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From kit-boy to PSL boss

By Langton Nyakwenda

He has been observing developments in his preferred sport from a distance.

John Phiri and Twine Phiri seen here at a Caps United function
John Phiri and Twine Phiri seen here at a Caps United function

Five years after leaving mainstream football administration, one thing remains clear: You can take Twine Phiri out of football but you can’t take the game out of the man who rose from a kit-boy to become a club owner and leader of the Premier Soccer League.

“I am on a sabbatical; watching developments on the sidelines, but I will always be a football man,” Phiri told The Sunday Mail Sport in an exclusive interview.

“When the right time comes, I will bounce back. However, I remain available to offer football administration advice because football is my life.

“I still talk to a lot of prominent football people. I talk to ZIFA president Felton Kamambo, I also still talk to Bla Phidza (Philip Chiyangwa),” said the 49-yeard-old former CAPS United boss.

Phiri says he is now into academy football and has been working with former CAPS United players Joseph Kamwendo in Malawi and Laughter Chilembe in Zambia.

Rising through the tough life of Matererini Flats in Mbare, at one time becoming a kit-boy for the late CAPS United legend Shackman “Mr Goals” Tauro, Phiri grew into a football administrator who is credited for transforming the Premier Soccer League in the last decade.

At just 29, Phiri was already a club chairperson, perhaps a record in local football administration.

He assumed CAPS United’s chairmanship in 2000 and was club president when Makepekepe won two consecutive league titles in 2004 and 2005 — the only time the club has achieved such a feat since its formation in 1973.

Makepekepe’s other league titles were in 1979, 1996, and 2016.

“I can say my football journey began when I was still a young boy growing up at Matererini Flats. The likes of Ian Gorowa, Stanley Chimwanza and George Usayi, who was one of our seniors, were some of the close buddies in the neighbourhood.”

While football talent gave Gorowa an opportunity to enrol at Prince Edward High School, being bright in school lifted Phiri from Mbare to Mt Pleasant High School.

Gorowa went on to play for Black Rhinos and Dynamos before crossing the border into South Africa.

It was at Mt Pleasant school where Phiri’s attachment with CAPS United was cemented.

“I became close to Shacky Tauro when I was still a pupil at Mt Pleasant High. Tauro used to come to the school and I would do some errands for him.

“We became so close that he started inviting me to CAPS United games.

“I was Tauro’s kit-boy and we would travel with CAPS United to most of the away matches. I remember, back then, Temba Mliswa was also a kit-boy for Joel Shambo and we would go together.

“My passion for the team deepened. I became close to most of the players like Friday Phiri, Size Torindo, Clever Muzuva, and Tobias Sibanda.

“When I finished school and started my own business, I still retained that love for CAPS United and I maintained close links with players and officials.”

Breakthrough

Suddenly, an opportunity arose out of the blue for Phiri, courtesy of childhood friend Gorowa, who was now playing for Ajax Cape Town.

“Gorowa had a chance encounter with some Caps Holding directors in South Africa, who were the owners of Makepekepe at that time.

“He (Gorowa) got information that these directors were no longer interested in football and he immediately alerted me,” Phiri said.

That was in 1999, three years after CAPS United had won their first league title since independence.

“When Ian came back to Zimbabwe, he took me to Shepherd Bwanya, who was then CAPS United chairman, and we also met Ed Robinson, who was Caps Holdings chief executive officer.

“They told me they wanted to sell a stake in the club. I expressed my interest but before making a move, I had to get some expert advice first,” Phiri said.

Apparently, he sought advice from then ZIFA president Leo Mugabe.

“Leo Mugabe confirmed that he feared CAPS United would crumble if something was not done to save the team.

“Mugabe then introduced me to Ndumiso Gumede, who was his deputy.

“The man had, and still has, vast knowledge of the game’s administration. It was Gumede who equipped me with my early administration skills.”

Through his company Twin-Con, Phiri entered into a partnership with Caps Holdings

He paid $900 000 for the 50 percent stake, shrugging off businessman Daniel Shumba, who was also angling for the deal.

“Shepherd Bwanya, who was employed by the company, remained chairman. But, in 2000, after learning the ropes, I assumed the post of chairman, at the age of 29.

“Andy Hodges came in as the chief executive officer, while Gorowa was roped in as a board member.”

When Caps Holdings disposed its stake at the end of 2001, Phiri assumed full ownership of CAPS United and became club president.

“Immediately, I had to introduce a fresh line-up because I wanted to turn the club into a professional entity.

Ziyambi Ziyambi came in as treasurer, Wellington Chando as secretary, Joe Makuvire (marketing) and Valentine Gwaze as brand manager.

“I brought in Willard Manyengavana – may his soul rest in peace – as team manager, while Hodges became club chairman.

“We started putting up things together. Most of the players worked for Caps Holdings and they couldn’t leave their jobs and become full-time with the club.

“We started building the club with Steve Kwashi, who was head coach, acquiring some new players. I remember travelling to Mashava in a hunt for Francis Chandida.

“Unfortunately, Dynamos beat us to his signature,” recalled Phiri.

Sadly, Kwashi was involved in a near-fatal accident in 2001.

Rahman Gumbo came on board and brought in former Masvingo United coach Charles Mhlauri as his trusted lieutenant.

There was something special about Mhlauri that prompted Phiri into investing a fortune on the development of the then unheralded gaffer.

“Mhlauri had a very impressive CV and when an opportunity opened up, we sent him to Germany to further his football studies.

“He stayed in Munich for 10 months.

“He came back in 2003, at a time Gumbo had left us and we elevated him to the post of head coach.”

The move turned disastrous for Phiri, at least in the short term.

Mhlauri registered three wins in the opening five matches but all hell broke loose in his sixth game in charge, when Makepekepe were beaten 2-0 by newboys Kambuzuma United at Gwanzura on April 13, 2003.

“Fans ran amok. Some smashed my car, others came to the VIP section, beat me up and tore my clothes.

“They were demanding Mhlauri’s ouster and blasted me for appointing an unknown coach to a big club like CAPS United.

“Mhlauri fled the scene and headed straight to the Harare Show Grounds bus stop with the intention of hiking a lift straight to his home in Bulawayo.

“I phoned him and told him to wait for me there. I hired a taxi and found him in a sorry state. He was shaken; he wanted to leave, but I gave him some assurance and he agreed to stay.

“The following Monday, I was forced to address some fans at Raylton Sports Club. I explained my vision and also revealed some of the new players that we intended to bring to the club.

“We finished fourth that season and had also negotiated deals with players like Brian Badza, Cephas Chimedza, Ian Bakala, Laughter Chilembe, Siza Khoza and Asani Matora.

“We blended them with acquisitions from Hwange like Milos Phiri and goalkeeper Witness Munkuli.”

From villain to hero.

CAPS United conquered the Premier Soccer League in 2004 and 2005.

Mhlauri became an instant hero to the extent that then ZIFA chairperson Rafik Khan used him as a bargain in a kit sponsorship deal with Italian sportswear Legea.

“In 2005 I met representatives of Legea in Italy and we reached a kit sponsorship deal for CAPS United.

“But, the deal had some conditions,” added Phiri.

“Legea also wanted to sponsor the national team as part of the arrangement.

“I came back and persuaded Khan. He agreed, but on condition.

“He said ‘give me your coach as part of the deal’. I had no choice, I agreed and that’s how Mhlauri became coach for both CAPS United and the national team in 2005.”

The soft-spoken administrator has a long relationship with incumbent club president Farai Jere, which dates back to 2007, when the latter was appointed CAPS United team manager.

The appointment came exactly two years after Phiri had made what he still regards as one of his biggest mistakes in football – the farcical tour of England.

CAPS United were invited to play Highlanders in Bradford in September 2005 but returned from England without most senior players, who sneaked out and stayed behind in search of greener pastures.

Artwell Mabhiza, Silent Katumba, David Sengu, Raymond Undi, Elton Chimedza and Tichaona Nyenda did not return with the team.

That setback nearly cost CAPS United the league title.

“The biggest mistake was accepting to go to Bradford for that tournament. We did it for the players to gain exposure but in the end most of them remained in the United Kingdom.

“We were comfortably sitting on top of the log by the time we went for that tournament. But, we came back without most of our senior players who decided to stay in the UK.

“Luckily, we had an academy which produced youngsters like Washington Pakamisa and Lionel Mtizwa, who were blended with the remaining seniors. We stuttered towards the title.”

In 2009, Phiri offered Jere a 25 percent stake in the club, and that was to be the beginning of Jere’s ascendancy.

Jere is now the major shareholder in CAPS United with a 80 percent stake, while Nhamo Tutisani controls the remainder.

“I do not want to talk much about that now, rather I would like to focus more on my achievements in football, especially at the Premier Soccer League,” said Phiri.

He led the Premier Soccer League from 2010 to 2016 when he was forced out by Philip Chiyangwa’s ZIFA board.

“As PSL chairman, I successfully lobbied for PSL to have 16 votes in the ZIFA Congress. Previously, the PSL had five votes.

“I pushed for the league’s success. That is why I employed Kennedy Ndebele, a vastly experienced football administrator, as CEO in 2011.

“We lined up sponsorship deals with Delta Beverages, NetOne, BancABC, Mbada Diamonds, Pick ‘n’ Pay, SuperSport and Nestle.”

He was also instrumental in the concept of spreading football to all corners of the country by staging cup tournaments in areas such as Triangle, Gwanda, Chiredzi, Kariba and Beitbridge, which by then had no PSL teams.

“I had a blueprint for the league. I wanted our league to match South Africa. I also had strong links with football leaders in Ghana, Zambia, Botswana and Nigeria.

“However, when Chiyangwa came on board as ZIFA president, he didn’t like me. I used to sit on the ZIFA board under then president Cuthbert Dube and when he was ousted, Chiyangwa insisted I also leave.

“I didn’t want to destabilise the set-up and I opted out for football to be the winner.”

Phiri officially stepped down as PSL chairperson in March 2016 when Peter Dube was elected his successor.

He had also become ineligible to contest for the PSL chair when Jere took over as CAPS United president in February 2016.

According to the PSL statutes, only club chairpersons or presidents can vie for the PSL chairperson’s post.

“That is all water under the bridge. My focus remains on football development. Right now I am coming up with academies in Malawi and Zambia”.

It might need a whole book to chronicle Phiri’s football journey and perhaps that is why the veteran administrator has an autobiography on the cards.

It will be entitled “Twine Phiri’s Road into Football’’. The Sunday Mail

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