The Sunday News
HIGHLANDERS FC legendary utility player Lawrence Phiri has described playing in the first Heroes Cup final as having been an honour and very positive step towards reconciliation.
The oldest team in the land took on Dynamos in the Heroes Cup final at Barbourfields Stadium in 1980 and won 3-2.
For the inaugural event for Zimbabwe who had become an independent State on the eve of 18 April 1980 with a block bluster celebration serenaded by the Man of the Moment Bob Marley’s performance at a packed to the rafters Rufaro Stadium, four teams were chosen for the tournament held in Bulawayo with Caps United, then Caps Rovers and Wankie falling by the wayside in the semi-finals.
“I will be blunt. It was an honour to play in that cup final.
We were just from the liberation war as a country and there was need to have a game of significance pitting two teams with a very big following.
There were no teams better placed for that than Dynamos and Highlanders,” said the former Highlanders star.
Phiri said there was so much at stake after what appeared Dynamos’ preferential treatment in the 1976 league championship race, for the spectator there were issues still to be settled of the rivalry that turned the two teams’ clash Battle of the Titans.
Since then the biggest match has become one against Dynamos, the country’s most successful club and Highlanders FC, Zimbabwe’s most followed team by turnstile figures over the last decade and a half.
Phiri said the two teams represented a majority of the Zimbabweans whose children had fought Ian Smith’s regime side by side as Zpra and Zanla.
The two teams were playing at the same level for the first time since the 1976 debacle where a walkover decision against Highlanders at Barbourfields Stadium that year turned to be the championship decider.
Highlanders did not pitch up at Barbourfields Stadium arguing in that March that the pitch was waterlogged.
To their utter disgust, Dynamos, referees and Rhodesia National Football League officials turned up and the Glamour Boys were awarded two points after Bosso were in no show.
That heightened tensions between the two clubs’ followers and marked the beginning of great clashes some of which are talked about decades later.
Highlanders won the 1980 Heroes Cup final 3-2 with a brace from Tymon Mabaleka and another from David Mhlanga.
Phiri says the match was a good advertisement of what Zimbabwe had on show as great talent.
Prior to that Bosso had clashed with Caps in the Rothmans Shield and Rio Tinto in the Chibuku Trophy Cup final.
But the two’s rivalry and fanfare did not match that of Bosso and DeMbare, clubs that had already met twice in the re-unification game and league tie.
Highlanders had been in the South Zone Soccer League they helped establish with one of the best football brains ever in the game, Silas Ndlovu in 1977-1978.
In 1979 Bosso were invited into the elite division played on zonal basis, so never had a chance to play against Dynamos.
But a re-unification of the leagues game played earlier in the year (1980) at White City which Highlanders won 1-0, had set the tone for a pregnancy of expectations that the South Zone sojourn had not taken any sting off the Bulawayo giants’ artillery.
With Gwayi River Mine Assembly Point for Zpra cadres curtain-raising featuring former Bosso goalkeeper George Moyo, the stage for the final was set and what a cracker the game was.
“Looking at both teams on that afternoon, there was a thin line in terms of talent on display. Despite playing in the South Zone, we had along the way identified worthwhile stars to replace those that we had lost when Olympics was formed.
“To be honest with you, we were just as good and as competitive as the best in the land and our 4-0 Chibuku Trophy final win bore testimony to that,” said Phiri.
He had seen a fine crop of players like Boet Van Ays, Cavin Duberley, Tommy Masuku, Peter Zimuto, Jeffrey Mpofu, Peter Bhebhe, Ephraim Moloi, Stanley Nyika, Isaac Mafaro, Itai Chieza, Smart Moyo, George Moyo, Ananias Dube, Chutika Tembo and Barry Daka lost by the team due to the war or break away to former Olympics.
In the Heroes Cup final, Highlanders fielded Peter Nkomo in goal, a goalkeeper who had impressed soon after Independence and earned himself a berth in the team that participated in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Augustine Lunga, among the celebrated overlapping fullbacks in new Zimbabwe, Fanuel Ncube a hardworking right back and the charismatic Douglas Mloyi occupied the defence positions with Phiri mopping up in a sweeper role while David Mhlanga, Titus Majola and the legendary Tymon Mabaleka pulled the strings in midfield.
To add to the mix there was Ernest ‘Maphepha’ Sibanda pulled from lower division side Contex the previous year.
In attack Highlanders had the tried and tested speed merchant Doughtie Sithole, ball juggling hero Majuta Mpofu and scoring sensations Mark Watson and Phineas Mabaleka, two players who one would leave at own risk unmarked in front of goal.
Dynamos paraded a great side with residue from their great 1976 side that won the league championship, Castle Cup an 8-1 drubbing of Zimbabwe Saints and the Southern African Club title after they claimed the scalp of a then Jomo Sono driven Orlando Pirates.
In Frank Mkanga and Japhet M’parutsa, they had the safest hands in the country guarding their goals with brothers Misheck and Sunday Chidzambwa then Marimos, Oliver Kateya, a left winger and a 1975 season 62 goal-hero and Shaw Handriade in defence.
The midfield and attack had the likes of July Sharara, David George and Kuda Muchemeyi.
So the match had all the ingredients of a humdinger and it lived up to that with its five goals leaving celebrating Zimbabweans hopeful of a bright future for a country that had been on international isolation.
Jujuju had fans of either side roaring in unison ‘Jujujuuuu’ each time he had the ball and doing his tricks.
Kateya and Sithole were a match made in heaven on the wings and one would think at times it was a speed contest when the Bosso winger chased back or when Kateya was recovering with the pint sized winger sweeping past defenders like a hot knife through a bar of butter.
There was an enterprising display by both sides and fans got their afternoon’s worth of entertainment with good defending, great goalkeeping and wing play that had fans off their seats for the better part of the match.
Looking back at the final played 42 years ago, Phiri says the standard exhibited and the quality on display has not been matched in years.
“We had one of the best Highlanders teams on that day, Dynamos had brilliant stars that compare favourably with any of the best of the team’s history. I think we gave a good account of ourselves and made the day a memorable one for all.
“As both teams we were aware of the expectations from the fans and organisers and felt compelled not to look at it as an invitation competition,” said Phiri.
To this day be it in Harare or Bulawayo, the biggest match in the land remains the two teams’ clashes.