It’s one of those nippy winter mornings at One Commando Barracks football ground in Harare. A group of young football players excitedly go through their paces, readying themselves for the day’s practice session.
Who could begrudge the players for being in a jovial mood when Black Rhinos, their team, is leading the Northern Region division one league by as many as nine points?
Right by the centre circle forming an irregular circle is a legendary and imposing technical team comprising some of the country’s iconic former players, who are strategising for the next match.
Among them is the great Stanford “Stix” Mutizwa, the head coach, who gestures while stressing a point to his assistants Maronga “The Bomber” Nyangela, Jack Mutandagayi and Britto Gwere.
This reporter had gone for an interview with Mutizwa, but approaching this league of extraordinary gentlemen made him a bit uneasy.
The warm welcome helped calm his nerves and before long, he was listening with rapt attention as one of the finest midfielders ever to strut his stuff on the field of play locally went back in time and spoke about his audacious ambitions with his Division One log leaders.
“It’s impossible to live without ambitions and I want to win the division one championship this year, then win the Premier Soccer League next season before takingthese youngsters to the [African]Champions League in the next two years. That is my aim and I think it’s achievable, but we have to work for that,” he said.
It was the great Mutizwa speaking and the temptation was to believe that he could achieve whatever he sets himself to do just as he did when he played for Caps United and Black Rhinos.
After all, he is that man whose name is indelibly etched in local football folkore, owing to his inimitable ball artistry and control.
“I think the sky is the limit for some of these youngsters such as midfielder Pride Mukombwe, striker Hilton Mhandu, striker, Yusuf Wasili and Nigel Muchadei. They have a bright future and you can see they are not far from doing what we used to do during our time,” he said.
Inevitably, we were bound to talk about him and what he used to do during his heydays. He began to speak about his famed chest control.
“I would touch the ball with one side of my chest and nobody had ever seen anything like that locally. Of course I copied Archford Chimutanda but I just perfected the art and did it in a more unique way. At first most referees would blow the whistle for a handball whenever I chested the ball and sometimes they would just blow thinking the ball had suddenly gone flat because of the way I used to make the ball stick to my chest,” he said as his eyes flickered with pride.
“For me, Chimutanda is the best footballer I have played with and of course there were also others like Joel Shambo and Stanley Ndunduma.
“But I also think my combination with Joel was arguably the best midfield combination ever to have played in local football history.”
As a player, Mutizwa was on the soccer stars calendar nine times in 10 years between 1979 and 1989, but he never won the top player award and frustratingly for him, finished runner up five times.
He opened up about one of his biggest disappointments in his football career.
The former Warriors star linkman could have plied his trade in the Belgian league in the mid-80s after he signed for Eendracht Aalst — the team that Moses Chunga played for — but he never made the trip.
“I was the one who was spotted by the club that eventually snapped up Moses Chunga while playing in Italy in 1986 for the defence forces team,” he said.
“We beat the Belgian team by a single goal and I scored the goal; the Belgium coach was impressed.
“He said goal-scoring midfielders are rare in football so I want you in my team, my secretary will come to Zimbabwe to get you.
“We played against greats such as Gianluca Vialli and Jurgen Klinsmann at that tournament and actually, Germany beat us on penalties.
“When the Aalst representative came here, he was impressed by my play and I signed a contract at Jameson Hotel.
“That’s when he was also told about Chunga and decided to sign him as well.
“We processed the visas together with Chunga and we were supposed to leave the country on a Monday, but club officials influenced by my coach at Black Rhinos Ashton Nyazika suddenly blocked the move.
“I was devastated and I still have that contract with me up to today,” a rueful Mutizwa said.
Born on August 31 1958, Mutizwa began his career on the dusty streets of Mbare, making the school team at Chirodzi Primary School as a tiny and frail-looking boy oozing with natural talent.
Because of his frailty, his mother did not approve of him playing football.
“She didn’t want me to play football because I was tiny. Actually, that’s where the nickname Stix came from because I was tiny and very slim and also it came from the way the ball would stick to any part of my body,” he revealed.
Mutizwa later became a Dynamos junior player where he met players such as Chimutanda, David Mandigora and Ernest Mutano as well as veteran journalists Tendai Ndemera and Charles Mabika.
He left the Dynamos under-16 to join Mutambara in the then Salisbury African Districts Amateur Football Association (Sadafa) league before Nyazika lured him to Madzivire Strikers, which later became Glen Strikers.
After guiding Strikers from the third division into the super league in three years, Mutizwa was snapped up by Caps United in 1979.
He guided the Green Machine to a maiden league title, making it a double by winning the Castle Cup.
Mutizwa’s stock continued to rise at Caps United and he became part of the Warriors squad.
The Caps United star player joined the army in 1982 to form Black Rhinos along with Ndunduma and Stanley Chikauro, but a contractual dispute saw him play for Chauya Chipembere in 1984.
The legendary Black Rhinos team inspired by Mutizwa won the league and Cup double for the first and the star player remained at Rhinos until he retired in 1990.
No sooner had he retired did his coaching career start, as he became assistant coach at the army side.
He has, however, not had much success as a coach, in stark contrast to his glamorous football career.
Stints with teams such as Mwana Africa, Triangle as well as assisting Benedict Moyo at the Mighty Warriors have not yielded much.
However, he is grateful to football for his life.
“Football has played a big part because all I have, I got it from football. I can tell you that me and Japhet Mparutsa were the first footballers to buy houses in Mabelreign in 1984,” he said.
Mutizwa and his wife Elizabeth have two sons — Lionel, who is a professional footballer is currently playing for Vasco Da Gama in South Africa and Stanford, whose footballer career never really took off.