WINSTON Churchill, the former oratory British Prime Minister, was nicknamed the “Bulldog” in recognition of his toughness – while to some, he even resembled one.
So when a public school was formed in 1950 for urbanite boys in what was then Salisbury, Rhodesia – now Harare, Zimbabwe – and named Churchill Boys High School after the very popular British premier, its sports teams became known as the Bulldogs.
For many years the name was mainly used for the school’s Rugby first XV. Inspired by the tenacity of Winston Churchill himself, the Bulldogs became a dogged rugby side, giving tough competition to elite private schools which later spread in the British colony. Â
Until today, “Bulldog” is a brand name for any pupil of Churchill or ex-boys of the school.
Over the years Churchill has churned out many fine sports personalities for this country. Due to historical inclinations, cricket and rugby have dominated the top alumni list in sports.
The 1990s heralded an upsurge of footballers coming out of Churchill with such household names as Hope Chihota, George Mbwando, Elasto Lungu, Murape Murape, Kelvin Mushangazhike, Tinashe Nengomasha and Clement Matawu all honing their skills on the grounds of the Eastlea-based school.
Talk of a Churchill soccer product now, and one man who immediately comes to mind is Norman Maroto, the leading goalscorer in Zimbabwe’s Premier Soccer League.
The Gunners hitman, who was surprisingly deemed excess baggage by ex-Dynamos coach David Mandigora at the end of the 2008 season, is sitting on 10 goals at the halfway mark of the 2009 season – and still counting.
“I learnt all the basics while at school,” Maroto tells IndependentSport. “When I later played in the Premier League it was easier because of the apprenticeship I received at Churchill.
“Sport is a big thing at that school and we always wanted to be the best in everything we did. The motto was to be the best.”
Born in the high-density suburb of Glen View in Harare almost 26 years ago, Maroto had humble beginnings, playing “money games” with friends on the streets of the populous neighbourhood.
He attended Churchill from form one to six during a fruitful period in which the school came to prominence as a conveyer belt for Zimbabwean sporting talent.
“We became some kind of any academy,” Maroto says. “I was classmates with (Willis) Magasa, who plays rugby for Zimbabwe. Then in our stream we also had guys like Cephas Chimedza (Zim football international), Tatenda Taibu, Hamilton Masakadza and Stuart Matsikenyeri (Zim cricketers). “Beast” (Tendai Mtawarira, Springbok prop) was our junior by two years.”
Maroto couldn’t escape a bit of rugby, playing as a flanker. But rugby and soccer seasons clashed, so he chose to concentrate on his main calling.
He also made the schools athletics team, specialising in the 100m and 4 x 100m sprints.
In his lower sixth form year in 2001 he made the big breakthrough into the Dynamos senior team after spending two years with the junior sides.
“I didn’t expect it at that time,” he says. “It was a star-studded team. I was happy because the senior players took me under their wings and didn’t apply too much pressure on me. It was an invaluable experience for a schoolboy to rub shoulders with players like Lloyd Mutasa, Memory Mucherahowa, Calisto Pasuwa, Makwinji Soma-Phiri, Chamu Musanhu and Masimba Dinyero.”
He spent a few seasons with Dynamos after some of the old guard left, developing into a key team player. But an episode of unrest in the Dynamos camp saw the Glamour Boys lose an entire team with Maroto being part of the exodus.
After stints with a few local premiership sides, he made a brief return to his boyhood club, rediscovering his scoring touch in the last part of the 2008 season.
“Dynamos made me who I am so when the opportunity to move arose it was the first place I had to go to.”
Being offloaded by Dynamos at the end of last season clearly hurt his feelings, which shows in the touching response to the question.Â
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“It’s part of football,” he says. “In my life I have learnt to accept such things. I’m more experienced. Things change in life. When I was younger I could not even imagine playing at this level, (but) look where I am now.”
Maroto does not take his scoring form to be a statement to anyone, nor does he view himself as a Godsend for Gunners, who are in second position on the log, four points behind Dynamos at the halfway stage of the season.
“My job is to score goals. I am only doing just part of that job,” he says. “I am paid to finish what teammates create. It’s a teamwork thing.”
What does he think of the possibility that he could be the man to lead Gunners in destroying his beloved Dynamos’ dream of a second league title in three seasons?
“Errrrm,” he says, “I don’t know, really. I am currently playing for Gunners and I owe it to the team. As for Dynamos, it’s a game. It’s a competition. The better team should win it. I hope they understand.”
He picks his best goal so far as the solo effort against Underhill in Masvingo, where he dribbled from the middle of the park to finish off beautifully.
“It’s an art I’ve been learning since I was a little boy,” he says of his scoring, having played upfront since his early years at Glen View 5 Primary School.
“There are many aspects to scoring. With the head I learnt from the best in Makwinji Soma-Phiri. He was such a great header of the ball. With the feet I have to credit Clayton Munemo and Tonderayi Ndiraya,” adds Matoro, an admirer of legendary Brazilian striker Ronaldo.
Of the local players he has watched, Peter Ndlovu is a cut from different cloth.
“He carried the team on his shoulders if the need was there. He was a great player, a complete striker.”
It also takes humbling qualities to idolise a lesser prominent player and a peer as Maroto does Shooting Stars striker Esau Amisi.
“I grew up with Amisi and I know him very well,” he says. “He has certain qualities that I admire which I don’t have. I’ve learnt quite a lot from him. Whatever technique he learnt, I would go and try to perfect it then come back to show it off to him.”
Spotting a black eye from a head-butt in the one-all draw with Kiglon a fortnight ago, Maroto is hoping to recuperate soon, and already looking forward to the last battle rounds of the season even as the league is taking a break.
Like the Bulldog he is.
BY ENOCK MUCHINJO