By Robson Sharuko
George Shaya still lives, and that is significant, because he remains the ultimate symbol of a spirited Glamour Boys resistance that crushed an invasion by the Pirates from the South on these football shores 43 years ago.
Stewart Murisa is now back home and that’s significant, too, because it was his goal that opened a window of hope for the Green Machine, when these Pirates launched another raid across the Limpopo 22 years ago.
Shaya’s magical show, at a rain-swept Rufaro, which destroyed these Pirates in 1976, and Murisa’s stooping header, in a losing cause at the National Sports Stadium in 1987, however, are fading reminders of a past when the domestic football landscape was ruled by giants.
Instead, when these Pirates from the South arrive here this week, they will find a domestic football landscape whose hierarchy has significantly changed as the power of platinum money casts its spell on the game.
An environment where the traditional giants they battled on their last two visits here now live in the shadows of richer challengers who have now taken over the show.
Where Dynamos are now a mockery of everything the Glamour Boys used to stand for and have been reduced, by a toxic combination of both greed and poor leadership, into a walking shadow, a tale told by a fool, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.
Where CAPS United are still trapped in the hangover of their magical Champions League run two years ago and are trying to find a way back into the light, after a season of darkness, in which they limped from one poor result to another.
And, of course, where Highlanders — whose Barbourfields fortress will provide the stage for this battle, as if by a cruel design by the football gods to remind them of how far they have fallen from the elite league — are still lost in a soul-searching exercise that promised so much but delivered little last year.
“For avoidance of doubt, we will be at BF (Barbourfields) supporting @FCPlatinum with all our might and loud voices,” Chicken Inn, another of the small boys brigade wreaking havoc in the changing domestic Premiership, said on Twitter.
“The ideal match would have been @HighlandersBosso versus @orlandopirates but manje iBosso yakhona hayi aaaaa.
“Come on Platinum, make Zim proud.”
It’s difficult to argue otherwise and Orlando Pirates will arrive to find a transformed domestic football landscape to the one they saw on their previous two visits.
Back in 1976, they ran into a formidable Dynamos side, probably the greatest collection of Glamour Boys in history, and the Sea Robbers suffered a 1-4 mauling at Rufaro.
Shaya, who this year marks 50 years since the season he first won the Soccer Star of the Year, was their tormentor-in-chief that day.
DeMbare had lost the first leg of the Southern Africa Club Championships final 3-5 in Johannesburg but, inspired by the wizardry of Shaya and a fiercely partisan home crowd, the Glamour Boys won 4-1 for a 5-3 aggregate victory.
And, they were not the only ones to suffer at the hands of the Glamour Boys that year.
Zimbabwe Saints were hammered 1-8 in the Castle Cup final, Chibuku suffered a 0-8 humiliation in the Nyore Nyore Shield final, with Ncube scoring five goals, as Dynamos won five of the six knock-out tournaments on offer in 1976 with their only failure coming in the Chibuku Trophy.
Those Glamour Boys scored 67 goals in 19 matches in knock-out tournaments that year and another 50 goals in the league for a remarkable haul of 117 goals in one year.
They would go on to win a dozen league championships, between 1976 and 1997, including seven championships in the ‘80s they dominated, before the Pirates of the South returned to this country, this time for a Champions League duel against CAPS United.
Just a year after Pirates knocked out the Green Machine in the second round of the ’97 Champions League, DeMbare gallantly marched into the final of the same tournament, only to lose controversially to ASEC Mimosas of Cote d’Ívoire.
Ten years later, the Glamour Boys reached the semi-finals of the Champions League.
However, when Pirates arrive this week, they will find a Dynamos side stuck in a crisis, crippled by poor leaders who have remained stuck in the past, and which flirted against relegation last year, scoring the same number of goals as relegated Nichrut and Bulawayo City (37) and having a porous defence which conceded more goals than any other surviving team, except Yadah Stars.
They even finished below Herentals, in the championship race, in another mockery of the high standards they used to represent, ending their campaign 36 points behind FC Platinum.
Which means Norman Mapeza and his men could even have afforded to forfeit 12 of the games they won and still finish above DeMbare on goal difference.
And, even if Dynamos and CAPS were to combine their points tally from last season (90), they would only end just 12 points above FC Platinum.
But, DeMbare are not the only struggling giants which the Pirates of the South will come across on their latest visit to this country.
CAPS United, the team the Buccaneers wrestled in the second round of the Champions League on their last visit here, had a dismal second half of the campaign last year, winning just four of their 17 league matches, and finishing 30 points behind FC Platinum.
That they also finished three points behind Herentals puts their shortcomings last year into perspective.
Their fans can point to the league championship won three years ago, fair and fine, but it’s a success story they spent 11 years waiting for.
Bosso won the championship, two years after Pirates’ last visit and dominated the scene so much they even won four straight league titles during that remarkable phase of their history.
But, Highlanders have not been champions for 13 years now while a number of lightweights — Monomotapa, Gunners, Chicken Inn and Motor Action — have found a way to be champions.
Last year, none of the Big Three made it into the top four and DeMbare were closer to relegation (six points between them and the team occupying the last relegation slot) than they were closer to Herentals with nine points separating the two teams.
And, when the Pirates from the South arrive this week, they will certainly find a completely different domestic football landscape. The Herald