As a nation we were hard on the late John Sibanda. We were relentless in our criticism and very unforgiving after that howler against Congo Brazzaville.
We called him names, even accused him of daylight witchcraft and went as far as attaching the sell-out label to his name.
With hindsight we must admit that what Sibanda needed after that grave mistake was a lifting hand and not harsh criticism.
A sports psychologist would have done the trick but sadly back then our understanding of sport was not what it is now. After his howler against Congo Brazzaville the giant goalie never recovered his confidence.
Yes on the outside he seemed to be getting on with it but deep inside he suffered an emotional scar, a scar that pained him for the rest of his life.
Sibanda was never called up to the national team again and his place as Zimbabwe Saints number one was usurped by the up and coming Muzondiwa Mugadza.
Collin Nyabadza, a friend who knew Sibanda well, reckons the goalkeeper in his pal died on the day he made the Congo blunder.
“That mistake haunted him for the rest of his life, he felt like he had let the whole country down. I don’t think he ever forgave himself for that one,” said Nyabadza. Lovejoy Mugadza, one of Sibanda’s teammates at Zimbabwe Saints, added: “After the Congo game something died inside him. He was often a bag of nerves in goals.
“He was quite happy to sit on the bench deputising Lazy Muzo. In one match, Gibson Homela selected him versus Highlanders. Lo and behold, he allowed a simple shot from Mecedes “Rambo” Sibanda to slip through his grasp…the Congo blunder killed his confidence.
“It’s sad that back then no one cared about John Sibanda the man. Yes he made a mistake, a very costly one but that is part of the game. The nation needed to forgive him and let him live again but everywhere he went people said there goes the goalkeeper who cost us a place at Afcon.”
Sibanda’s experience is similar to that of Moacir Barbosa the 1950 Brazil World Cup keeper who conceded a simple goal to deny his nation victory over Uruguay. Barbosa was ostracised and dubbed “the man who broke a nation’s heart!”
He was never made to forget that mistake and said in one interview: “Under Brazil law, the maximum sentence is 30 years, mine has lasted 50 years!”
It’s a pity that when people talk of John Sibanda today the main theme of those discussions is the Congo howler and not the great goalkeeper that he was.
Maybe exorcising the ghost of Congo next month and qualifying for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals will take the burden of that 1992 howler off Sibanda’s shoulder, wherever he is.
It’s the least he deserves after the way we treated him.
Go Warriors Go, for the gentle giant that was John Sibanda!Sunday Mail