Rivals on the Pitch , Friends off it.

from left: Memory Mucherahowa and Joe Mugabe

Football creates rivalry among supporters and among the players as well. There is often fierce competition on the green turf but it can happen that strong friendships among rival players can also develop. This is the power of football , the ability to bring people together. In the Zimbabwe football fraternity, many friendships have developed which have lasted for along time. I will look at a few in this edition.

One friendship which has lasted a life time is that of Memory Mucherahowa and Joe Mugabe. In a discussion, legend Memo said ” I have known Joe for a long time. We started playing against each other at junior level. Caps United had a strong junior team and our coach at junior level Daniel ” Dhidhidhi” Ncube wanted us to play them because of this. That is how we developed a rivalry at a young age and later friendship with Joe. I was the first to be promoted into the first team and later Joe became the kingpin at Caps United. Our rival went up a new level but off the pitch we became even closer. ”

Any keen follower of Zimbabwe football will remember the battles these two fought in the middle of the park for their respective clubs. After the matches , with the fans still talking about the battles, the two would meet for a drink or two. Their friendship was also strengthened by their love of Thomas ” Mukanya ” Mapfumo and Chimurenga music. ” We share a love of Chimurenga music. Incidentally , we also moved to England around the same time and actually lived together at one point . Our bond grew even stronger and to date we remain close friends ” said the former long serving captain of the “Glamour Boys” , Dynamos.

Legend Memory Mucherahowa however stressed that his friendship with Joe ” Kode ” Mugabe was not the only one he had with players from rival teams. ” I have had many friends in football, Never Chiku of Caps United was a good friend, Wilfred and William Mugeyi of Black Aces and Ernest Chirambadare from his days with Aces and Blackpool to name just a few are all good friends. Wilfred Mugeyi tried to arrange a transfer for me to South Africa but the move later fell through.” he explained. ” Currently we have formed a group of legends from various teams , we are a family and i have developed friendships with most of them !”

I also found his narration of his relationship with Titus Majola of Highlanders fascinating. ” I played a number of matches against that great midfielder. In the thick of battle, Majola would encourage me, he could see my talent and did not hesitate to throw a word of praise in my direction. What a gentleman of the game. When we played Highlanders in Bulawayo ,he often asked me to stay behind for a night out. We developed a good friendship off the pitch and his death really hurt me. He was a good brother and a friend to me !” he said.

When Stanford ” Stix Mtizwa”, Joel” Jubilee” Shambo , Stanley” Sinyo ” Ndunduma were at Caps United, they formed one of the deadliest attacking quartet ever seen in the Zimbabwe football narrative. When Black Rhinos were formed in 1983, they recruited Stanley Ndunduma , Stix Mtizwa and William Chikauro from Caps United. A new rivalry developed Caps United ” Makepekepe” vs Black Rhinos “Chauya Chipembere”, former friends Shambo and Tauro were now pitted against Stix and Stan who were now driving Chipembere’s charge for honours.

Who can forget the “Thriller at Rufaro “, in the Chibuku Trophy final in 1987. In fact there were two matches because there was a replay. But it is the 3-3 draw which will always be remembered as probably the match of the decade in the 80’s. In the replay it took two former sons of Caps United to plunge the dagger into the hearts of fans who had previously worshipped them. Stix and Stan broke the hearts of many in the “Green camp” .

Off the pitch however, Shambo, Tauro, Stix and Stan remained close friends and there was no tension.

Black Rhinos also recruited Japhet “Shortcat ” Mparutsa, Hamid ” Muzukuru ” Dhana, Simon ” Ak ” Mugabe, Eddie Matsika, Lovemore Chikunha and David Mukahanana from Dynamos. In so doing they separated Japhet from his close friend Edward ” Madhobha ” Katsvere. Writing in his biography, Shortcat said ” My best friend at Dynamos was Edward Katsvere, we started the football journey as juniors at Dynamos.” This friendship was not affected by what many Dynamos fans still see as the great betrayal when legend Japhet left for Rhinos. They became rivals but remained bosom friends. ” I was also close to Sabastine ” Kojak ” Chikwature who was a teammate at junior level, when he moved to Bata Power, we became rivals but remained very good friends “, added The Shortcat.

Nesbert “Yabo ” Saruchera was also very close to Vitalis ” Digital ” Takawira and i think this one developed because they also played together at junior level. Mbare boys Chamu Musanhu and Gilbert Mushangazhike were close friends. Another tight friendship was the one between Clayton Munemo and Newman Bizeki.

” Clayton and Newman were close because they went to the same primary school, Mukurumbira Primary. Their football team was invincible in Mufakose. As implied by the name, the school became famous for its football prowess. They later played together as juniors at Dynamos and when Clayton was sent on loan to Ziscosteel, he invited Newman to join him. Clayton later returned to Dynamos leaving Newman at Ziscosteel. In one match we played against Ziscosteel and unfortunately one hard tackle from his best friend Newman led to a long term injury on Clay. ” narrated legend Memory Mucherahowa. ” They still remained close friends until Newman ‘s untimely death “,he added.

The rivalry between Zimbabwe Saints and Highlanders is well documented in Zimbabwe football folklore. The Bulawayo derby often led to friction among the fans . Violence often accompanied these matches among the fans. However , friendships developed among the players largely because they grew up together and played in the same junior teams. One well known friendship was that between Titus Majola and Joseph Machingura. The two were often together , their friendship was not affected by the fierce rivalry between their two clubs. And on the day of Majola’s tragic death, he had been socialising in the company of Machingura. They were drinking mates.

Indeed there are many friendships which developed because of football. Rival players end up as close friends and even those who are separated by football transfers remained friends. The fans can even fight or stone each other ‘s cars but the players might be sharing a drink with each other. These friendships also developed because the players knew each other from school or the junior teams.

Without rivalries especially among the fans, football loses its bragging nature, but among the players, this does not stop the players from becoming very good friends. The cases highlighted above are a good example.

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