The Sunday Mail
INSTEAD of barking instructions from the touchline at Luveve Stadium in Bulawayo, where his team rarely loses matches, Darwendale Dam has become the new hunting ground for reigning Premier Soccer League Coach of the Year Joey Antipas.
As chances of a return to football continue to fade by each passing day, with the authorities seemingly clueless on the way forward, a number of coaches, including Antipas have given up hope.
“It has been frustrating, it’s like we are in a tailspin,” a concerned Antipas told The Sunday Mail Sport in an interview.
The Chicken Inn gaffer, who has been doing a lot of fishing these days, is returning to his home in Harare, while ZPC Kariba gaffer Godfrey Tamirepi — a top contender for the 2019 Castle Lager Coach of the Year gong — has retreated back to his hometown, Kwekwe.
ZIFA remain unclear on the way forward, almost three weeks after Sports Minister Kirsty Coventry strongly hinted on football’s return, albeit under some strict protocols which included the bio-bubble system.
Coventry made the announcement on September 14 and revealed that Government was now working with ZIFA and other stakeholders on a roadmap that would ensure that the bio-bubble concept succeeds.
ZIFA communications and competitions manager Xolisani Gwesela said the association is yet to get clearance from the Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC).
“We submitted our request to the SRC . . . no clearance yet,” Gwesela said.
The bio-bubble concept would have seen the players, coaches, league and media personnel all housed in a bio-secure place with no contact from the outside world.
Under this concept, games are staged in designated venues with no spectators allowed.
However, a number of PSL club officials who spoke to The Sunday Mail Sport recently were concerned with how the bio-bubble system would be funded.
Most of them are of the opinion that either Government or ZIFA should meet accommodation, transport and testing expenses.
There are now strong chances that there will be no Premiership games this year and most coaches including Antipas, have resigned to fate.
“If we were going to start the league this year, then we should have been training. It’s now too late,” Antipas said.
With no football, how has the two-time championship-winning coach been surviving?
“I have been doing a lot of bass fishing with some encouraging results!
“You see, we have been involved in football for a long time and it seems strange not being in it.
“It’s like we are living on another planet.
“As a result, I now go out to Darwendale Dam in Mashonaland West, that’s where good bass fishing is happening.
“I fish here in Bulawayo, (there are) nice dams here, but not as good as Darwendale,” said Antipas.
The former Warriors coach, who guided Chicken Inn to their first ever league title in 2015, was angling for a repeat of that feat in 2020.
Chicken Inn dominated the 2019 league race before losing steam towards the finish line, prompting Antipas to raid the market for some reinforcements.
The Gamecocks eventually finished second behind FC Platinum, and Antipas knows the 2019 crown was theirs to lose.
Antipas reacted by bringing in seven new players.
He offloaded former Highlanders midfielder Simon Munawa, Joe Nyabinde and out of favour centre-back Ben Nyahunzvi.
Highly-rated former Mushowani Stars captain Clive Dzingayi, power-play striker Paddington Nyamakura (Yadah Stars), Nelson Ketala (Ngezi Platinum Stars) and 2019 Soccer Star of the Year finalist Ian Nekati are now at Chicken Inn.
The Bulawayo side brought in Brian Muza from Talen Vision, Lista Ndlovu from Black Mambas and Brian Giant from Victoria Falls-based Division One side Mosi Rovers.
“It’s disappointing because we assembled a good squad for the 2020 season. We were on fire during pre-season and definitely we were up for silverware,” said Antipas.
Chicken Inn had even travelled to Malawi as part of their preparations, where they clinched the 2020 Malawi Energem International Bonanza pre-season tournament in Blantyre in March.
The four-team tourney included losing finalists USD Songo of Mozambique as well as Malawian giants Nyasa Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers.
“We looked really sharp and ready. But there is not much we could do because this is nature (Covid-19).”
The 2020 Premiership has been on hold since March and the long lay-off means players now require at least six weeks of pre-season training before the games can start.
It also means the season cannot kick off before mid-November, approximately the same time Zimbabwe’s rainy season would be peaking.
“We were hoping that we would resume training in September, but it’s not to be, so I am going back home until further notice,” said Antipas.
The continued absence of competitive football could jeopardise the Warriors’
performance at the African Nations Championship finals set for Cameroon in
The CHAN tournament is reserved for local players and these have now gone for over nine months without playing competitive football.
“It’s a difficult situation, our local boys are playing CHAN in January.
“With no match fitness, the boys will struggle,” said Antipas, who was still in charge of the national team when they qualified for the biennial tournament.
Zimbabwe play Algeria in back-to-back Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in November, amid fears some foreign-based players, especially those based in Europe, might not be released by their clubs as a Covid-19 precautionary measure.