The Sunday News
IT was great while it lasted. This is the nostalgic feeling one gets when he talks to those who watched football during the South Zone Soccer League.
This was between 1977 to 1979. Among the stars of that era is Greg Faasen who starred for Old Miltonians a surprise package that joined the league from The European League.
Faasen broke into the first team while still a 16-year-old teenager at Milton High School. He had displayed signs of a great player in the making as a primary school pupil at his suburb — Waterford.
“Soccer was in my blood ever since I can remember! While attending Waterford Junior School, I played for a club called Raylton Rovers, on the outskirts of Bulawayo, next to the railway station,” said Faasen.
He recalls how they would train once a week, on a Friday evening under floodlights. His mother would travel to leave him at the club and drive back to fetch him.
White junior clubs like Callies, Postals, Queens, Italians, Portuguese, Municipals and Maccabi.
So prominent was Faasen that he made it into the Matabeleland Select in his final year at Waterford Primary School.
Boys from Henry Low, Baines, Milton Junior and Khumalo dominated the squad in 1971.
In 1972 he moved to Milton High School where his talent in soccer continued to blossom. He would after a few years at the school attract the attention of Old Miltonians whom he played for at the age of 16 in 1975 as a left back who would at times be played at holding midfield.
He served with aplomb and won the 1975 European League title as segregation existed in sport in the country, something that came to an end in 1979 as the following year ushered in elections and Independence.
“In my high school years I was drafted into the men’s team and I was a proud 16-year-old when OMs won the senior league, something we would do for many years to come,” said Faasen.
He was in the Old Miltonians side that produced Mark Watson, Neil and Allan Boonzaer who at Independence joined Highlanders FC.
Watson, nicknamed Juluka after Woza Friday hit maker Johnny Clegg of Juluka fame of South Africa, would become an instant hero. He helped Highlanders lift their first cup in 1980 after the amalgamation of the leagues, scoring a hat-trick against Rio Tinto in the Chibuku Trophy final won 4-0. Robbie Lambert the team’s goalkeeper was among the stars of the South Zone Soccer League started in 1977 after Highlanders broke away from the John Madzima administration frustrated with what they felt was daylight robbery of the 1976 league title.
Because of segregation even schools did not get to play against each other because of the racial divide. Milton got to play schools like Northlea, Founders, Gifford and Hamilton.
Old Miltonians who wore colours similar to Milton High School, navy and light blue joined the multi-racial league in 1978.
Faasen was able to play more competitive football then at 19, with clubs like Highlanders who boasted of Majuta Mpofu, Peter Nkomo, Billy Sibanda, Willie Luphahla, Lawrence Phiri and Tymon Mabaleka all revered national football figures.
There was Gweru’s Go Beer Rovers who had the talented Danny Mahaso and Thomas Chipembere, Meikles with Zebron Magorimbo, Black Horrors with the trio of Grey Ncube, Lemmy Mnenekwa and Onias Musana, Black Chiefs with Francis Sikhosana and Alfred Ngedla Phiri, Bulawayo Rockets with Nicho Mabhena, Jotham Moyo, Madodana “Horsepower” Tshabangu and Conrad Nkomazana, Bulimangwe and Bulawayo Wanderers with the likes of Charles Wadawu.
Other clubs that played in that league were Callies, Italians, John “Walker” Chipukula Phiri’s City Pirates, Portuguese and Gwanda Ramblers home to Mactavish, Cornwall and Stewart “Stuza” Dube, Philemon Muriyengwe and Nqadini. Among his precious collections and recollections is a 1978 cutting of our sister paper The Chronicle in which Old Miltonians beat Highlanders 3-2.
Neil Boonzaier with a goal and Watson a brace were on target for OMs while Luphahla and Majuta Mpofu were on target for Bosso.
Faasen was so good that in his maiden season in the South Zone Soccer League he was drafted into the squad that played the North Zone Select which had players like Topsy Robertson.
“That year, a South Zone squad was picked to play against the North Zone from Mashonaland. I was selected for the squad and enjoyed the many training sessions at Barbourfields Stadium, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Tymon Mabaleka, Majuta Mpofu and Douglas Mloyi,” said Faasen.
The star-studded squad had Mahaso, Alfred Phiri, Chipembere, Doughtie Sithole, Mabaleka, Mloyi with Magorimbo in goal.
“The South Zone Select played a number of matches, watched by huge enthusiastic crowds at Barbourfields,” he said.
In one of the matches Musana of Black Horrors was the toast of the day scoring five goals in a 9-0 win. As his star shone Faasen was at the end of the season drafted into the team of the year with Phiri of Black Chiefs crowned Soccer Star of the Year, Mabaleka runner-up and him second runner-up, a great feat for a 19-year-old.
Others to make it into the Team of the Year were Mpofu, Sithole, Mahaso, Douglas Mloyi, Allan and Neil, Chipembere and Magorimbo.
A bright start was blown into the air by his call up to national service in 1979 when the top South Zone clubs were added to Zimbabwe Saints, Wankie, Gweru United, Olympics and Risco to play in a national league that was split into North and South as costs and spiralling travel expenses and war made it wise to go that route.
The following year Faasen left for the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) where he pursued a teaching degree. He played in the South African National Soccer League for three years against top sides like Arcadia, Kaizer Chiefs, Moroka Swallows, Orlando Pirates and Highlands Park.
Among his treasured moments was a 3-2 victory over Kaizer Chiefs at Orlando Stadium.
Faasen believes Watson was the best player to come out of OMs based on what he went on to achieve with Highlanders.
At Wits he speaks highly of Frank Mcgrellis who arrived from Scotland, Ron Anley and Brian Greenhoff a former Manchester United and Leeds star as having been the best players he played with at Wits.
He may not have won silverware with the South African side but a second place finish in the league and a runners-up medal from the 2-1 loss to Kaizer Chiefs in 1983 in the Datsun Cup final are his career highlights in South Africa.
His best goal here was against Portuguese in the final of the European League MacGillivray Cup from a Watson assist while his only game in over 60 starts for Wits was against PG Rangers in a match drawn 1-1.
A West Ham die hard, Faasen rates Ace Mnini of Moroka Swallows and Roy Wegerle who went on to play for World Club and European champions as the best players he faced in South Africa with Doughtie Sithole the most troublesome opponent. He speaks highly of Mabaleka, a player who he says hardly had a bad game.
Faasen says standards of the game here were comparable to those in South Africa and that many of the local stars would have made it there.
He was unlucky not to play with Graham Boyle the former Arcadia, Rio Tinto and Zimbabwe right back who arrived in South Africa in 1984 a few months after Faasen had quit the club for a job as a teacher at St John’s College in Johannesburg.
“I quit playing football in 1983. My teaching job at St John’s left me in charge of all sports and I had no time left to play as a part-time professional. Those days you had to work elsewhere and play football and I remember earning R126 as a student player at Wits,” he said.
He quit teaching in 1990 to form Goalgetters, a company that looks at the dynamics of running a soccer team, compete well while seeking to be a successful entity that gives a return of investment with participants exposed to business fundamentals. He has in the past used football legends like Neil Tovey, Sam “Ewie” Nkambule and the late Zimbabwe international Mercedes Sibanda for motivation talks.
Ali Dube the renowned talent spotter and developer describes Faasen as having been a brilliant midfielder.
“He was a great player, I watched him during the South Zone days and he impressed me a lot with his great play in midfield,” said Dube.
Ilan Elkaim who went to Milton a few years behind Faasen also described the OMs star as a gem.