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Football Captains from Zimbabwe-A tribute!

By Lot Chitakasha

This is not an excuse to talk about one of my favourite all time player, Joel “Jubilee, Mwalimu, Headmaster” Shambo although I have to confess that I need no second invitation to do so, he is the man who made football talk. In this article , I use him as a reference point because I want to talk about the excellent captains who led their teams with distinction in the Zimbabwe football fraternity. Indeed there are many leaders who inspired the teams for years.

Lot Chitakasha
Lot Chitakasha

I have often wondered what a coach looks for when appointing a captain to lead the team. My research has revealed that a captain is a leader who should set an example for the team. The captain does not necessarily have to be the best player, other attributes are equally important . It is however important that the captain plays well so that others can emulate.

A captain must be able to communicate with team mates, encourage and motivate them. The captain will also communicate with the officials and must be the voice of the coach on the pitch. When the chips are down, the captain must lift the spirits of his colleagues, take the battle to the opponent and ensure that they keep fighting. It is important for the captain to keep a cool head and maintain his discipline.

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I have to admit some captains have often failed to tick this box but they were still good captains. The world over, some players are remembered for the way they led their teams. Fans always appreciate a captain who leads by example and never gives up the fight. To put our discussion in a wider context , let me just mention a few world captains who come to mind.

Steve Gerrard for Liverpool. His name will always be mentioned in the same sentence as the Miracle of Instabul when his team resurrected to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against AC Milan. Talking about AC Milan, who can forget the leadership of Paolo Maldini..what a leader! He seemed to captain the team for eternity. Their eternal rivals Inter Milan had one Javier Zanetti, they still call him El Capitano, The Capatin. He is now the Vice President of the club.

Roy Keane for Manchester United and Dunga for Brazil in USA ’94. Diego Maradona for Argentina in Mexico 1986 who literally carried the team and was unstoppable. Maradona won the World Cup for the nation on this occasion.

What about Patrick Viera in that Invincible year for Arsenal? He drove the team and became Mr. Arsenal personified. I can go on but this is just to show how captains can have a massive impact on a team. Let me go back to my original target, the Zimbabwe football fraternity.

Who are the captains we will never forget? We have a lot of leaders and I will try to highlight them. I have not watched a lot of league games in Zimbabwe recently so I am not very familiar with some of the captains. I do follow Caps United closely and I know about Hardlife Zvirekwi. I also watched him during the Afcon tournament. I understand he is a good leader but has had his disciplinary issues.

I also watched Willard Katsande, the Zimbabwe Warriors captain. I can only say, he still has a
long way to go before he can reach the standards set by the likes of Sunday Marimo and Ephraim Chawanda just to mention the two.

To have a balanced discussion, I decided to look at the pre-independence era. One name which easily comes to mind is Obediah “Wasu” Sarupinda, the Dynamos founding member. He captained Dynamos and was  maybe the first only black captain of the Rhodesia National Team. This should tell us a lot about his leadership qualities, rising above the racial prejudices to lead a team dominated by white players.

Later as a coach of both Dynamos and their rivals , Caps United, he showed the ability
to negotiate the divided allegiances which often come with serving in both camps. He was such a humble man. I saw him once at his Mbare residence actually preparing the Dynamos playing kit. He had washed the jerseys and was putting them on the washing line to dry up. That was humility personified.

Other top captains that come to mind are Ephert Lungu at Rio Tinto, Felix Mbidzo at St. Pauls
Musami and Daniel Chikanda at Chibuku Shumba. I have tried to verify without much success but I think Topsy Robertson captained Callies, William Sibanda Mashonaland United and Tendai Chieza Mhangula. This definitely needs verification, football elders can help here.

Let me move to the post independence era. For my favourite team Caps United, the man who will always be called captain has to be Joel “Jubilee, Mwalimu, Headmaster” Shambo. He had so many nicknames, “ mazita kupfekerana” as Mukoma Choga Tichatonga Gavhure the renowned football commentator would say. This man carried the team for over a decade on his shoulders.

I remember a time when the heart of the team was almost ripped from it. The departure of Stanley Ndunduma, William Chikauro and Stix Mtizwa to newly forned Black Rhinos left Joel Shambo with the task of keeping the team going. Shacky Tauro, Friday Phiri and Charles “Raw Meat” Sibanda were still there but it looked like Shambo upped his game to fill the game left by his friends. It was not easy.

Young players were coming through, Oscar Motsi, Tobias Sibanda, Joe Mugabe, Silver
Chigwenje all learnt a lot from this man. He always had a jovial outlook, and I do not think he was ever red carded in his career. What a leader he was!

Dynamos has had many captains. I have mentioned Obediah Sarupinda . Let me add Sunday
“Mhofu” Marimo now Chidzambwa and Misheck “Scania” his younger brother. Sunday was known also as “Never on Sunday” because he was unbreachable at the back and was a true leader always putting his body on the line. The horrific injury he suffered which ended his career was a result of these battling qualities. Misheck was a fighter but he was also volatile.

I remember one game in which he exchanged blows with Shackman Tauro in the presence of former President Canaan Banana. It was an embarrassing incident not befitting of captain. Both brothers also captained the Zimbabwe National team with distinction. Misheck was the first captain to win a trophy with the National team when he led a star studded Warriors to the CECAFA challenge cup in 1985.

Yes, these were great captains but maybe the man who Dynamos fans consider as the captain, EL Capitano is Memory Mucherahowa. The man captained the club for 11 years, no mean feat at a club with the most demanding fans. He drove the team forward, he was not the most physically imposing but he had a lion’s heart. The 1998 African Champions league campaign defined the man.

This was the year that Dynamos played in the final against Asec Mimosa a match they lost 4-2. Memory’s leadership qualities were sorely missed since he had been head butted by one opponent. The ship was rudderless without him. Thulani “Biya” Ncube captained three teams at the same time, an amazing achievement. He was captain for Highlanders, Zimbabwe under 23 and the senior National Team. This was simply unbelievable, the level of faith the coaches had in this young man.

To this day, the leadership qualities still exude in him as he runs the Biya and Friends Academy. Other notable captains of the club include Peter “Captain Oxo” Nkomo, Douglas “British” Mloyi and Dazzy Kapenya. They were exceptional leaders. Ephraim “Rock of Gibraltar” Chawanda was a great captain for Zimbabwe Saints and the National
Team. He was vocal, brave, disciplined and rarely put a foot wrong.

Peter Ndlovu who took over the captaincy is another captain who deserves respect. Peter led by example on the pitch and his performances made him a natural leader. On occasions , he bailed out the team financially. Benjani Mwaruwari also did the same. Both men showed their commitment to the team and they helped their less fortunate colleagues.

On the woman’s side I have to mention Rosemary Mugadza, the captain who started it all. At one stage she was coach and captain of the Mighty Warriors. For some reason, she has been sidelined but to be honest women football would not be where it is without this iron lady’s massive contributions.

Indeed there have been some great captains at both club and National level. I cannot mention them all. When someone has been a leader for ten years, it becomes strange when people claim that there are no leaders in football and that certain administrative roles cannot be taken up by these greats. Maybe as we reflect on the way forward, it is time to bring these former leaders to lead the game.

Thulani Ncube, Ephraim Chawanda and Peter Ndlovu were great captains and leaders. Even
those who did not wear the armband, Alois Bunjira, Stanley Chirambadare, Carlos Max to name few, football has shown us that there are no shortage of leaders. Maybe the time has come to give them more prominent roles in the affairs of the game that gave them fame. Food for thought.