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Going down memory lane

IN 1995, Orlando Pirates of South Africa became the first southern African football team to lift the then Africa Cup of Club Champions, now the Caf Champions League.

Twenty-one years later, it was the turn for another South African club Mamelodi Sundowns to lift the trophy that symbolises continental football supremacy after their success over Zamalek of Egypt. The victory was inspired by Zimbabwe’s own Khama Billiat.

In-between the success of the South African clubs, Zimbabwe’s champions Dynamos competed strongly for the honour in 1998, going as far as the final of the Caf Champions League before controversially losing out to Asec Mimosas of the Ivory Coast 4-2 on aggregate.

As if that was not enough, Dynamos were at it again in 2008 when they reached the semifinals of the same tournament before being bundled out by Cotonsport of Cameroon.

Although the Bucs and the Brazilians have won the Caf Champions League, it is Dynamos of Zimbabwe who are the holders of the Southern African Club Champions Cup after their sensational 7-6 aggregate victory over Orlando Pirates in 1976 when the regional club tournament was first and last held.

The tournament had featured two South African teams, Orlando Pirates and Moroka Swallows and two Zimbabwean teams, Dynamos and Chibuku Shumba, for whom Sunday Marimo — now Sunday Chidzambwa — featured prominently.

Chibuku Shumba lost out to Orlando Pirates while Dynamos, who featured the likes of the legendary George Shaya, Shadreck Ngwenya, Isaac Nhema, Simon Sachiti, Shaw Handriade, Shepherd Murape, Kuda Muchemeyi, Mathew Mwale, Daniel Ncube, David George, and Oliver Kateya, were 1-0 winners over Moroka Swallows to set up a thrilling final against Pirates.

Dynamos and Pirates won their respective home legs 1-0 before a replay which saw Dynamos lose 5-3 in South Africa before winning the return leg 4-1 at Rufaro Stadium in a match that was characterised by rain for a 7-6 aggregate victory.

One of those who watched the match at Rufaro Stadium, George Chidawa, said the legendary Jomo Sono openly cried after losing the game before a capacity crowd at Zimbabwe’s traditional football venue.

“Sono wept uncontrollably. He could not believe what had happened,” said Chidawa, brother to Jerry Chidawa who scored goals at will for the Black Rhinos side that won the Zimbabwe league title in 1985.

Sono later on left Orlando Pirates to join New York Cosmos, where he played alongside the legendary Brazilian Pelé.

The Southern African club football tournament also saw Dynamos captain Shadreck Ngwenya being signed by Moroka Swallows, and joined the likes of Ebson Sugar Muguyo and Onias Musana who had earlier crossed the borders from Mashonaland United, later Zimbabwe Saints, to ply their trade in South Africa.

At Dynamos, Ngwenya was replaced by Chidzambwa, who joined the popular Harare club from crosstown rivals, Chibuku Shumba, later Black Aces. Chidzambwa went on to captain and coach DeMbare, which in the past was also popularly known as Haina Ngozi.

For the record, former Dynamos and Zimbabwe international Kaitano Tembo was nicknamed Ngwenya because of his resemblance to Shadreck Ngwenya. Ironically, Ngwenya coached Tembo at Kadoma United before the Supersport United assistant coach moved to the capital to play for DeMbare.

Although Dynamos have gone on to notch notable successes, in terms of quality, there are few, if there is any, Dynamos team that has come along that can match the vast talent of the 1976 team.

That, however, was 41 years ago, and Cosafa president Philip Chiyangwa has hinted they would want to reignite the Southern African Cup of Club Champions and this time to also involve clubs from Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana.

The Southern Africa Cup of Club Champions would be the best platform to assess which domestic league is the best in the region as there has always been debate on which one is better, the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League or the Absa Premiership.

Not forgetting the Zambian league whose clubs, notably Zanaco and Zesco have of late made a strong impact in Pan-African football; their involvement would add flavour to what on paper looks like an appetising competition.

The question, however, would be, where to fit this competition as the African football fixture is already congested with the Cosafa Castle Cup, the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the Caf Champions League and the CaF Confederation Cup.

Another question would be on what format to take — a gathering in one country of all the teams involved, as is the case with the Cosafa Castle Cup, or the home and away knockout basis which would consume much more time.

There is also the question of sponsorship as most of the southern African teams are poor and cannot in terms of finances
participate in two competitions at the same time — the Caf Champions League and the Southern African Cup of Club Champions.

The tournament should have rich financial pickings in order to entice clubs to participate and field their best players available.

Whatever the case, as things stand right now, Dynamos are the Southern African Club Champions Cup holders. The trophy is still there in the Dynamos trophy cabinet, 41 years after the competition was held.

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