were other gifted sports stars in the classes Marumisa was placed during his time at Churchill, but in one of those Nengomasha soon transformed himself into the sporting hero following his PSL feat.
“From there onwards, because one of us had played football at the highest level in the country, we all started going to watch soccer every time Churchill played, and the class monitor would keep a register of attendance,” Marumisa said.
The era of Marumisa at Churchill had very good sportsmen all-round – others much older and others younger – the ones he remembers well from football being Nengomasha and Norman Maroto, as well as former Harare Sports Club and Sables fly-half Happy Nyatanga from rugby.
Because the cricket scholarship boys worked all year round with a programme run by their benefactor, ZC, fear was they would become one-dimensional sportsmen, which was against the proud sporting heritage of Churchill.
Rugby and hockey were then offered to them as the chief optional sports.
“Most of us went to rugby, such that the entire first cricket team became the Headmaster’s XV rugby team, which was like your third rugby team of the school,” said Marumisa. “A few boys enjoyed it and did well, especially Stuey (Matsikenyeri), who was good enough to play for the first team as a scrumhalf.”
Nengomasha, the “Father of the class”, went on to enjoy a stellar career with Kaizer Chiefs, and is viewed as one of the greatest ever foreign player to grace the South African league.