23 February 2018

Zimbabwe: Still the Same Old Dembare

On the 25th anniversary of the year Dynamos wrote the finest story in their 55-year history, it is quite remarkable that the negativity which blighted their campaign back then is still haunting the Glamour Boys, whose camp has been reeling from an explosive player unrest which has derailed their pre-season preparations.

The country's biggest and most successful football club are marking the Silver Jubilee of the year they came within just 90 minutes of being crowned champions of Africa as they moved a number of mountains to reach the final of the CAF Champions League only to lose 2-4 on aggregate to Ivorian giants ASEC Mimosas.

The Herald, which covered that dream campaign from the first ball kicked by a Dynamos player in the first round in the Malawian commercial capital Blantyre, where they beat Telecom Wanderers 2-1, to the final ball in the Ivorian coastal city of Abidjan, where those Glamour Boys dreams were shattered, has been carrying a weekly special report about that adventure.

It's a measure of DeMbare's achievement that year, even after they failed to transform themselves into champions of Africa after falling at the final hurdle, that only three other Southern African clubs - Nkana Red Devils of Zambia in '90; Orlando Pirates of South Africa in 1995 and 2013 and their Super Diski rivals Mamelodi Sundowns in 2001 and 2016 - have reached that far in this tournament.

Only Pirates, in 1995, and Sundowns in 2016, have managed to clear that tough final hurdle, with the two South African giants also falling in the final in 2001 and 2013, while Nkana were beaten finalists in the '90 final when they lost to Algerian giants JS Kabylie on penalties.

DeMbare also reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2008 and lost to Coton Sport of Cameroon. CAPS United and Monomotapa are the only other two Zimbabwean clubs to have reached the group stages of the same tournament.

While the Glamour Boys remain the torch-bearers when it comes to success in the CAF Champions League for Zimbabwean clubs, it's ironic that the negative issues which stalked them back in '98, as they launched their success story on the continent, are still devouring their soul a quarter of a century down the road.

A player revolt sparked by unpaid dues dating back to last season, saw a number of their senior players embarking on a strike in which they refused to train for weeks, leaving coach Lloyd Mutasa without any choice but to field a number of young players in their pre-season Commander ZNA Charities semi-final showdown against CAPS United on Sunday.

Against all expectations, the youngsters found a way to win that game, stunning their biggest city rivals 1-0 courtesy of a superb goal by teenage forward Kudzi "KD" Dhemere, to book a place in the final against Highlanders on Sunday.

The stand-off was resolved on Wednesday when management found the financial resources to pay the players and yesterday Mutasa had a full house at training ahead of the battle against Bosso.

However, it is ironic that, as DeMbare mark the 25th anniversary of their golden adventure, the same demons which used to haunt them back then are still stalking the Glamour Boys and the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same.

It's even remarkable that, for all the in-house challenges they were battling at the start of the '98 season, amid a spate of player revolts, DeMbare somehow managed to find a way to make themselves competitive on the continent and come so close to being crowned champions of Africa.

Back in '98, problems erupted when a boardroom reshuffle of the club executive saw George Shaya, whom some regard as the finest footballer to play for the Glamour Boys, being ushered in as chairman while Lloyd Hove came in as treasurer and Leslie Gwindi as secretary.

"What surprised me (the) most was the fact that apart from chairman Shaya, one of the greatest players to don the Dynamos jersey, I had never seen the duo at any of the team's soccer matches," former DeMbare skipper Memory Mucherahowa wrote in his autobiography, 'Soul Of Seven Million Dreams'.

"It was mind-boggling that these 'aliens' suddenly landed on planet Dynamos with no history of being part of the fabric that constituted Dynamos material whatsoever.

"However, because of the respect that I had for (coach Sunday) Chidzambwa, I was one of the few players who decided to give the new board a chance. That was a mistake.

"To This day I kick myself as to why we allowed these people to ever come close to the club. It is my humble opinion that these changes were the genesis of the problems to laterrock the team.

"It is my opinion that in this chaos, the founder members were approached through Chidzambwa to back the appointment of the Shaya-led executive. This is how the founding members came back to the club. A deadly cancer had been injected in the Dynamos body and we were later to see it spread and fester.

"Bernard Marriot became a committee member, the late Richard Chiminya became vice-chairman of the board while Josiah Akende, who is also now late, was appointed chairman. Alois Mesikano and Isdore Sagwete were co-opted into the board.

"Though the team continued with its preparations as normal, murmurs of dissent from the players about the change in the executive could be heard. Problems got to a head during the preparations for the Premier Soccer league opener against Zimbabwe Saints in Bulawayo."

Mucherahowa recalls the tension at their team hotel and how things quickly exploded out of control.

"There was tension . . . At about 7pm, the telephone in the room we shared rang, 'Hallo', I answered the call, expecting it to be one any of the players wishing to come to the room just to pass the time as normally did those days.

"On this particular time, it was Claudius Zviripayi who was on the other end of the line. 'Gwenzi, we do not like the new executive, so we have all agreed to boycott the game unless they all resign. Instead of having dinner at this hotel, the players are going to have a barbeque at one of the team's supporters, Seth Chigogora's house."'

Mucherahowa chronicles how they argued with Zviripayi over this and when he advised Chidzambwa about what had happened, they hatched a Plan B to look for the reserve players who had not been part of the team.

"Chidzambwa immediately asked Mlotshwa, (Tichaona) Murehwa, Masango, Mandizvidza, Dinyero and Zviripayi to pack their bags as they were no longer part of the travelling team. Musanhu and Tembo were injured, so they were excluded. Reserve players were called to replace the mutineers and the team left for Bulawayo early in the morning as we were travelling by road.

"As the team captain, I asked the executive for a meeting. I proposed to the executive to pay the reserve players more money because they had sacrificed to come and play at a short notice.

"I had been informed that the other group of players had been offered money to boycott the match, so we asked the executive to give us Z$5 000 each. We asked to be given the money before the game.

"Dynamos lost the match 0-5. However we were not bothered because by fulfilling the match, we had managed to thwart another player revolt. This heralded the end of Zviripayi's stay at Dynamos as he was later loaned to Arcadia United.

Masango, Murehwa and Dinyero apologised to the club and were later reinstated. Looking back, I now think sticking by the Shaya-led executive was not a clever thing to do. I hold my hands high and admit that I made a mistake. Maybe I should have sided with the rest of the players such as Zviripayi.

"Looking at the empty promises which the players got from the executive, I rank the Gwindi and Hove era as the worst spell the team has ever had to go through. It was a time when we loaned the team to the devil and he had a laugh.

I did not know that this was the beginning of the cancer that was going to destroy the club and I was wrong not to support the other players' view that Shaya-led executive should have gone."


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