The Sunday News
THE ultimate Bulawayo derby from the country’s admission into Fifa in 1963 has been the Highlanders FC versus Zimbabwe Saints clash.
Newspaper sales shot up with stories and pictures of everyone’s idol.
Yesterday Highlanders clashed with Chicken Inn at Barbourfields Stadium. There was no euphoria in the build-up to the game.
City residents went about life as usual during the week. Talk was mainly on price hikes and boardroom challenges at the country’s oldest club.
Back then we are told fights erupted in the streets the day the fixture was announced. Groups of men at street corners in Bulawayo’s Central Business District and at the once thriving industrial sites would review the previous encounter, preview the next game, anticipate changes precipitated by new arrivals.
Ever since the demise of Zimbabwe Saints a decade ago, Bulawayo has never been as abuzz in the build-up to any of the derbies as was the case in the 1970s and 1980s.
The big match fever between Bosso and Saints faded in the first part of the 1990s but came back to life in the last bit and the early 2000s.
The derbies created stars. Great footballers literally took the challenge to invent or re-invent themselves at such matches. Coaches did little in terms of input on tactics, every player felt compelled to be available for selection for bragging results at pubs and shebeens.
Some would even conceal injuries just to be part of the final 13 in the past. Derbies were self-motivating games and drew the real spirit of rivalry as there was so much at stake to fight for.
Until Saints’ collapse sets of both teams’ supporters found reason to put on regalia and display whatever club colours on their cars and yards. The atmosphere would be generated days before the event and everything about Bulawayo would be about the match.
In the 1970s Highlanders would parade gems like Tymon Mabaleka, Barry Daka, Cavin Duberly, Tommy Masuku, Isaac Mafaro, Stanley Nyika, Itai Chieza and the likes of Majuta Mpofu who would play for pride and the club logo. Saints too would not be short of stars fielding Gibson Homela, Francis Ngara, Chita Antonio, Simon Supiya, Andrew “Mai Maria” Kadengu, William Sibanda, Max Tshuma and Moses Moyo, who would take to the field knowing how high the stakes were.
It was not about the money to be earned after winning the derby as a pittance was paid if ever there was anything in the coffers. Apart from bragging rights there were other untold benefits in the community accruing to the stars of the day.
The Chibuku Cup Final at Barbourfields Stadium in 1988 pitting Bosso and Chikwata won by the latter through a Jimmy Phiri goal and the Rothmans Shield final in which Tshilamoyo got their revenge stand out as some of the most fiercely contested derbies of all time. There was cream on display from both sides.
A cup final pitting a Highlanders side with Peter Nkomo, Mercedes Sibanda, Dumisani Nyoni, Simon Ncube, Alexander Maseko, Willard Khumalo, Tobias Mudyambanje, Tito Paketh, Titus Majola and Tanny Banda and similarly John Sibanda, Misheck Sibanda, Josphat Humbasha, Ephraim Chawanda, Jimmy Phiri, Joseph Machingura, Obey Sova, Mayor Eric, Garikayi Rwodzi and Henry Mckop drew a full house.
Fans trickled out of the stadium happy with a really gruelling encounter with passion, skill and plenty of goalmouth action. Fireworks were what fans paid to watch.
The Big Bulawayo derby now is the match between Chicken Inn consistent performers in the Premiership in the last five years and Highlanders. For football on the pitch it is a titanic clash pitting the city’s two big guns with contrasting expectations.
Chicken Inn who are sponsored by the leading food outlets company in the country and a number of other partners, want to enhance brand visibility through football success. In the decade they have been in existence they have achieved that by winning the title and finishing in the top echelons of the league for fun. They may not be a team commanding hundreds of supporters, the players play for the club and themselves and have been boosted by successful buys by South African clubs of stars like Elvis Chipezeze and Teenage Hadebe.
On the other end Highlanders have built a beautiful resume since winning promotion to the elite league in 1972. They are the old guard of the league with Dynamos and Caps United and are the only three still standing since 1980 when a majority of the old clubs have been relegated like Hwange and Black Rhinos a number of times and a number of them now extinct.
Highlanders commands one of the biggest followings in Southern Africa and have dwarfed every other football project in the city in terms of fans. They are the team of choice, only second to Dynamos in the land in terms of achievements on the pitch with over 50 pieces of silverware since 1926.
Their derby with Chicken Inn is more of a damp squib than the full houses that the Bosso-Saints drew in the city. The match does not arouse much business interest even for vendors as not more than 200 people would be in the red and black corner which tends to be drowned by the Bosso multitudes at Barbourfields.
Chicken Inn need to aggressively market themselves as a Bulawayo team. They must start with recruiting more locals for their first team so that the masses relate with their project.
There is a need for more community projects involving the players as a majority are detached from the people they play for.
Throughout the week there was little save for the few articles in the dailies to suggest that yesterday’s match was a big game.
Yet for clubs coached by yesteryear greats Madinda Ndlovu a multi-nicknamed legend and Joey Antipas there should have been so much in Bulawayo to talk about the game in the build-up.
There is a sprinkling of good talent on both sides.
Saints’ demise left a big yawning football gap.
Bulawayo football fans yearn for yet another real derby atmosphere.