By Robson Sharuko
It’s one of those amazing tales in which fate just blows you away — a football romance, an incredible sequence of events, a Warrior, a dream marriage and just about everything their hearts could have desired.
Where everything appears to be a perfect script, written by a very powerful force, with every twist and turn representing the piece that was needed to complete the jigsaw puzzle in a Cinderella tale in which the power of football played a huge part.
Today, Zimbabwe international footballer, Ronald Pfumbidzai, has a loving wife, Graduate, whom he married at a colourful wedding in Harare in January this year.
The couple also have a daughter.
Andrew Rusike, a Harare businessman who is a big football fan, who rarely misses the home games of his favourite club CAPS United, has a son-in-law.
Yet, when Rusike took his family to a football match at the National Sports Stadium on September 23, 1995, he probably never imagined that, a quarter-of-a-century down the line, this game would have made such a profound impact on their lives.
Back then, he stayed in Mabvuku and his love for football was as strong then as it is now.
Like many local football fans, Rusike found himself being swept away by the magical run of the Young Warriors, in their quest to win gold, at the All-Africa Games Under-23 football tournament.
The adventure had begun with a bang when the Young Warriors defeated favourites Egypt 2-1 in their opening Group A game on September 12.
But, three days later, the hosts received a reality check when they went down 0-2 to neighbours Zambia, leaving their dreams of making the semi-finals in tatters.
The Young Warriors had to beat Congo-Brazzaville, who had captured the imagination of many neutrals in their wild six-goal thriller against Zambia which had ended 3-3 in their opening game, before going down 0-2 to the Egyptians.
In a winner-take-all battle, amid an outpouring of emotions among the Young Warriors fans, the hosts found a way to edge their resilient opponents 2-1 on September 17 and finish second, in their group, to the Egyptians, because of an inferior goal difference.
That provided them with a ticket to face Group B winners, Guinea, who had dominated a tough group that featured Nigeria and Algeria by winning twice, and drawing the other match, to finish well clear of their rivals.
However, this was a Young Warriors side now high on confidence and a routine 2-0 victory over the West Africans powered them into the final for a date against Egypt.
Rusike, just like thousands of other football fans, didn’t want to miss that grand opportunity to watch his team in the grand final and, this week, he told his story.
“The 1995 All-Africa Games Under-23 football final at the National Sports Stadium, Zimbabwe vs Egypt, the final score was 1-3, we lost to the Pharaohs,’’ he told The Herald.
But, for him, the drama started earlier.
“There I was, with my small family, that is my wife and only daughter then, Graduate Rusike,’’ he said. “We were coming from Mabvuku and were at the stadium as early as 11am, but the stadium was almost full.
“I had bought VIP tickets, thinking the VIP section would not give me problems since I had a wife and a then nine-month-old child but I was wrong.
“There was chaos at the VIP gate and, since I was holding the child, I managed to let my wife go in first. After she entered, I was left with child to deal with and I couldn’t risk exposing the child to the pressure at the gate.
“So, I asked wife to find a bin from inside, so that she could stand on it and I would hand over the child over the security wall. It was difficult for her to do that, but being very energetic then, I felt could climb over the security barrier with my daughter on my shoulders.
“While I was up there, on top of the barrier, I saw Brenna Msiska, I called out his name and he duly responded and I kindly asked him to receive my daughter and hand her over to my wife.
“He climbed from inside and received the innocent soul which was then united with its mother.’’
Rusike said came off the barrier and went back to the gate where he was involved in a bruising battle, which lasted about 20 minutes, to squeeze himself into the stadium, without his branded cap and with his shoes having been torn.
Fast forward another 18 years, and Rusike was at Danny Bismark in 2013, watching a CAPS United training session and, again, he bumped into Msiska who was one of the coaches of the club.
“We never talked about the 1995 issue that time, but I had a soft spot for a new arrival who was not being given too much attention then,’’ he said.
“In fact, the new arrival absconded some training sessions due to the fact that he never saw any chance of him joining CAPS United. I was now in talking terms with him.
“I spoke to Brenna Msiska, who was the acting head coach after the suspension of Taurai Mangwiro, he asked me if I was related to the new guy.
“I lied and I said “yes.” Brenna reluctantly agreed to rope in the newboy, an unknown left back who was coming from a Division One team, Hippo Valley FC.
“His name was Tapiwa Ronald Pfumbidzai. On January 2, 2017, Ronald Pfumbidzai married Graduate Rusike, who was that nine-month-old toddler whom Brenna got into the National Sports Stadium with in 1995.
“I reminded Brenna about the 1995 drama at a Warriors camp at Yadah Village when they were preparing for 2019 AFCON and CAN tournaments. He had forgotten but seemed stunned.
“He then jokingly said both Graduate and Ronald owe him since he firstly saved Graduate’s life and, 18 years later, saved Ronald’s career.’’ The Herald