ALL THRILLS AS HARARE DERBY RETURNS TO RUFARO

19 May, 2024 - 00:05 0 Views
ALL THRILLS AS HARARE DERBY RETURNS TO RUFARO

The Sunday Mail

Veronica Gwaze

THERE was an unusual buzz across the capital city, especially in Mbare, in the past week.

While the more than a century-old suburb always teems with life, there was a different thrill altogether.

There seems to be renewed excitement for the return of the Harare derby to Mbare’s iconic Rufaro Stadium.

Multitudes are expected to converge on the “ceremonial home of football” today to witness a potentially explosive 90-minute clash pitting the capital’s biggest clubs — CAPS United and Dynamos.

The rivalry between the two teams dates back to the late 1970s, when both were the toast for many in the domestic league.

These two clubs have historically dominated local football, making their encounters highly anticipated. The derby is known for its passionate atmosphere and fierce competition, attracting not only interest from local fans, but also international followers.

Today’s match is peculiar in the sense that it is the first time the two Harare giants will be at the ceremonial home of football following its closure five years ago.

Rufaro Stadium hosted the last derby on July 21, 2019, when both sides shared spoils in a 1-1 draw. The arena, which is also well-known for hosting the nation’s first independence celebrations and the hoisting of Zimbabwe’s flag, then closed at the end of that year’s Premier Soccer League campaign.

The following year, Covid-19 wreaked havoc and the local premiership could not take off. However, months later when sport resumed, the decrepit stadium had to be shut down for renovations. It was only in April this year that the First Instance Board (FIB) homologated the venue after the local authority’s partial compliance to their recommendations.

The recommendations included the need to instal bucket seats and electronic turnstiles.

However, this has not been done yet.

But refurbishment works are expected to continue in earnest following the decision by the local authority to reinstate Rufaro Marketing as a source of funding.

Traditionally, Rufaro Marketing, which operated a chain of beerhalls across the city, was the main source of funding for the venue, as was the case with many other facilities owned by the Harare City Council.

But it is today’s 90 minutes of football that matter most for the green and blue halves of the capital. The return of the Harare derby to Rufaro Stadium signifies not only the return of a highly anticipated match, but also the potential revival of the historic stadium itself.

“It has been years since Rufaro (Stadium) hosted a derby and there was virtually no thrill for us as the stadium’s surrounding community,” said Karen Milanzi, a Mbare resident.

“I moved to Mbare in 1997 and each time the derby comes, the mood is never the same . . . ”

Delight

Staunch CAPS United fan Richard “Chemhofela” Sande has become a popular figure at Makepekepe’s local matches since the early 1990s. The return of the derby at Rufaro Stadium is sure to take fans and Mbare residents back in time.

“Rufaro has a different vibe compared to other stadiums; maybe it is because of its locality and the history it carries. For five years, we had to watch the derby from other stadiums and the excitement was not the same, but from what we have been witnessing throughout the week, this will be a memorable experience,” said Sande.

He, however, admitted that derbies had somewhat changed from what they used to be.

“The derby used to be fun; we spent the whole day at the stadium, but it is different now, so we need to revert to the old ways of hosting such matches.”

Simbiso Katsekera has supported Dynamos since his primary school days.

The Harare derby, he said, is unique.

“Whenever the season starts, we always count down to the Harare derby, with each side motivated, and even the buildup becomes a topic for discussion in most spaces. I look forward to enjoying the intimacy and thrill at Rufaro this afternoon after so long.”

Honour

Berita Mangwaya and her son Daniel had religiously watched the Harare derbies at Rufaro Stadium for six years until the facility was closed. This, she did in honour of her husband Cuthbert Mangwaya, who was an avid Dynamos follower before he succumbed to cancer.

The couple would often get to the stadium around midday before it got packed to the rafters.

“My husband loved Dynamos. He introduced me to Rufaro Stadium in 2013 during a derby. When he died three years later, I decided to honour him by maintaining tradition,” she said.

“If you made a mistake of arriving at the venue after 1.30pm, it would already be chaotic and hard to find a way in, so we had to come early.”

Trade

And the Harare derby always comes as a huge business opportunity for clubs, enterprising individuals and big businesses.

While the host team cashes in on gate takings, it also presents brisk business in terms of replica jerseys and other accessories, such as tracksuits, hats, flags, cups and key holders.

When CAPS United hosted the derby last season, at least 18 500 spectators paid their way into the National Sports Stadium.

Today, they pegged the entry fees at US$5 for the rest of the ground, US$10 and US$20 for the VIP and VVIP sections, respectively.

The club’s chief executive officer, Morton Dodzo, said all stadium gates are opening on time to allow for flawless entry of spectators, while vans will also be deployed to sell entry tickets.

“We are trying to curb long queues because, from the build-up, we are expecting huge numbers today, so we had to work round the clock,” Dodzo said.

Most especially, the return of the Harare derby reminds ice cream vendor Terrence Gurajena of a 1998 sunny morning when he left Magunje, Mashonaland West province, for Harare after securing employment at Dairibord Zimbabwe. His excitement was not only about landing a job at the dairy company, but also prospects of watching Dynamos and CAPS United in action that weekend.

Gurajena used to follow football commentary from his small radio.

“Because of my love for CAPS United, when I joined Dairibord, I decided to operate from the stadium,” he said.

“I watched my first game at Rufaro Stadium, and it was a special moment for me to finally meet the teams I only knew from radio.”

Over the years, he has grown to be arguably the most popular ice cream vendor at elite league matches. “Rufaro (Stadium) reminds me of the days we had Farai Mbidzo, Basil Chisoko, Alois Bunjira and Morgan Nkathazo at CAPS, and Tauya Murehwa and Memory Mucherahowa at Dynamos.”

When derby turnout is good, Gurajena realises at least thrice the sales he makes on any other match day. He, however, says the authorities need to revisit junior policy systems and have curtain-raiser games if they are to lure supporters back to the stadiums.

“Players would graduate from the juniors to the senior team and that team’s DNA gave them a rare passion and strong bond with the fans, hence attracting numbers,” he said.

“They played with pure passion and it was easy to love and support them.”

His best memory with CAPS United was a match against Dynamos in 1996, in which the former won the championship under the late Steve Kwashi.

“Dynamos were leading; it was about three minutes to fulltime and we were already making our way out,” he said.

“In that moment, I heard celebrations — Mpumelelo Dzowa had converted a free-kick to equalise for CAPS United . . . We needed just a point to win the championship.

“My worst moments were when Rufaro shut down and the Covid-19 period; I struggled financially and emotionally and had to sell my merchandise on the streets.”

History

The first edition of the Harare derby was a five-goal thriller played in March 1976.

The explosive match ended 3-2 in favour of Dynamos. Standing out in that encounter was George “Mastermind” Shaya, who created all of Dynamos’ goals.

Daniel “Dhidhidhi” Ncube scored a brace, while Oliver Kateya scored the other goal.

CAPS United goals came from Shacky “Mr Goals” Tauro and Peter “Petso” Augustinho.

And, over the years, players have always wanted to make it into the match-day squad.

“The derby is not like any other match; pride is always at stake here, so we treat it differently with the other games,” said Dynamos captain Frank Makarati.

“Last season, we won it back-to-back, so we seek to extend our dominance over the Green Machine.”

At CAPS United, skipper Godknows Murwira is ready to reclaim the bragging rights.

“Losing in a derby is heartbreaking. Last season things did not go in our favour in both fixtures, so this time we want to prove that we can do it. But, above all, a derby is a special moment of enjoyment and embracing the spirit of pure sportsmanship,” said Murwira.

Factbox

The 35 000 capacity Rufaro Stadium was built in 1963.

It was officially opened in September 1972.

Rufaro Marketing, which used to operate a chain of beer halls across the city, was originally the main source of funding for maintaining the stadium.

The late legendary singer Zex Manatsa hosted his wedding at the venue on August 25, 1979.

On April 18, 1980, the late President Mugabe took the Oath of Office as Prime Minister in front of Britain’s Prince Charles (now King Charles III) and Rhodesia’s governor, Lord Soames, while Presidents Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and Samora Machel (Mozambique) also witnessed the proceedings.

It was at this venue that the Union Jack was lowered and the Zimbabwe flag hoisted on April 18, 1980.

On that same day, Bob Marley and the Wailers performed at the stadium to celebrate Zimbabwe’s independence.

In 1987, the stadium hosted Paul Simon for the televised concert at the height of his Graceland tour, where he was joined by Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The Mighty Warriors beat Lesotho 15-0 in the 2002 women’s championship, which remains a record. In 2016, The Mighty Warriors also beat the Indomitable Lionesses of Cameroon 1-0 at the venue to book a place at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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