The Sunday Mail
ON six occasions, he has been on the Soccer Stars of the Year calendar and at one such event, he was crowned the king of Zimbabwean football.
But, it now seems highly likely that he will not be celebrating his 20th season playing top-flight football as coronavirus increasingly looks to scuttle what would have been a memorable swansong season for one of Zimbabwe’s most illustrious footballers.
Clement Matawu will not celebrate his 38th birthday on November 28 neither, as it is not the norm in his religion.
“I don’t celebrate birthdays because of my strong background in the Jehovah’s Witnesses church. We believe celebrating a birthday is not necessary,” says the veteran Chicken Inn midfielder.
He made his Premier Soccer League debut with the now-defunct Motor Action on April 8, 2001.
However, Matawu — who occasionally drinks wine — would have certainly popped a bottle to celebrate a two-decade career that has seen him achieve a number of milestones, including his sole championship medal with Chicken Inn in 2015.
Those celebrations have been put on hold as the 2020 Castle Lager Premier Soccer League has been shelved due to Covid-19, which has claimed over 100 lives in the country.
“I am devastated indeed; all the plans have gone astray.
“Our team had prepared well for the 2020 season.
“Personally, after that tour of Malawi, I was ready.
“However, it is what it is and we wait until football finally returns,” Matawu told The Sunday Mail Sport.
He has now clocked exactly seven years at Bulawayo outfit Chicken Inn, having joined the Gamecocks in August 2013.
He won the league championship with Chicken Inn in 2015 and appeared on the Soccer Stars calendar for three consecutive years between 2015 and 2017.
Matawu won the prestigious Soccer Star of the Year Award in 2006, after having made the final list in 2003 and 2004.
While most of his peers on the 2006 calendar like Sebastian “Ngonjo” Mutizirwa, Honour Gombami, Nkululeko Dhlamini, Obert Moyo, Gilbert Banda and Master Masitara retired some years ago, Matawu is still playing on.
In fact, Matawu had planned to retire from the game in 2012, after returning from a stint in Poland, but ended up at Chicken Inn, where Mandla “Lulu” Mpofu gave him a new lease of life.
Joey Antipas later came in and guided the Gamecocks to their first and only league title in 2015.
“I have always planned to retire since I came from Europe in 2012, but each and every year there is that motivation. Bhora ndorida and I sacrifice a lot of things to stay fresh. However, I cannot play forever. My body will tell me to stop and that is fast approaching.”
After playing nine seasons at Motor Action, Matawu joined Polish Division One side Podbeskidzie Bielsko Biala in 2009, courtesy of Polish mentor Wieslaw Grabowski.
He moved a notch up in 2010, when he joined Polish top-flight side Polonia Byton, where he spent two seasons before returning to Harare.
“Europe shaped me a lot and I will forever be grateful to Grabowski for facilitating those moves.”
There are numerous characters who played crucial roles in Matawu’s 20-year career.
While the late Hamid “Muzukuru” Dhana handed Matawu his PSL debut when he temporarily took charge of Motor Action in the absence of then head coach Antipas, the veteran midfielder will forever cherish the support he got from the Rosens — Eric (late) and his wife Liz.
“The list of people who helped me up the ladder is endless due to the length of my career, but I have to say my family has to be on top, especially my wife and my mother. They have been there for me through the ups and downs,” Matawu said. The pint-sized player, who recently graduated with a degree in sports science and coaching from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), is married to Angeline Sigadula and the couple has two kids — Martina Vanessa and Jayden Tafadzwa.
“Mrs Rosen (Liz) has truly been a mother. The people of Shamva have supported me since the days I was a junior player in that town.
“Special mention goes to coach Friday Jasi for giving me my Division One debut with Shamva Mine. Joey Antipas has been there for me since 2001, when I began my Premiership journey.
“Keagan Mumba, may his soul rest in peace, was my coach when I won the Soccer Star of the Year in 2006.
“I cannot forget former Chicken Inn coach Mandla Mpofu, club president Lifa Ncube and secretary Tavengwa Hara for believing in me when everyone else thought I was done and dusted,” said Matawu.
Despite his immense talent, Matawu has never played for any of Zimbabwe’s Big Three teams — Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United.
He remained loyal to clubs that have built their teams around him.
He could have joined Bosso after that splendid 2006 season, but the late Rosen refused to release his most prized asset.
Highlanders, who were fresh from landing the 2006 league title, launched a massive bid for Matawu as they geared up for the 2007 Champions League.
The move fell through.
“I have no regrets (about not joining Highlanders). Everything happens for a reason.
“I have always played for teams that do not have a big following. If given a chance, I would have loved to see how it feels to play for a team with a huge following.”
One feeling he cannot forget though is when he made his PSL debut in 2001.
It all began with a decision to abscond school and attend one of Motor Action’s training sessions.
“I was still in school and the team used to train twice a week. So I decided to skip school on a Thursday and attend Motor Action’s morning session. That changed everything,” recalls Matawu.
“I still remember very well that week. Coach Joey (Antipas) was not around and Hamid Dhana (late) and Man Zifa (Zivanai Chiyangwa) took over training and selection of the team that would play Masvingo United.
“I had a good morning session and in the afternoon we played 11 versus 11. After that session I remember some senior players saying the coaches should give me and Blessing Mushangazhike a chance since the team was not doing well.
“I found myself in the Match Day team and those days we used to camp at Palm Lodge in Harare. After dinner ndakanosukiswa mapoto and plates and I said to myself, so I am in the first team to do dishes.
“Come match day, I was on the bench. When the team was trailing 0-1 in the second half, I got my chance, replacing Francis “Mudhara Nyama Gazza” Jayman and that was the beginning of my journey in the Premier League.”
Although the Mighty Bulls lost that match 1-0, it was the beginning of a fairy-tale journey for Matawu, who has now joined the exclusive group of players with more than five appearances on the Soccer Stars calendar.
The legendary George Shaya, who won the Soccer Star of the Year award a record five times; Stanford “Stix” Mutizwa, who appeared nine times; and the late Willard Mashinkila Khumalo, are some of the names in that special class.
And Matawu is not ruling out another appearance on that calendar.
“I can’t rule anything out. I still feel fresh.”
Also vivid in Matawu’s memory is the death of some of the most important people in his life, especially in the last five years.The most recent loss being the death of former Dynamos assistant coach, Biggie “Nzou” Zuze, who passed away in June.
Motor Action founder Rosen died in 2016, while Dhana passed on in 2019.
“Zuze’s death was a blow for Mashonaland Central and Zimbabwean football in general.
“Biggie and his brother Garikai are our heroes in the region,” the Bindura-bred Matawu said.
“We always want to emulate the stardom they achieved. I knew them through their younger brother; we were at the same school. He was also a very good player, but injuries blighted his career.
“Zuze was pivotal in providing opportunities for upcoming players in Mashonaland Central region.
“I remember he once signed some youngsters at Monomotapa from Shamva and Bindura, giving them a platform to launch their careers.”