By Robson Sharuko
MOSES Chunga says he is still struggling to adjust to the reality that an entire Belgian town came to virtual standstill, in the past 10 days, just to honour him for the services he rendered to their local football club about 20 years ago.
The Zimbabwe football legend received five-star treatment in Aalst after returning to his old club, Eendracht Aalst, for a homecoming show for the first time since he left the team two decades ago. Chunga returned home on Thursday night after a 10-day stay in Aalst where he was feted like a king.
The former Warriors skipper put his signature, alongside that of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the Golden Book of the city of Aalst at a function to honour him at Town House and was also given a standing ovation by the club’s fans in his first appearance in their stadium.
Yesterday, Chunga told The Herald that the treatment he received, at the hands of his old club and the city that was his home for five years during his time as a professional footballer in Europe, was a once-in-a-lifetime event. “You can’t put a value to that, there is no price for such a thing,” Chunga said.
“It was incredible and sometimes, even at my age and everything I have seen and done in my life, there were moments when I had to wonder if it was all real and this wasn’t just a dream. It’s nice to be appreciated, especially by people who really like you for what you are, and I believe a lot of love was flowing towards me during my short stay in Belgium and I was blown away by the affection that people showed in me.
“When you have been away for about 20 years, you think, okay, maybe the people have forgotten me because some new heroes come along the way and maybe make a bigger impact than you and they take your place. But, I was shocked, completely shocked, to see that I was still a big part of the club and the city and that makes you feel good because you know that the people are doing it from the heart. And, crucially, you also know that you did something great during the time you were there.”
Chunga said he was surprised that even the young fans of E Aalst, who did not see him play during his time at the club, held him in his regard.
“That was a surprise because you would think the fans who are teenagers today, who were not there when I was playing, would not care much about this player who was at the club before they were born,” said Chunga.
“But I was surprised that a lot of them not only knew me and what I had done for the club but showed a lot of love towards me. That really shook me and maybe their parents still have videos of our games and they show them now and again and they have been seeing me in action and appreciate that I did something good for the club.
“I wouldn’t like to say that I felt special but I can say I felt very proud of myself and also very proud of them as a people because what they did to me shows me that they are true human beings and that is very important in life.”
Chunga said he held meetings with the club’s management and sold them his vision of the project he has been working on, here at home, to develop junior football talent and to try and use Belgium as a port for the players to move into Europe.
Although the discussions were at a primary stage, said Chunga, there were signs that things could work out very well soon. “When you talk about projects like academies, you are talking about long-term projects and you need patience and to put in a lot of time and funds into the projects for them to work out,” said Chunga.
“It’s not something that you just start like yesterday and hope that tomorrow it produces the next Bambo or the next Peter Ndlovu, it doesn’t work that way in this game. The good thing about this is that the people in Belgium know that it needs time and you need to invest in the project but we talked about it and we will see how it goes.
“What I know is that they are waiting for the next Moses Chunga to come from Zimbabwe and to play for their club and I am determined to help them get a kid, who is very good, who can go out there and make an impact.
“So, it’s something that we talked about and hopefully some avenues would be open and we will see how it goes with time. But I am excited and they are also excited and that is a very good starting point.”
Chunga was given a befitting farewell by the team at the club’s official restaurant on Wednesday where fans gathered for autographs and photographs with the Dynamos legend. Last Thursday, he put his signature alongside that of Prince Phillip when he was honoured at the Aalst Town Hall for his contribution to football in the Belgian city.
He was hosted by the Aalst mayor, Christoph D’Haese, and his councillors in the Pieter Coucke Hall at Town Hall.
The DeMbare legend was also given the honour of signing the Golden Book of the City. Only special visitors to the city of Aalst are given the honour to sign the Golden Book of the City. They include Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who is the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, the oldest ever spouse of a reigning British monarch.
Princess Mathilde, the Duchess of Brabant, who is the wife of the heir apparent to the Belgian throne, Prince Phillipe, the Dube of Brabant, has also signed the Golden Book of the City. She is expected to be the first Belgian-born Queen consort of Belgium.
Celebrated Belgian stand-up comedian, Bert Kruismans, also has his signature in the Golden Book of the City. Kruismans is a native of Aalst. Chunga broke into tears when he arrived at the Pierre Cornelisstadion, about two weeks ago, in his first visit to his old hunting ground in 20 years.
He was given a standing at the stadium he graced for five years with distinction, both as an exceptional player and leader of the club, after arriving just 15 minutes before the league match against Royal Antwerp.
And he was so moved by the way the fans reacted to his presence at the stadium, he could not hold back tears. In a short speech, Chunga told the delirious fans: “You have been behind me over the years and I know you care for me. I thank you.”