4 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Maybe It's Our Special Gift, As a Football Family, to Always Have Impossible Relationships With Some of Our Brightest Administrative Prospects


Three of the biggest football clubs in the country have, within a period of just one month, lost their finest administrative brains, the heart and soul of their administrative machinery, and you don't need to have an attachment to any of those teams to feel the massive loss that will come with these departures

In the English summer of 2003, on a bitterly cold May morning in London, I made my way to a media conference at the world-famous Lord's cricket ground.

I got there rather late, not surprising for someone going there for the first time, arriving at St John's Wood underground station and then finding my way to the ground, known as the home of cricket, by foot.

The media conference room was packed, with English cricket writers, and as I took my seat at the back, my presence inevitably sparked massive interest among my hosts in what was clearly an exclusive club.

Late, as I might have been that morning, I wasn't the last of the journalists to arrive for that media conference.

Someone else came way after me and, as fate would have it, would make the biggest impression on me during that media conference.

There was something special, I felt, about the way he talked as he asked his questions, the quality of the questions he asked, the way he kept drawing respect from those who were answering the questions and the way his fellow cricket writers appeared to respect him.

And, boy oh boy, he kept us laughing with a comic reference here and there.

His name was Christopher Martin-Jenkins and, later, I was to know that he was notorious for his bad time-keeping and, on one occasion, had turned up at the wrong cricket ground while coming in to cover a match.

On Tuesday, CMJ or Major, as Martin-Jenkins was popularly known around the cricket world, died after losing his year-long battle with cancer.

"The late Christopher Martin-Jenkins - We always said it had a pertinent ring to it, because generally that is what he was," wrote Mike Selvey, in a powerful and moving tribute in The Guardian newspaper, this week.

"And, now, he really is."

CMJ had a profound effect on my life, both as a person and a journalist, from our first meeting at Lord's that May morning 10 years ago to the time he left our world on New Year's Day at the age of 66.

He did not play professional cricket, his attachment with the game had started when he was eight, after he became hooked up to the Ashes' series of '53, but he rose to become an authoritative broadcaster and writer.

This year, CMJ would have marked 40 years on the BBC Test Match Special Team, having taken his seat in '73, when I was only three, and he was celebrating 30 years on that show when we met at Lord's.

"I last saw him at the end of October when a few of us went to visit him in Sussex. He was between treatments and quite perky," Selvey wrote in The Guardian.

"We took him to the pub for lunch and he paid, which is pretty much when we realised how ill he was.

"The cricket world at large knew him as CMJ, initials that became synonymous with the very best in cricket journalism, both spoken and written. Then one day, he arrived to set up shop in the press box.

"'Hampshire won,' he announced by way of greeting. 'Did it, Major' was the immediate response, reprising Fawlty. He was known as the Major ever since.

"And through his entire working life, the Major championed cricket and cricketers of all abilities. The game has lost perhaps the best friend it ever had."

CMJ did not write my major sporting discipline, football, but we kept meeting in cricket and, from our first contact in that Lord's media conference room, he came to represent the journalist that I wanted to be.

His story provided the inspiration and, just like him, I had not played football at a professional level, thanks to that unforgettable career-ending injury, while still in school, that ended my dreams of one day becoming bigger than Moses Chunga.

CMJ loved his sport and when he became the BBC Chief Cricket Correspondent, he insisted that the English county championship matches be covered as extensively as the flagship Ashes Test series between England and Australia.

He also worked for the Daily Telegraph, Times, The Cricketer and Wisden and wrote a number of books - The Wisden Book of County Cricket (1981); Bedside Cricket (1981); Twenty Years On: Cricket's Years of Change (1984); Cricket: A Way Of Life (1984); Seasons Past (1986); Quick Singles (1986); Grand Slam (1987); Cricket Characters (1987); Sketches of a Season (1987) and Ball by Ball (1990).

His cricket columns in the Daily Telegraph, which started at about the same time I was embarking on my journalism journey at this newspaper, were so powerful that in 1999, the newspaper's main rivals, The Times, came in and poached him.

When CMJ said that after nine years of working for the Telegraph he looked into the mirror and was shocked to see how the job had sucked so much out of him by making his hair grey, I understood exactly what he meant.

Just days ago, my barber told me that all my hair was turning white, at an alarming pace, I would soon resemble the white heads on the Dynamos board of directors, whom I used to mock not so long ago, when I felt they were messing up this big Glamour Boys' brand.

It had happened to CMJ, I told myself, and if it could happen to such nice guys whose written and spoken words had made a huge contribution to their beloved sporting disciplines, then I was in good company.

CMJ even became the president of the Marylebone Cricket Club, a rare honour for a journalist, and in the elections for the main committee, he won more votes than former British Prime Minister John Major.

But he was human, too, and he struggled to adjust to technology and the changes it brought - usually hitting the delete, instead of the send, baton, on his computer and trying to make a call from the remote control device of his hotel room television, which he had mistaken for his mobile phone, after another late dash from the room.

CMJ, always late and now late for good, was the journalist that I have always wanted to be - a man dedicated to his sport he made a huge contribution during 40 years in which he became the voice of Britain's favourite summer sport.

A man fiercely committed to his family, he even left the BBC so that he could get more time with his wife and children by spending the winter at home as opposed to always touring with the England cricket team who are always on the road during that time.

And, crucially, he was a man fiercely loyal to his deep religious beliefs.

"If cricket writing was a profession, Christopher Martin-Jenkins was the head of it," Stephen Fray wrote in The Independent this week.

"The fluency and authority of his clipped speech summoned up reassuring memories of less turbulent times before Kerry Packer, television and one-day cricket.

"Asked where the fluency came from, he replied that he thought it must be God-given."

I couldn't have said more.

The wild season of losses

Peter Oborne, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said "one of the many things that combined to make CMJ so special was that he had never been a professional cricketer.

"CMJ was sometimes mocked for this fastidiousness, personal integrity, and sense of values. In truth, this was the very reason he was loved by so many people who never met him - but who revered him and everything he was and stood for."

When you spend 40 years in sports journalism, the way CMJ did, it's inevitable that you touch people's lives, including millions that you will never know or meet, and there is both a positive and negative impact.

When you spend 20 years in sports journalism, the way I have done, it's inevitable that you touch people's lives, including millions that you will never know or meet, and there is both a positive and negative impact.

When your sports journalism career is as old as the English Premiership, which is in its 20th season, as old as the Zimbabwe Premiership, which is entering its 20th season, you know you have been in the trenches long enough to touch people's lives and, in the process, add a white touch to your hair.

When your sports journalism career is as old as the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as old as the diplomatic relations between Israel and the Vatican and as old as Bobbi Kristina Houston Brown, the daughter that Whitney left behind, you should know you have been around long enough to touch people's lives.

When you see your column generating more than 500 comments, within a short period of it being posted on a social media group, you should know you are touching people's lives in a very big way and there is need to value that trust and protect that relationship.

Obviously, I'm a long way off from doing a tenth of what my idol CMJ did in his lengthy and illustrious professional career, but even as I mourn his departure I cannot help but celebrate the massive impact that his work had on my career.

World cricket will mourn long and hard, for one of its greatest characters, and even though he never played the game as a professional, he helped shape it for over 40 years with a voice and a pen that was felt around the globe.

It's a trying time for the game because it has just lost Tony Greig, the former England Test captain and broadcaster, who lost the battle against cancer, aged 66, and earned glowing tributes as "the godfather of modern cricket."

We have just lost Adam Ndlovu, a gentle giant in our football, and the tears simply can't go away and images of that wrecked BMW X5, in the accident which claimed his life, simply won't fade away.

And the cruel irony of it all is that the last two digits of this New Year (13), as in 2013, will always provide a painful reminder of the number of the Warriors jersey that Adamski wore with distinction.

That Adam represented the future of our national game isn't questionable and it's tragic that a man who was showing so much promise, as an emerging coach, should see his life being blown away in such tragic circumstances in the year that he made his biggest mark in his new chosen field.

All the good boys are going away

But when you look around you will see that the losses, in as far as our national game is concerned, are just about everywhere.

Some of our finest football administrators are walking away from the game, at a very young age, for one reason or another.

And in the past month alone we have seen Nathan Shoko (FC Platinum president), Farai Jere (CAPS United vice-president) and Raymond Kazembe (Dynamos secretary-general) all turning their back on our football.

Three of the biggest football clubs in the country have, within a period of just one month, lost their finest administrative brains, the heart and soul of their administrative machinery, and you don't need to be part of those teams to feel the massive loss that will come with these departures.

Shoko was the leader of the FC Platinum administrative team that reminded us that you can invest in your own stadium again and turn an old ground into a modern football facility, you can invest in income generating projects like running a service station, bars -- both upmarket and for the ordinary folks - selling of club merchandise etc.

Last Saturday night, in Zvishavane, he told me that he always challenged his management team to just take a look at the Manchester United website, every day, for them to get an understanding and, crucially, an appreciation of what a modern football club should do to boost its revenue deposits.

They had the solid backing of their parent company but they needed to be innovative, if they had long-term interests in this club, because mining is a volatile industry and things could change quickly and, when they did, it's the social arms, like football sponsorship, which were hit first.

We have seen it happen in Mhangura, we saw it happening at Rio Tinto, we have seen it happen at Mwana Africa and, for some time, Shabanie suffered because of that.

The investment splashed by Shoko and his management team into giving Mandava a facelift and changing it into a stadium good enough to pass the test of hosting a Champions League game was their biggest achievement.

On Saturday night he gave a moving farewell speech, as he handed the baton to George Mawere, saying that after two years, in which his team came within goal difference margin of winning the league title and fulfilled their dream of playing in the Champions League, it was time for fresh ideas to take it forward.

Two days later, The Herald carried its exclusive story that Kazembe, voted by this column as the best of all the club secretary-generals last year, had also quit his post at Dynamos.

Ray has been the heartbeat of the DeMbare executive, bringing that corporate touch cultivated from years of working in senior managerial positions at companies and interactions with high-flying corporate leaders in the 10 years that he has run his own company.

When he was thrust into the hot seat of Dynamos secretary-general, at the beginning of last year, one of the first issues he raised was that he didn't want to be a signatory of any of the club's accounts and would not handle, not even a single cent, of the funds that belonged to the team.

In a volatile football environment, where there are prying eyes looking for any slight hint of negativity, Ray knew that his love for BMW X6s, Hummer Models, Range Rovers, Mercedes Benz S600s, cars he acquired before coming to DeMbare, would send the wrong signal if he touched a cent that belonged to the club.

In my 20 years of this incredible dance, I have worked with a good number of Dynamos leaders - young and old, brilliant and useless, passionate and uncaring, devoted and indifferent - but I have to say Raymond Kazembe Kazembe was one of those cut from a different cloth.

On the days he prepared his club's defence, in the fallout against Hwange following the alleged assault on the coalminers' coaches by the DeMbare marshals, he told me he simply switched everything off - his work, where his bread is buttered, his family, which is the closest thing to him, and his friends and business partners.

Alone in his office, during the day, and in his study at home, during the night, he fought for his club and after four days of playing a one-man band, in virtual reclusivity which didn't win him admirers both at work and at home, he emerged with a paper he believed was good enough to preserve his team's 4-2 win.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Ray confided in me that the poisoned football environment in the country, where dark clouds of negativity hover in the skyline all the time, frightened the hell out of him all the time and his wife, in particular, was worried that this could all explode into something messy and destroy their reputation.

Sadly, he is not the only one feeling that way.

DeMbare will miss its dynamic secretary-general because he was always ready to plunge into the trenches for the cause of his team but the Glamour Boys are too huge an institution to be stalled by the exit of one man.

You get a feeling that it's part of this club's DNA to always find someone good enough to come in as a replacement.

For me, it's the bigger picture that brings the concern that he had the potential to grow into a national football leader who could make a huge difference.

The last time I spoke to Farai Jere, he said if there was something he was missing then it was the perennial off-season boardroom battles with Dynamos officials, and he mentioned Ray in particular, which used to explode as they fought to secure the best players on the domestic market.

He didn't talk about FC Platinum but he knows that Shoko was always there in the race, in the past two years, waiting to pounce.

Now, all the three guys are gone from the domestic football landscape and, this is what pains the most, the retirement has come before any of them has reached 45.

Maybe, that is our special gift as a football family - impossible relationships with some of our brightest administrative prospects who appear on the horizon.

The one we ridiculed keeps shining

Bradley Pritchard, remember him, the midfielder who came home last year trying to play for his national team and was told he wasn't even good enough to make the grade on the substitutes' bench?

We questioned how it was possible that a player, playing a starring role in the English Championship, could be deemed excess baggage in a team that features Super Diski players?

You can't play in the Championship if you are not good enough.

Well, you can't keep a good man down and Pritchard's star has been rising and now Premiership clubs - Fulham, Reading and Aston Villa - are queuing up for his signature.

No prizes for guessing where the people, who said he wasn't good enough, are right now.

Goodbye Major, Goodbye CMJ

Mike Selvey, in his powerful tribute in The Guardian to CMJ, picked one day in Jamaica, during a tour with the England cricket team, as the farewell point.

As expected the defining moment was shaped by the Major's poor time-keeping.

"For many years he had not just been a colleague but friend, travelling and dining companion, and golfing partner," wrote Selvey.

"If ever I write an autobiography, I once told him, I shall call it Waiting For The Major, because that is what I seemed to spend much of my time doing. To this day I have a text template specifically for him that reads: 'Where the f*** are you?'"

I have already created my text template, like yours Mike Selvey, because I guess it's something I will be sending repeatedly to Ray Kazembe, Farai Jere and Nathan Shoko when I suddenly realise my colleagues are not around the stadium this coming football season.

To God Be The Glory!

Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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