BY the time you read another edition of this blog, Inshallah or God willing — whichever language suits you best — we would be in 2021.
Well, it’s that time of the year again, when we have to briefly part company, the writer and his community of readers, for our annual break that is necessary for us to recharge our batteries.
For those, who have been part of this adventure, from the very beginning, this is the 20th time we have to take this end-of-year break.
And, God willing, we will renew ours vows again in the New Year.
For me, it always means a journey into the past, where it all started, back home in my beloved Chakari, for a reconnection with my humble roots.
In this annual pilgrimage, I once again get the chance to sit down with my elders, talk at length about us as a community, about religion, about God and about our beliefs.
We then plunge into our fears and, of course, the tears we shed, for those we lost, during the year.
It’s probably the best time of my year, spending days and nights with my folks, simple people of simple lives, so far away from the capital’s madding crowd.
This year’s pilgrimage is special.
After all, it marks 30 years since I left my hometown, bade farewell to its beautiful surrounding green farms, and left behind its red soils, bursting with vast gold deposits underneath its surface, in exchange of a life in the big city.
But, the special occasion also comes with emotions, and a flood of tears, as I recount my adventure.
Going back to the time when I used to step down from the bus, and there to meet me was my mother and father, down the road I would look and, there, running was my sister Margaret, her gold hair and lips looking like cherries.
How, they would all come to meet me, their arms reaching, smiling sweetly, our old house still standing, even though the paint was now cracked and dry.
In the background, stood the mango tree, where I used to play, during my days as a child.
And, in that moment, nothing mattered more than touching, and seeing, the green grass of home.
Of course, a lot has changed now, the good old man and his wife, now reside somewhere in heaven and all that remains are their graves, together with those of their kids — my three brothers and two sisters — the ones we also lost along the way.
Margaret was barely three, when we lost her, the first, and only time, I saw my giant old man collapse with emotions, unable to deal with the sudden loss of her sweet and lovely Princess.
Biggie, my elder brother, would have, like Moses Chunga, celebrated his 55th birthday this year.
Kopiwe, my sister, was a free-spirit while Jackson, my younger brother, briefly played for Fire Batteries, a promising centreback who, however, never made it into the big time.
Tobias was a Jack of all Trades, and clearly a master of few and, somehow, he preferred to call himself “The Ghost.’’
But, for all these sad memories, Chakari remains home sweet home.
The place where the surviving old men still refer to me as “mwana waToro,” the word “toro” being a bastardised version of the word “tall,’’ which was a common reference to my late old man.
A giant of a man, his imposing frame used to serve him well, during his days when he was our football team’s goalkeeper.
The place where the old women still refer to me as “mwana waMai Dorcas,” in their simple world, of simple people, it’s the name of my elder sister that has stuck a chord.
For me, it provides a refreshing break, from being the one who carries a name, which is always in the public spotlight, and all the heavy baggage that comes with it.
For, here, among my people, every December and into January, I find my peace again, find time to celebrate the gift of life and pray to God, for good health and more years.
To them, I am exactly what I have always been, and I should always be, just another boy in the hood.
THE FOOTBALL GENERATION, FIFTY YEARS DOWN THE LINE
The old primary school, a stone’s throw from our football stadium, hasn’t changed much, from the time it opened its doors for us, as its latest recruitment of Grade Ones kids, back in 1977.
That was also the year CAPS United entered the big league of domestic football, where the Green Machine have been playing ever since.
I have always told my friends that my ties with football came at birth, that we are the football generation, the one who, on arrival on this planet in 1970, came with the first colour broadcast of the World Cup on television.
In our first year in primary school, in 1977, the Harare Derby was born, three years later, when we turned 10, the number usually associated with greatness in football, the domestic game returned to the international community of nations.
As we bade farewell to our secondary school years, in 1987, Chunga, one of the greatest footballers to emerge from this country, was crowned Soccer Star of the Year.
And, when we bade farewell to our high school years in 1989, Peter Ndlovu, then a 16-year-old greenhorn Mzilikazi schoolboy, announced his arrival, with a grand performance, to help his school to Copa Coca-Cola glory.
No one knew it, back then, but the one anointed to become the greatest Warrior, of all-time, had just exploded onto the scene.
When we turned 20, in 1990, the youngest player to be crowned Soccer Star of the Year, a 17-year-old Peter Ndlovu, took the award and Highlanders, the mother of all the domestic football clubs, won her first league title.
When we reached 25, a medical doctor who could fly, was crowned Soccer Star of the Year in 1995.
His name is Tauya Murewa.
Five years later, the new millennium arrived and, as we turned 30, the football world watched the only time a golden goal was used to decide the Euro championships.
David Trezeguet scored the goal, helping France to beat Italy 2-1, in the final of Euro 2000.
That same year, for the first time in the history of the UEFA Champions League, two clubs from the same country, Real Madrid and Valencia, met in the final.
And, when we turned 40, the World Cup bandwagon came to Africa for the first time in its 90-year history.
We didn’t know it then, but Diego Maradona had come here, dressed as the coach of his country, in what would be the start of his decade-long farewell to a world, he had charmed with his skills, and a World Cup, he had transformed, with his heroics.
Little did I know that, 10 years down the line, I would write an obituary for the great man, one which would send Twitter into an explosion, including attracting a retweet from the Argentina Football Media.
At the last time of counting, people had seen the link, which I posted last Saturday, 53 070 times.
Those numbers are staggering and provide an assurance that, 20 years after we started this beautiful football conversation, using this weekly space, and blog for communication about the game we all love, we are still making sense to each other.
And our small, but vibrant, “SOS’’ community is, in fact, actually growing.
It’s not easy to retain relevance, writing about the same sport, in the same blog, in the same newspaper, on the same day, to virtually the same community, over two decades.
Many footballers, who are at the heart of this blog’s weekly conversations, have struggled to retain relevance, over half that period, and many local bloggers have found that it’s not easy, to even keep going, beyond a year.
The elders in Chakari told me, 30 years ago as I left home to embark on this adventure, that I should always be guided by the motto that I should never, at any point, take others for granted.
And that, at no point should I ever try to give the impression that I was the — “Mr Know-It-All’’ because, as humans, we all have our strengths and shortcomings.
Respect the reader, I have always told myself, for he, or she, is the king or queen of the house.
It’s a privilege, having just one of them caring to read your stuff and even a huge bonus that more than one person actually cares to wait, a whole week, to read your material.
And, it’s even a miracle many are still reading it, 20 years down the line.
MAYBE, THE ANNUAL BREAK, CAME AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME
So, even when an African football media icon, like the great Robert Marawa, responded, on Twitter, to my Maradona obituary, with the message, “such authenticity, such beautiful writing, thank you Rob,’’ I still can’t let that get into my head.
After all, as I have known, throughout this 20-year-old “SOS’’ adventure, just like the footballers and coaches, themselves, yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery.
It’s how they perform next, just like what I write next, which matters.
Not what we did last week, which came and went, because the world never stops, it’s the nature of its voracious appetite, it just keeps demanding for more.
In a way, maybe, this annual break could not have come at a better time, when you come to think of it.
For, in all fairness, how does one try to write an article that can be deemed an improvement on what you penned about Maradona?
How could you pen something that can match, or improve, the levels you touched when you were writing about a football god?
I could have dedicated this blog to mourning Papa Bouba Diop, also known as “The Wardrobe,’’ who died this week, at the young age of 42.
Or, I could have dedicated it to mourn the Guava of our football, Gift Kamuriwo, who was 46, when he died this week.
Two hugely talented individuals, who left us so many memories but, in one way or another, a blog on them, just a week after one on Diego Maradona, would have been an anti-climax.
It would have been a disservice to what they did on those football fields, because, whatever I was going to write would be overshadowed by the beautiful, and painful, conversation that we had, and we continue to have, about Maradona.
It’s sad but, unfortunately, that’s the reality.
It’s also sad that I can’t do it next week, because we are taking this annual break, the writer and his community of readers, for us to recharge our batteries.
Right now, it’s time to go home, back where it all started, half-a-century ago.
The last time I was there for the same annual break last year, one of my primary school teachers asked me if I hadn’t by now broken the world record, for the longest-running newspaper column.
I said I would research on that and when I meet him again, in the coming days, I will tell him the interesting story of Sid Hartman.
The American sports columnist, who wrote for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota, from September 11, 1945, to January 28, this year.
For 74 years, and 140 days, Sid married himself to the Star Tribune, and together they became a formidable team.
Sid’s first byline appeared in the Star Tribune on November 4, 1944 and, on September 11, the following year, he started his weekly sports column.
By the time Sid turned 100, on March 15, this year, 21 149 articles, under his byline, had been published by the Star Tribune newspaper.
Having reached his glorious century, at the age of 100 years, seven months, Sid died, on October 18, this year.
His final column, an in-depth conversation with Minnesota Vikings wide receiver, Adam Thielen, was published by the Star Tribune on the very day he died.
On October 10, 2010, his statue was unveiled outside the Target Centre, the multi-purpose sports facility in downtown Minneapolis, which is the home of NBA side, the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Minnesota Vikings, the local National Football League franchise, named their media entrance, at the US Bank Stadium, and their interview room, at their training facility, after Sid.
Italian restaurant, Vescio’s, in Dinkyton, Minneapolis, also used to serve a pizza, the “Sid’s Special,’’ named after him, before the joint closed in March two years ago.
Not bad for someone who was rejected by the army when he tried to enlist after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, because of his asthmatic condition, and was forced to drop out of high school, to work as a newspaper vendor and a vacuum cleaner salesman.
His father, a Russian immigrant who arrived in the United States at the age of 16, could neither read nor write and, throughout his life, suffered from alcohol abuse, until his death in 1972.
His mother, who also arrived in the United States from Latvia, at the young age of nine, also died in 1972.
Life was tough for Sid but, thanks to his pen, he found a way to write his way to immortality and, for 74 years, until his final day, he pursued his dream.
It’s such an inspirational story which my teacher, in particular, and our growing “SOS’’ community, in general, is likely to fall in love with.
And, for me, maybe, it provides another reason to try and keep the flame burning, in these spaces, at least, for another year.
After all, we just clocked 20, this year and Sid clocked 75 years with his blog.
Until we meet again, God willing, have a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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