THE year 1966 is most remembered in local football circles as the only one where the league title was won by a team outside of Bulawayo and Harare.
REPORT BY ALBERT MARUFU
A number of teams have tried in vain to break this hegemony — including the mega rich Zvishavane-based FC Platinum with all their platinum cash.
Away from the glowing lights associated with city life, the now defunct St Paul’s FC, based in Musami, Murewa, some 80 kilometres outside Harare, defied the odds to lift the 1966 championship.
Coached by Antony Edward Davies, St Paul’s finished the North Zone campaign on top, having won 11 of the 16 league matches it played.
Parading the likes of James Nxumalo, Jawett Nechironga and Felix Mbidzo they went on to beat Bulawayo Rovers 5-4 on aggregate to be crowned champions.
For a team based in a rural area, they had made their mark and went on to lift the 1967 British America Tobacco (BAT) Cup.
Today, close to five decades on, one has to rummage to the bottom of the drawers to find the name of the team, and more so its home ground, which was built through the blood and sweat of the local community.
The stadium which launched the careers of Nxumalo, Nechironga, Mbidzo and five-time Soccer Star of the Year, George Shaya is now an eye sore.
The stadium with an estimated capacity of 15 000, and constructed in the same mould as Gwanzura, is a caricature of its former self.
Grass and ants have found refuge in the terraces with the latter forming ant-hills. Four poles remain of what used to house the very important people (VIP) enclosure, with lawn on the pitch now anonymous.
Ironically, Mbidzo who captained the team to its maiden championship, and the team’s former defender Abel Chinyani live just a stone’s throw away from the stadium.
Now 75, Mbidzo who fathered the famous trio Davies, John and Farai could only shake his head reminiscing on the good old days when the stadium used to host big teams.
“Big teams such as Dynamos used to come and play here. Zvinorwadza kunesu takashanda kuti rivepo ground iri. [It hurts because we worked for this ground to be here.] We worked together with the village heads to build this structure, but sadly it has been left to rot. I heard that the dressing room is now being used as accommodation. That is really sad,” said Mbidzo.
“I remember going to Marondera to collect the lawn and school- children helped me to nurse it. We put 28 to 30 scotch carts of manure, and we fetched water from Shavanhove River to water the lawn.
We had a passion for football, and that is why we won the league title and the BAT trophy. It has been years now since I last used the road that passes through the stadium,” said the man they used to call “Up and Down” during his playing days.
He added; “We formed the team at the beginning of the 1960’s, and joined the National Soccer League in 1962. We won the second division championship and joined the top flight in 1964. In 1966 we were national champions and we all did that at that venue. Shaya later joined us in 1967 and we won the BAT Trophy”.
His sentiments were echoed by Nechironga, a former student, teacher and player for the team.
“Villagers used to watch football for free and Father (Antony Davies) always encouraged villagers to come and sell their home-brewed beer near the stadium at the match venue. We always had a bumper crowd at all our home games and that inspired us,” said Nechironga who is now coaching at St Peters Kubatana in Highfields.
Nechironga added that unlike these days, it took only a promise of two quarts from Father Davies to motivate us.
“We did not play for money, but the pride of being winners. Getting two quarts after a win was a big extra incentive for us. We played some good football and I remember when Shaya joined us in 1967, we had a brilliant team that also won the BAT trophy,” said Nechironga who is father to 1990 co-Soccer Star of the Year George and Francis.
However, the two believe that it was the transfer of Father Davies in 1967 that heralded the demise of the team, and subsequently the stadium.
“When Father Davies left the school, the ones who took over did not have an interest in football. That is why most of the players left to form Chibuku Shumba. That is how the team folded soon after winning the BAT trophy,” said Nechironga.
Nigel Johnson who is the Development Director of the Jesuits in Zimbabwe said initial stages of the construction of the stadium began in 1955.
“Father Davies with the help of villagers used oxen to level the stadium in 1955, and in 1960 they hired a bulldozer which helped in creating the stands. It is sad that not much restoration is being done at the stadium because we do not have money,” he said.