…1998 winning team star Mheuka reminisces of the golden year
MANICALAND’s football powerhouse Mutare Boys’ High School (MBHS)and Nyamauru High School will represent the province in the country’s biggest schools football tournament, the Copa Coca-Cola, after winning the provincial finals held at Mamunyanza High School in Buhera district on Tuesday. Nyamauru won the girls tournament and both sides will be the provincial representatives at the national finals slated for Zvishavane running from next week Thursday to Saturday.
The Copa Coca-Cola tournament, which was last year rebranded into an Under-15 competition for both boys and girls is the leading schools soccer development league. Zvishavane High will host the girls tournament and Mandava High the boys tournament.
The Mutare Shumbas, as Boys’ High are affectionately known, have always been predominantly perennial provincial finalists but have been unsuccessful to reclaim the national trophy since 1998 when the captain Tonderai Tsunga led side last won the national title and were equated with the Zimbabwe ‘Dream team’ as the team comprised of stars, some of which, later after school played in the national topflight premier soccer league becoming popular soccer legends in the province.
After first going down 1-0 to Takawira High in the first match of the group stages, the Shumbas recouped and came back vicious to trounce over Murambinda High 4-0. They won 2-0 against Bumba from Chimanimani and in the semi-finals faced Marange’s St Noah only to beat them 9-8 in a sudden death penalty shoot out after playing out the match to a 0-0 stalemate. In the final the Shumbas played Hande High and won 1-0 to book their spot as the provincial champions.
Mutare Boys’ High sports director Kudakwashe Dube said all in all, the school has participated in the Coca Cola National finals a record nine times, but this year hope to reclaim the national title.
“On Wednesday I was actually talking to Ian Zvoma from ZBC who was saying he is going to have a look at the stats, but believes no other school has consistently taken part in so many episodes of this prestigious gala at national level like us. For instance in 2015, in Bulawayo, we were the only returning team from the 2014 edition which had been held in Harare. So basically we have a team that makes it to the Copa Coca-Cola national soccer finals almost every year, but this time round hope to re-write history and bring back the trophy which was last won in 1998. I will also give credit to the coaches, comprising of our staff coach from the school Josh Chaza and the head coach, an alumni, Brent Jiriengwa. They have worked so hard with the boys,” said Dube.
The Nyamauru girls side from the high density suburb of Dangamvura on the other hand displaced the defending provincial champions Mamunyanza. They secured their ticket after overcoming Muzokomba in the final and will hope to write their own history by winning the national title that has been finding its way to Masvingo for the past three years at Chidyamakono High School.
The Mutare Shumbas head coach Jiriengwa better known as Matola in the social circles said God and fate were on their side this time, expressing confidence that they will bring the trophy home.
“When we qualified we were number two behind St Noah but here we eventually made the cut in the end. God is on our side this year and we have a strong team that works as a unit, so we should deliver,” said Matola.
The Mutare Shumbas have however been pitted in a very tough group comprising of the defending champions Rusununguko from Mashonaland East, the Prince Edward Tigers representing Harare province and the hosts Mandava High.
In other regions in the boys category the winners are Masvingo Province (Pamushana High School), Harare (Prince Edward), Mashonaland East (Waddilove High School) and the defending champions Rusununguko (automatic qualification), Mashonaland West (Pfupajena School), Mashonaland Central (Kanyemba School), Bulawayo (Mpopoma High School), Matabelaland North (Somvubu School), Matabeleland South (Mtsabezi School) and Midlands (Guinea Fowl High School) along with the host Mandava High.
In the girls category the winners are Harare (Vainona High School), Mashonaland East (Chenhuta Secondary School), Mashonaland West (Mwami Secondary), Mashonaland Central (Gweshe School), Bulawayo (Mpopoma High School), Matabelaland North (Simbo Secondary School), Matabelaland South (Thekwane School), Masvingo (Birivenge School) and the defending champions Chidyamakono High School (automatic qualification) and Midlands (Chamakwanda School) along with the host Zvishavane High School.
On the other hand in a separate interview, Eastern Times Sport got in touch with Malcom Mheuka one of the stars from the 1998 Boys’ High dream team that won the national title. Mheuka who is now based in the United Kingdom had a lot to share about the dream team back in 1998 which was captained by Tonderai Tsunga.
Mheuka said the success of the dream team was a result of the foresight and ingenuity of the then headmaster Elijah Pfairah. In his recollection he said even back then, the National Association of School Heads (NASH) Coca-Cola Cup was the mother of all other schools soccer tournaments which every school in the country took part in it and looked forward to.
“The headmaster Mr Phairah came to the school with a broad approach to education, sport and all other extracurricular activities. He understood that sport was potentially a multi-million dollar rewarding career. He therefore gave students a platform to showcase their talents to the fullest channeling a lot of resources towards sports activities particularly soccer. The journey started in 1997 when he played out his hopes and dreams to see MBHS thriving at the national stage. It’s a project that he managed to achieve from 1997 onwards. I recall we reached the semi finals that year (97). Myself and Chazi Hokoza were called up to play in the first team from the junior team that year, which was a great honour as we were only in Form three. This was after outstanding players like Chisi Alex Mudefi, Shylock Chirimumvura, Farai ‘Bomba’ Nyabawa and Nesbert Zvakare (just to name a few) had come to MBHS for their A’ Levels. Those days it was hard to play first team because of the A’ Level students that were usually great players scouted from various schools as top-class players, some even having full or half sports scholarships. As juniors we sort of broke that barrier with Hokoza,” recalled Mheuka who played in the central attacking midfield (Number 10) and sometimes played as the striker (Number 9).
From the class of 1998 ‘dream team’ the likes of John Mandaza, Nesbert Zvakare, Prosper Matizanadzo, Taurai ‘Dhana’ Makukutu and Tonderai Tsunga all had a stint in the national premier league after school just to show the crop of talented players it had.
Mheuka said to balance the education side Phairah always had meetings with the players and heavily emphasised on education first before anything. “This was to a point where our class performances were constantly monitored. If you didn’t step up in class you couldn’t make the team. Our head coaches who were teachers as well Aleck Matanga and Pardon Muranda followed up on our progress as well. From then on football became not only a sport but became part of our curriculum at MBHS. Training was equally demanding and for you to play in the first eleven, you had to impress again at training. I remember every Tuesday we would walk back to the hostel aching and still worrying if you were going to be part of the first line-up in the weekend fixture. No one wanted to sit on the bench. Boys High was launch pad for many players as premier league scouts and coaches would come to look for potential stars during big tournament fixtures, so you can imagine.”
He added, “After setting the base, in 1998 it paid off and we won the national Cup. We won also won three or four other league tournaments that same year, the major ones being the College Press Trophy, Power Sales Centenary Cup which were again competed by top schools in the country.”
In his reminiscence, another class of 1998 star, Chisi Mudefi , who is now based in South Africa added that their success in 1998 was precipitated and inspired by events that had taken place in 1992.
“In 1992, MBHS made it to the national finals which we were coincidentally the hosts. We didn’t make it past the group stages. Disappointed and dejected, it took another arduous six years to make a comeback to the national stage at Gweru’s ‘Gaffa’ Mtapa grounds. We were a force to reckon with maintaining a healthy absolute maximum point collection at group stage, pitting powerhouses schools like Mzikikazi which featured talented players like Johannes Ngodzo, who went on to be a midfield maestro in the national premier league. We had dependable and seasoned old boys in Forces Kuwa and Morris Manjeya who however finished school in 1997, after having been part of the team that had six years back hogged the limelight in the province to earn a place in the Coca-Cola finals. Most of the senior players were drawn from various schools to enroll for Advanced Level at Boys High. There was Nyabawa, myself (from Marist Nyanga), Runyararo Marufu and Shylock Chirimumvura ( from St Faith’s), Tonderai Tsunga ( St Mary’s Magdalene, Nyanga), Charles Mujati (St Joseph Mutare), Tawanda Takaringofa (Ellis Gladhill)and Nesbert Zvakare (Sakubva Secondary). The rookies quartet of Charles Chirisa ,Alexander Gonyora , Mheuka and Hokoza( MBHS) were to be the nucleus of the gold winning team, not leaving out Allan Mukurazhizha, Christopher Dambamuomo,” recalled Mudefi.
Coming back to the 2018 team Mheuka in his words of encouragement to the upcoming youngsters said they should make the most of their schooling days, especially if they want to decide a career path in sport. He also urged the boys to value the sense of history and uniqueness at Boys’ High thanking the alumni group Men of Valour (MOV) Trust which has been doing a lot towards reviving standards at the school.
“Everything that i am today was modeled at MBHS. The drive by MOV is very noble and I feel it came at the right time. I created the current MBHS facebook page which has embraced the foundation of MOV, but I hope to see more alumni following it so that we bring back the good old days at MBHS. Working together reduces the burden and this feat to restore MBHS to its former glory is achievable,” said Mheuka.
To help stir up the boys ahead of the national finals next week, an alumni, part of the MOV Trust, who requested anonymity, pledged to donate US$1000 towards preparations for the final and to help them meet any other travel expenses. Mheuka said such a hefty donation would be a good morale booster for the boys who now not only carry the torch on behalf of the school but of the entire province as well.