By Lovemore Dube
The history of Bulawayo and Zimbabwe football is incomplete without the mention of Zimbabwe Saints FC.
Relegated on 9 November, 2011 hardly 12 months after a return from Division One, Chikwata as the former league champions were affectionately known as, marked the end of an era.
After decades of in-house squabbles, relegation on numerous occasions, that year’s collapse was just the final straw for men and women who had gallantly held on to a collapsing forte.
The economy had taken its toll on individuals and a community that believed in preserving a brand associated with football greatness for decades.
The royalty of Bulawayo and the southern part of the country had among itself an imprint of Chikwata.
Not more than two clubs can be said to have been more successful in the game than Zimbabwe Saints in the history of the game in the region encompassing the five southern provinces of Bulawayo, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Masvingo and the Midlands.
In terms of successes, Bulawayo Rovers have more league championships than both Bosso and Saints combined.
However, Highlanders remains the club with most accolades having scooped basically most silverware contested in the country from 1970 a time that Bulawayo Rovers have not been in existence.
At one stage the name was synonymous with greatness as their mighty presence was felt all over Zimbabwe.
Some of the greatness was even felt as far afield as Cape Town in South Africa where some of its former players would travel to with Mzansi elite league clubs.
While the correct date of its formation remains debatable, with one camp authoritatively saying it came into being in 1931, and another saying 1922, its impact on the domestic scene has been enormous.
At some stage in the late 1970s with Highlanders languishing in the unfashionable murky waters of lower division side, Zimbabwe Saints was the flag bearer of the city in national football.
The other two teams competing at that level did not arouse so much interest for a number of reasons.
Meikles were just a club owned by a chain supermarket whose best known player was probably Zebron Magorimbo who also gained popularity in Chikwata colours.
The other one formed by breakaway players from Highlanders fronted by people with Saints links like the late politician Herbert Ushewokunze stayed a rebel bull in the pen with no company of note.
Saints had up to the 1960s been associated with the likes of nationalist and national hero Joseph Msika, the late Zimbabwe State Vice-President. He is said to have turned out for the club when it was known as Mashonaland United.
Sunday News Leisure trekked down former club boss and now club trustee Vincent Pamire, a member of the executive which won the league and Chibuku Trophy in 1988.
While that milestone achievement should have been the foundation of a new era for a club that had not enjoyed any success from their 1977 trailblazing season in which it is alleged that they were unbeaten in 22 competitive matches, it was the beginning of their fall.
Squabbles crept into the club with the old rear guard also losing its economic power, the “Young Turks” brought brains along but no financial power.
Crowds began to dwindle as did revenue as Bosso began to dominate Bulawayo. The kids from the die-hard Saints families began to be diluted finding joy in other sports and other clubs like fashionable the AmaZulu and Highlanders.
A good example being Eugene Langa who stunned his family leading Bosso onto the pitch, a move that surprised his own family who expected him to appear in Chikwata colours at Barbourfields Stadium in 2000.
Pamire alludes to the fact that many factors have come into play over the years leading to the team’s demise. He, however, believes all hope is not lost that Saints would come marching again.
A bit of ethnic differences among Saints leaders though not admitted publicly has also come into play.
“We have had our challenges as a club. We are not finished yet. We will be back in business soon and we think as early as April our boldest step in preserving our legacy will start when we lay the foundation for an academy.
“The economy has not helped matters. Football has changed and become more business-like and there is therefore a need to refocus and forget about it being a community entertainment. It’s business and people get into it to make money out of the brand the game is and the club’s asset value,” said Pamire.
He said the trustees of the club who have kept one of the most prized assets, the clubhouse had decided to hold on to it and use it as a base to revive the dream.
“Our Queens Park East clubhouse has been going down over the years. So many of our own people have over the years tried to stay there and keep it going. That has brought us so many problems.
“As elders our team’s followers will appreciate the direction we have taken to preserve the legacy by engaging one businessman Thembinkosi Masuku. With him sprucing up the place, the legacy will live on, former players, administrators, members and sympathisers will have a place to meet and reminisce.
“We want to start an academy at the clubhouse soon, develop junior players who in a number of years will mature and feed into a first team that has grown through the mill. These will have Chikwata ethos in their hearts,” said Pamire.
He implored on all those who love the club to bear with them as they work out a path towards the club’s return to football.
“Memories and the clubhouse is what is all left of the club. Our legends are out there dead worried about what became of the Bulawayo giant that gave Zimbabwe giants like Gibson Homela, Max Tshuma, Ebson Sugar Muguyo, Muzondiwa Mugadza, John Sibanda, Mai Maria (Andrew Kadengu).
“Juniors should be the backbone of the club. Home brewed talent has loyalty and never has mercenary ideas. We want Saints players who will have the club at heart and play for legends of generations gone by.
“Those before us and them, who braved all attacks to keep the club going will hate us forever if we die without reviving once Zimbabwe’s premier football brand,” said the former Zifa boss.
Saints were at one stage known for a sleek passing game, with build ups started methodically at the back, adding pace on the wings, creativity in midfield with great finishing touches on the final third of the pitch.
While not much is known about the late Vice-President Msika’s teammates, Zimbabwe took note of the footballing giant in the 1960s when the trio of Gibson Homela, Alick Mwanza and William Sibanda burst onto the scene as schoolboys who would be driven to the club’s camp or matches from Fletcher High School in Gweru.
Homela would become one of the first players from Saints to represent the country, then a fiery striker in 1969 in the side that lost 1-0 to Australia in a World Cup final qualifying match in Maputo, Mozambique.
More stars would come on board to make the club a prominent fixture in the game in the 1970s. Ebson “Sugar” Muguyo, among the first known Chikwata exports who joined Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa becoming a celebrated hero in 1976 by becoming the first player to score a hat-trick for Amakhosi against Orlando Pirates in the Soweto derby, was among a cast that had Homela, Sibanda, Simon Supiya, Lucky Rufani, Zebron Magorimbo, Adam Maseko, Ephraim Moloi, Steve Kwashi, Isaac Banda, Philemon Dangarembwa, Douglas Maneto, Steven Chuma, Francis Ngara, Chita Antonio, Itai Chieza, Max Tshuma and Andrew Kadengu who illuminated the scene in the 1970s.
There were further additions like the late Onias Musana, Thomas Chipembere and Magorimbo in the late 1970s. The 1970s saw the club rise to prominence with the 1976 Chibuku Trophy 4-0 conquest of Highlanders in a Bulawayo derby played at Harare’s Rufaro Stadium. It was a historic first in which over a 100 cars and buses found their way to Harare and the train fully booked.
This was followed by the 1977 league triumph that was decorated by the Castle Cup win.
The early part of the 1980s had the club’s junior development bearing fruit with the likes of Tapiwa Mudyambanje, Toendepi Nyathi and Godfrey Paradza in national junior teams.
But it is the regional Cecafa Club Championships where Saints reached the semis in 1987, that would mark another turn around for the club.
Under Roy Barreto in 1988 Saints won the championship, losing in the final of the Rothmans Shield to Highlanders but making a repeat of the 1976 Chibuku Trophy triumph against their neighbours with the solitary goal that determined that match coming from the head of Jimmy Phiri.
Boyce Malunga, John Sibanda, Joseph Machingura, Obey Sova, George Ayibu, Misheck Sibanda, Shayne Khamal, Henry Mckop, Josphat Munetsi, Josphat Humbasha, Chemai Hunidzarira, Norman Gumbo, Agent Sawu, Innocent Rwodzi, Melusi Nkiwane, Garikayi Rwodzi, Stanley Mutasa and Ephraim Chawanda among the 1980s greats.
Chipo Tsodzo, the scorer of the last goal scored by Saints on November 9, 2011 in a 1-1 draw with Black Mambas which effectively saw the club being relegated, is among the notables of the last of Real Saints who include Muzondiwa Mugadza, Daniel Bingadadi, Dominic Changwe, Sikhumbuzo Banda, Dumisani Dube, Nkosana Gumbo, Mlungisi Ndebele, the great Ronald Sibanda, Lovejoy Mugadza who played their hearts out for a collapsing giant for peanuts. Time will judge Pamire and other trustees as Zimbabwe would love to see a giant called Zimbabwe Saints back. The Sunday News