By Mike Madoda
I LOVE movies and none more than a good old epic. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart was the first to hit the spot — the tale of the rebel William Wallace who rallied the Highland clans and took on the might of the notorious “long shanks” King Edward II in the quest for Scottish Independence.
Russell Crowe upped the stakes in Gladiator starring as Maximus the general turned gladiator who took on the might of Rome and prevailed. While the action scenes in these two movies may be unrivalled, but when it comes to dialogue and diction, in the 2004 production Troy they found an equal.
Directed by Wolfgang Peterson, the movie is based on an adaptation of Homer’s great epic The Iliad and re-enacts the legend of the Trojan War in 1193 B.C. As the armies of Agamemnon and King Triopas ready themselves for battle in the opening scene, one of Agamemnon’s vassals, Odysseus, poses a series of questions: “Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves: will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone, and wonder who we were, how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved?” All apt in the age of heroes, a time for warriors – when life was a quest for significance.
A case can be made for the two decades preceding Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 to have been such a time. An age of ideals, ideas and exploits that gave birth to Zimbabwe’s first crop of socio-political heroes.
Brave young men and women who left the hardships of the townships or rural aboard for the even tougher life of the liberation struggle. And those that stayed behind and carried the burden of oppression and found a cause and a creative expression of defiance in music and sport.
Thomas Mapfumo and the late Oliver Mtukudzi began what would be long and illustrious careers at that time — a time that saw the exploits of mythical footballers that are inductees in Zimbabwe’s Hall of Fame — a place that resides only in the hearts and minds of those that were privileged to have witnessed their greatness and through oral tradition, newspaper cuttings, or the odd black and white photograph, are now custodians of their legend.
Like that of Peter Nyama,a prolific centre-forward who still holds Zimbabwe’s single season scoring record after finding the back of the net 62 times in 1970. Unsurprisingly, he was the top goal scorer that season and was duly crowned Soccer Star of the Year ahead of the likes of Ernest Kamba, William Sibanda, Isaac Chieza and Jimmy Finch.
Dubbed “Thunderboots”, Nyama led the line for a Chibuku Super team coached by Ken Fulton, and featured the likes of Jawett Nechironga, John “Seke Muchena” Humphreys, John Madondo, Sisson Mukwena, Topsy Robertson, Billy Sharman and Kizito Tembo.
Most of these fine players are late now and the few that live are largely forgotten and hardly known by this present generation.
Over the last few months, death has continued to ravage Zimbabwe’s football family as the grim reaper has claimed more luminaries and legends like David Mandigora, Misheck Chidzambwa, Steve Kwashi and Ernest Sibanda.And as if to rub our noses in our grief, the Zimbabwe football family has once again been rocked by the passing away of a man widely considered as the country’s greatest footballer of all time, the legendary George Shaya.
Popularly known as “Mastermind” for his football genius and an unmatched prowess that dominated the local football landscape in the 1970s, Shaya had a brief stint with St. Paul’s Musami in Murehwa before making the switch to Dynamos where he became the only player to be named Soccer Star of the Year five times, a feat yet to be matched.
Shaya was also part of the all-conquering Dynamos side of 1976 that won five out of six cup tournaments that season, only falling short in the semi-finals of the Chibuku Trophy afte losing to Zimbabwe Saints.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy of George Shaya’s death is that; with him went the biggest repository of a golden age of Zimbabwean football. Save for Oral tradition, there is very little verifiable information that is readily available to the public and the younger generation of fans, myself included.
This hero of many a battle in Rufaro, Gwanzura and Barbourfields has fallen and left us with memories that don’t go beyond fireside chats and pub talk.
The challenge is on us to make sure that the exploits of our sporting icons are recorded and preserved for posterity for the benefit of future generations. They serve not only as entertainment, but more importantly, inspiration — especially for a generation that has a very few touchpoints with its past and continues to suffer a disconnect with previous generations, leading to a lack of appreciation.
As we mourn George Shaya, let us also celebrate the gift and greatness that once walked amongst us. Most of us may not have watched him play, or even seen any video footage of him, but we hold dear the stories that we have heard and the immense pride those that watched him play speak of his exploits.
It is the same pride that echoes in Odysseus’s voice as he eulogises the heroes of the Trojan War:“If they ever tell my story let them say that I walked with giants. Men rise and fall like the winter wheat, but these names will never die. Let them say I lived in the time of Hector, tamer of horses. Let them say I lived in the time of Achilles”.
To that eulogy our elders can add: Let them say we lived in the time of Peter Nyama, a goal-scoring machine. Let themsay we lived in the time of David Mandigora, independent Zimbabwe’s first soccer-star of the year. Let them say we lived in the time of George Shaya, the mastermind and the greatest of them all.
- Follow Mike Madoda on Twitter — @mikemadoda