… Going back to a place and time, we used to know, when domestic football was the stuff of our dreams
Sharuko On Saturday
TWENTY five years ago, for some, 20 years ago, for others — either way, a defining moment, in their romantic attachment to football, and everything that this beautiful game represents.
In one corner, a gladiatory master blaster, one who used just raw power, brute force, acceptable violence, beautiful savagery and infectious aggression to make his mark.
For him, the routine was simple — just smash the ball as hard as can be possible, towards goal, its vicious power, combined with its searing pace, will always find ways of crashing through the defensive walls.
Goalkeepers, usually, were the least of his concerns.
After all, in his manual, once his missile of mass destruction powered through the defensive shield, there would be little reaction time for the ‘keeper.
In the other corner, a graphic artist, someone who used to caress the ball with a touch of class, giving it the trajectory needed to fly beyond the defensive walls, and land right on target.
Like a plane, programmed on a certain flight path, the ball would be lifted from the ground, with more precision than brute force, flying over the human hurdles employed to block it, and nestling into the far corner.
For him, it was pure art, something like vintage painting, products to be enjoyed, as a reminder of this game’s intoxicating beauty, and to be studied, by the next generation of players, and coaches, for years to come.
There was always the unerring precision, the deadly accuracy, the nerveless execution, doing it again and again, making a mockery of the ravages of pressure, and the fears, and demons, of failure.
For Era Muna, the one whose parents christened Mpumelelo Dzowa, this was something he did with regularity for CAPS United, his raw power providing the Green Machine, with an extra weapon.
The one they usually turned to, 25 years ago, whenever a dead ball opportunity presented itself, especially on the rare days when their free-scoring All-Star attacking crew, was having an off day.
For Golden Balls, the one whose parents named David Beckham, this was something he did for a living, pushing the boundaries of possibility, redefining the art of striking the dead ball.
And, over the passage of his career, he transformed himself into a specialist who kept on deceiving goalkeepers, and defenders, with balls that curled beyond the expected, beyond what they had been taught to deal with.
His magic even inspired Hollywood to come up with a movie, “Bend It Like Beckham,’’ released in 1992, which grossed more than US$76.6 million worldwide.
For Becks, his golden moment arrived one autumn day, on October 6, 2001, fittingly at his home ground, Old Trafford, in a 2002 World Cup qualifier for England.
Just three years earlier, Beckham had returned home from the ’98 World Cup, to find a country baying for his blood, with the midfielder being blamed for the Three Lions’ elimination, at the hands of old rivals, Argentina.
His red card, when he kicked out at Diego Simeone, in retaliation after being fouled, was a very foolish thing to do, in the heat of the politics which always surround football battles between the two countries, forever poisoned by the Falklands War and Maradona’s —Hand of God’’ goal.
His dismissal turned the tide against the Three Lions and, while they held out to force the game into a penalty, they — as the English usually do at a major finals — came short in the lottery and all the blame was heaped on Beckham.
“Ten Brave Lions, One Stupid Boy,’’ screamed the headline of the Daily Mirror, capturing the anger of England, and Beckham effigies were burnt, throughout a country that had turned against him.
Now, three years later, here he was, in the 93rd minute of the final World Cup qualifier against Greece, needing to convert the free-kick, to take his country to Japan and South Korea.
Time appeared to stand still as the perfection of his execution not only secured his country the last-gasp goal it needed, to qualify for the World Cup but, more importantly, provided him with the personal redemption he badly craved for.
“You can always tell when a genuinely momentous footballing event has taken place,’’ The Daily Mail’s Joe Bernstein wrote on the 15th anniversary of that free-kick, on October 6, 2016.
“The stadium rocks, literally, with all the noise and sudden movement from fans, and the television cameras consequently shake as they record history.
“So it was when David Beckham’s 93rd-minute free-kick at Old Trafford — exactly 15 years ago on Thursday — took England to the World Cup finals in Japan and South Korea.
“The video footage is extraordinary, you will rarely hear noise, or see a spontaneous outpouring of joy like it, it elevated Beckham to ‘Golden Balls’ status and saw him follow Diana, Princess of Wales as an English icon who became a global figure.
“History may show it didn’t change English football forever but, for that single moment, we could, at least, boast the world’s most famous and influential player.’’
Era Muna, That Free-Kick, That Day, That Game, That Result, That Legacy
We didn’t make a movie about Era Muna, maybe, because Elvis Chiweshe, another dead ball specialist, would have demanded us to do a film about him, too.
At least, in a country where motion pictures of what was happening on our football fields, in the past, are not easily available, it’s refreshing to note that a short video of Era Muna’s finest hour is available on YouTube.
It came, at Rufaro, one unforgettable afternoon, 25 years ago, fittingly, in the Harare Derby, back in the days when this confrontation was a grand showcase of domestic club football.
In a country where, somehow, our football leaders have conspired to ensure football doesn’t return to our fields, even when their counterparts everywhere have provided the leadership to make it happen, in these difficult times, all we can do is fall back on these memories.
The more the reason for us to spend time reflecting on stars like Era Muna.
For him, this was the moment he engraved his name, into the hearts and minds of the CAPS United fans, and left beautiful marks, which will probably never be washed away by the passage of time.
A typical tight Harare Derby was drifting towards the end, with the Glamour Boys leading 1-0, when the Green Machine were awarded a free-kick deep into DeMbare territory.
Somehow, the silence that fell in the stands, populated by the Dynamos fans, appeared to suggest they feared for the worst, as Era Muna lined up his shot.
Then, he swung his powerful leg, powered by the biggest thigh in domestic football since Mercedes “Rambo’’ Sibanda and Abraham “Chimamuna’’ Mwanza emerged on the scene, his head perfectly down.
And, as his boot made sweet contact with the ball, it produced the ‘BOOM’ sound, and Rufaro held its breath, for different reasons, of course. The subsequent missile, produced by the combination of the brutality of the force exerted, and the accuracy of the execution, then flew low, evading the radar of resistance, which the Dynamos rearguard had mounted.
Gift Muzadzi dived to his left but, as the ball powered past him and into the corner, only the devil would dare choose to blame the ‘keeper.
No one appeared to realise it back then, amid the explosion of joy among the CAPS United family, captured in its full range, of both life and ecstasy by the transformation of their late chairman, Shepherd Bwanya, into a figure of delirium.
But, a seismic moment in domestic football, had just happened and, a quarter-of-a-century later, it’s the free-kick that didn’t only define a game, and a season, but the narrative of domestic football in the past 25 years.
So much to celebrate, about ‘96, not least, Gladys Knight’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This week, my colleague, Charles “CNN’’ Mabika, once again explored the tricky subject of which is the greatest CAPS United side of all-time, with Stewart Murisa, predictably, choosing his Class of ’96.
They were a super team, they didn’t only win the league, they won the BP League Cup, sweeping away Arcadia United 4-2 in the final, they won the Charity Shield, edging a gritty Blackpool 1-0 and they took home the Independence Cup, with a 2-1 victory over Zimbabwe Saints.
And, they had magicians, Shutto and Alois Bunjira have become the posterboys of that side, in a game with a bias towards dashing free-scoring forwards.
But Farai Mbidzo, so good they nicknamed him “Mr Perfect,’’ was just as good, and just as effective.
Joe “Kode’’Mugabe had both the consistency, and the club’s institutional memory, one of those pained, and driven, by years of failure, Morgan Nkhatazo would fly down the flanks, and Silver “Bhonzo’’ Chigwenje was a natural leader. But, for me, the biggest reason why I feel that CAPS United Class of ’96 was very special isn’t about the stars they had, and the attacking way they played their game.
Neither am I seduced by the romance that comes with them being the group of players who, finally, found a way to break barriers, leading the Green Machine to their first league title in the era of Independence,
For me, their greatness was sealed by the sheer quality of the excellent Dynamos team they beat for the title that season.
Kaitano Tembo leading the defensive shield, Memory Mucherahowa the soul of the midfield, Tauya Murewa the heart of their attack.
Of course, very few people talk about those Glamour Boys, it’s the nature of the brutality of this game it doesn’t remember those who finish second.
But, for me, that’s the reason why my respect for the Green Machine of ’96, has endured for a quarter-of-a-century.
Because, for them to beat such a very strong Dynamos side, for the league title that season, was the stuff of supermen.
For goodness sake, for all their legacy as an all-attacking force, they were outscored by Dynamos in the championship that season (79 goals for DeMbare and 75 goals for Makepekepe).
Those Glamour Boys also had a better defensive record (26 goals conceded compared to 27 for CAPS United), during that championship race.
The Green Machine edged their rivals, in games won (22 to 21), both teams drew five matches while CAPS United lost three games, compared to four for Dynamos.
At the end of the campaign, there was a three-point gap with CAPS United having 71 points while DeMbare had 68.
In their head-to-head league matches, the Glamour Boys didn’t lose to that Green Machine that season, winning the first league match 1-0 on April 7, and drawing the other.
And, this has always brought me to this question, obscure as it is — what would have happened, in terms of the legacy of the CAPS United Class of ‘96, had Era Muna not converted that very late free-kick?
A DeMbare victory, in that match, means they would have taken three, instead of the one point they eventually took home, and — had the final few games gone the way they did — the Glamour Boys would have ended with 70 points. The Green Machine, had they lost that match, wouldn’t have taken the point they got, on that day and, had the final few games gone the way they did — this would have given them 70 points.
That would have, for the second season running, seen the season ending with the two top sides, with the same number of points (70), with Dynamos — for the second year running — winning the title courtesy of a superior goal difference.
And, since this is a game that doesn’t have any space for those who finish second, the whole bubble, the entire legacy of that excellent Green Machine Class of ’96, would not have been created and, today, we would be talking about something else.
But, then, they had Era Muna and I find it quite disappointing when his name, and priceless contribution when it mattered the most in that campaign, is not mentioned when people talk about that CAPS United side.
There is so much to remember, and celebrate, about ‘96, not least, the induction of Gladys Knight and the Pips into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
And, as if by some twist of fate, her smash shit song, “Midnight Train To Georgia,” was released in ‘73, the same year the Green Machine were formed.
This week, Jim Weatherly, the American country singer/songwriter who wrote that super song, died at his home in Tennessee, at the age of 77.
Again, by some twist of fate, it was in ‘77 that Makepekepe arrived in the domestic Premiership, before establishing themselves as one of the game’s Big Three clubs.
Yesterday, 25 years, after her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Knight this week spoke glowingly about how Weatherly’s songwriting brilliance transformed her into a global music star.
Some things are just difficult to let go.
And, for many of us, 25 years after Era Muna’s Rufaro heroics defined the CAPS United legacy, memories still make us feel like we are riding on that midnight train to Georgia.
Going back, to a place and time we used to know, when domestic football was the stuff of our dreams.
To God Be The Glory!
Peace to the GEPA Chief, the Big Fish, George Norton, Daily Service and all the Chakariboys in the struggle.
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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