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Tsodzo relives the massacre in Ebola-hit Zaire

At times, some people put their lives on the line for the love of the game of football or their country.

BY FORTUNE MBELE

This is what comes to Chipo “Jack Roller” Tsodzo’s mind each time he remembers the day two decades ago when the Warriors were massacred 5-0 by Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).

Chipo “Jack Roller” Tsodzo gives instructions to some of the players he coaches at Bantu Rovers

Chipo “Jack Roller” Tsodzo gives instructions to some of the players he coaches at Bantu Rovers

Tsodzo may have been known for his weakness for the bottle but, bad behaviour aside, he is one of the reasons why Zimbabwe qualified for the 2004 and the 2006 Afcon tournaments — putting his life on the line, along with fellow compatriots, to fulfill a fixture that the foreign contingent had refused to be part of out of fear of the dreaded Ebola virus.

This was in 1995 when Zaire was hard-hit by an outbreak of the deadly virus. The players that the nation had looked up to refused to travel fearing for their lives, but Tsodzo and others stepped in to save the Zimbabwe, albeit with the heavy defeat that ensued.

The goals fest for Zaire was not entirely as a result of Zimbabwe’s poor performance but — as those that watched that match would recall — Warriors’ players spent the entire 90 minutes running away from their opponents. Nobody wanted physical contact because of the virus!

Tsodzo — then a heavily built striker — was only 17 years old but had already made it into the Premier Soccer League with Bulawayo football powerhouse Zimbabwe Saints, popularly known as Chauya Chikwata.

Veteran coach Gibson Homela, assisted by Barry Daka, had to hastily assemble a makeshift team to fulfil the fixture.

Last week — some 23 years after the forgettable drubbing — Standardsport caught up with the 40-year-old Tsodzo, who now coaches Bantu Rovers together with senior coaches Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu and Johannes “Tshisa” Ngodzo. At one time Ngodzo and Tsodzo played together at Highlanders.

Tsodzo, who became a household name in football circles recalled how, after staking their necks to save the nation, Zimbabwean players — regarded as heroes for their sacrifice — made a spectacle of themselves on the pitch as they took great effort to avoid contact with their opponents.

“Everything was like a soap opera. People did not want to have contact with their opponents. We went there not because we wanted to win, but to fulfill the fixture to avoid a CAF ban,” Tsodzo said.

He added, “It was scary because of the Ebola outbreak, but we ended up agreeing because when we boarded the plane we were promised that we would not mingle with a lot of people and that we were going to carry our own food to that country. We were also told that straight from the airport we were going to the stadium to play and soon after travel back home.”

Tsodzo made an impact in the Zimbabwe Saints team in 1994, along with players like Lloyd Jowa, Innocent Rwodzi, Howard Mago, David Sibanda and goalkeepers John Sibanda as well as Muzondiwa Mugadza. He made his debut in the national team in 1995.

“My career with the national team started in 1995 when I became part of the Young Warriors team which travelled to the Ebola-ravaged DRC to save the country from a CAF ban. Other players in that team included Joe Mugabe, Mercedes Sibanda [late], Gift Lunga and Mugadza.

His memorable game was the one against Tongogara at Mbizo Stadium in Kwekwe in 1995 when he grabbed a brace, with Gidiza scoring the third goal to sink their opponents.

“After I left Zimbabwe Saints, I joined Masvingo United in 2001 under coach Charles Mhlauri and Luke “Vahombe” Masomere. In 2002 I was voted soccer star of the year finalist and was top goal scorer with 27 goals. I was then approached by Maphepha [Ernest Sibanda, former Bosso chairman] and I decided to join Bosso in 2003 after attending trials with Paphos in Cyprus,” Tsodzo recalled.

At Highlanders he played with the likes of Gilbert Banda, Bekithemba “Super” Ndlovu, goalkeeper Tapuwa Kapini, Mkhokheli Dube, Honour Gombami, Blessing Gumiso, Costa Maradzike and Richard Choruma, among others. The coaches then were Willard Mashinkila-Khumalo, Dick Chama, Eddie May (both late) and Madinda Ndlovu.

The Jack Roller later moved to Harare where he joined Mwana Africa under Mashinkila-Khumalo, winning the CBZ Cup after beating Chapungu, to represent the country in the Cup Winners Cup (now CAF Confederation Cup) in 2007. They were, however, kicked out of the tournament by TP Mazembe.

Tsodzo then joined Hwange in Division One and helped them gain promotion to the Premier Soccer League before returning to Bosso in 2010. He returned to Zimbabwe Saints in 2011 when Chikwata bounced back to the top league after acquiring the Eagles’ franchise.

From Chikwata, Tsodzo joined Quelaton when they were promoted to the top flight league in 2012. He hanged his boots to take up coaching in 2014.

“I am coaching juniors at Bantu Rovers but I also assist the senior team coaches. It’s good to start from the bottom. My aim is to become a top coach, get a good team and end up coaching national teams,” Tsodzo said.

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