By Robson Sharuko
The longest hibernation, in the 59-year history of the domestic top-flight league, finally comes to an end tomorrow — reviving a critical industry, which employs thousands of people.
And, which even shapes the mood, of millions of others.
From tomorrow, life returns into the country’s stadiums which, for the last one-and-half years, have resembled empty shells, crying out for a past, in which they were the playgrounds of the cream, of the home-based footballers.
Of course, the colourful sights and the vibrant sounds, provided by the fans in the stands, will not be part of the show, in the New Normal of life, under the Covid-19 pandemic.
But, at least, the epic battles, which have been fought on these grounds, for more than half-a-century of this organised form of top-flight football, have received the clearance to, once again, explode into life.
The Harare Derby, the epic showdown between Dynamos and CAPS United, which had been fought non-stop, for 42 years, from 1997 to 2019, before the pandemic froze everything, will certainly be back, in the next few weeks.
The Battle of Zimbabwe, the biggest football showdown in the country, in terms of numbers on either side of the divide, will certainly not be part of the group matches, when the season-opening Chibuku Super Cup, gets underway.
But, depending on how DeMbare and Highlanders fare, the two giants could meet, along the way, in a tournament which has attained added significance, after being handed the honour, to get the ball rolling.
Champions FC Platinum can now mark a decade of a dance, in the domestic Premiership, in which they have changed the face of the league, with their relentless march towards domination, with the chance to add to their growing medal haul.
Ten years ago, they were handed a harsh lesson, of the reality of life in the top-flight league, when they were beaten to the league championship, after losing their final home campaign, to the Glamour Boys.
But, they soon picked their lessons, became even stronger, their mental state became even tougher and they started fighting a bit smarter, bouncing back from that disappointment, to transform themselves into serial champions.
And, they now return, after their longest break from domestic top-flight action, with the bragging rights of three-time champions, after having won their last title on the final day of the season in 2019.
So, what does this all say about this league, which returns just a week after reviving their romance, with Delta Beverages, who have poured US$3.3 million into the PSL coffers, in a partnership that will run for the next three years?
Farai Jere, the PSL chairman, yesterday sat down with The Herald, to talk about the challenges of the immediate past, which he said left their members crippled, the present, which he claims is exciting, and the future, which he says, appears secure.
‘’In English they have a saying that you don’t know what you are missing until its gone and, for millions of football fans in this country, this is what we have been facing, for the past one-and-half years,’’ said Jere.
“The impact, which all this had on the PSL, the clubs, the players, the coaches, the medical staff and everyone connected to our industry has been huge, most of our members are bleeding but you have to give them the credit for being such great fighters.
‘’For these clubs, to have found a way to survive all the challenges that have been thrown into their path, in the past one-and-half years, is just incredible and every member of those, in charge of these teams, deserve to be saluted for how they have handled the crisis.
“It shows that we are a resilient league, with a membership that can move mountains just to ensure that the league remains alive, and vibrant, even when we are having the challenges that we have faced, in the past few months.
“The commitment is amazing and I can tell you that we have a number of heroes, many people who are sacrificing their time and fortune, who took a big knock in the past few months, but fought very hard to ensure football will be played in the PSL again and their clubs will be ready.
“So, as get to the eve of the return of the game, we have to remember every one of them, and thank them for their resilience and the reward for them, and for the league, is that we have football that is now coming back.’’
Jere said the decision by Delta Beverages to renew their sponsorship deal of the PSL was a milestone event, especially against the background of the way Covid-19 has also affected businesses, across the country.
“It’s huge, it’s massive, it’s just incredible and, in a way, it’s an endorsement of the work, which has been put in, by the leadership of the PSL because, without the right leadership, after three years of a relationship, the sponsors would have seen enough to decide their investment was not in good hands,’’ he said.
“But, they have come back, with a huge investment, in which we have to consider the state of business, which took a big hit during Covid-19, which means money is scarce, and to get such a huge investment, into the league, is big and speaks volumes for the health of our PSL.
“To get the Chibuku Super Cup coming in, for the return of football, is very big and we just want to pay tribute to our sponsors, for their confidence in our product.
“There have also been many exciting developments, across the board, and our deal with ZTN (Zimbabwe Television Network) is something we are excited about which we believe could also be a big changer, for the league, and the clubs and our entire family.
“We have also struck deals with, ZTV, and we are also have a partner for our matches, in Sakubva, and all this makes us believe that football is not only coming back but it is coming back with a huge bang.
“We are excited, the clubs are excited, the players are excited and the fans are excited and what this means is that we all believe something big will happen this season, even without, at first, having fans inside the stadiums.’’ The Herald