BY ADMIRE JAMU-MLAMBO
TWENTY-ONE years ago, Kwekwe-based Lancashire Steel Football Club scripted their own Cinderella story in local football history by clinching the 1999 Madison Trophy after beating star-studded Caps United 2-1 in the final.
The famous win remains one of the finest moments in the history of the Chimbi Chimbi Boys, as Lancashire Steel were affectionately known until their sad demise after being relegated from the top-flight league in 2008.
One of the heroes of that famous triumph and the subsequent period of success by Lancashire Steel is the now 46-year-old former Warriors striker Albert Mbano.
Although over a decade has passed since the player popularly known as ‘Aaliah’ hung up his boots, he still savours some of his best moments as a footballer.
“We turned Baghdad Stadium into a slaughter house as we would play like possessed people and that is how we managed to shock many teams,” Mbano told The Sports Hub.
At the beginning of the new millennium, Lancashire Steel were one of the most feared sides in the Premier Soccer League (PSL) and very few teams entered the den of the Midlands province-based and came out with anything.
Even football giants like Highlanders, Caps United and Dynamos suffered embarrassing defeats at the hands of the steel makers.
Mbano says he caught the eye of the late great coach Ashton Nyazika after scoring 63 goals for Kwekwe Stars in two seasons between 1996 and 1998.
“My career begun at a Division One side Zesa Munyati before joining Kwekwe Stars where I scored 63 goals in two seasons. I crossed the bridge to Lancashire Steel in mid-1999. The late coach Ashton ‘Papa’ Nyazika lured me to Lancashire where I became their main man in the strike force,” he said.
The forward quickly established himself in a side that boasted of the likes of the late Willard “Mashinkila” Khumalo, Costa Maradzike (late), Sam Mutenheri, Petro Sibanda and Luke Jukulile Petros.
“As a team, we were very much determined, dedicated and results-oriented. We had the will to work hard at training with players of different qualities. Petros was very strong, especially when in possession of the ball and I had the speed to out-pace any defender, and we combined very well,” Mbano said.
In his first season, Lancashire Steel won the Madison Trophy after beating a great Caps United which featured the likes of Mpumelelo Dzowa, Asani Matora, Joe Mugabe and George Mudiwa.
After spending four seasons at Baghdad, Mbano left the club in 2003 to join Shabanie Mine where he penned a two-year deal whose signing-on perks included a house bought for him by the club in Mbizo’s surburb of Kwekwe.
Mbano, now coaching in the second-tier Central Region Division One League, says although he enjoyed his time at Shabanie Mine, he remains bitter with the club for failing to hand over the title deeds to the Kwekwe house at the expiry of his two year contract.
“To this day, I feel, Shabanie Mine executive failed to stick by what we had agreed by failing to hand over my house in Mbizo 13 suburb, Kwekwe, after the completion of my contract in 2005. It’s an issue that made me hate football. I understand the club is struggling, but if they surrender my house, I will assist them in any way I can,” he said.
Despite the acrimonious end to his Shabanie stint, Mbano played some of the best football of his career at Maglas, winning the BP Cup and OK Grand Challenge as well as reaching the finals of the Zifa Unity Cup and the Buddie Challenge Cup.
“I must admit that The Chinda Boys then coached by Moses ‘Bambo’ Chunga were a star-studded team, which had Francis Chandida, Asani Juma, Thomas Makwasha (late), Method Mwanjali, Zvenyika Makonese and Max Ruza, just to mention a few.
Mbano made his Warriors debut in a Cosafa Cup match against Malawi when Sunday Chidzambga was the national team coach back in 2003.
“A call to play for the national team was a dream come true and a surprise particularly to a person who grew up in the rural areas of Gokwe. On top of that, I went on to score on my debut at Chichiri Stadium and we won 2-1,” he said.
In the 2006 and 2007 seasons, Mbano went on to play for Black Rhinos and Caps United, but his best days were already behind him as he did not last long due to injuries. He then retired from the game of football.
Mbano, equipped with a level two coaching certificate is now based in Gokwe where he helped Paramount FC gain promotion into the Central Region Soccer League.