The Sunday Mail
OF the 16 teams that founded the Premier Soccer League in 1993, only eight still exist, while the other half has its remains interred in a football cemetery that is now the final resting place of 50 defunct clubs.
And of those that have remained standing, only three sides — record champions Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS United — have never been relegated.
Bulawayo giants Highlanders (who won the inaugural Premiership title), CAPS United, Chapungu, Eiffel Flats, Dynamos, Black Rhinos, Zimbabwe Saints, Darryn T, Mhangura, Wankie (now Hwange), Fire Batteries, Black Aces, Black Mambas, Tanganda, Shu Shine and Ziscosteel were the clubs that were around when the elite league was founded.
Eight of these clubs still exist, while the remainder, including some other clubs that joined the league along the way, fell by the wayside, chaulked into extinction mainly because of huge burden that comes with running a PSL franchise.
Eiffel Flats, Darryn T, Mhangura, Fire Batteries, Black Aces, Shu Shine, Ziscosteel and Tanganda (who are best remembered for that stunning Castle Cup victory over CAPS United in 1993) were part of that historic group of clubs that broke away from ZIFA’s Super League to form the Premiership.
Sadly, they all succumbed and are now dead and buried.
Blackpool, Rufaro Rovers, Lancashire Steel, Mutare United, Air Zimbabwe Jets, Amazulu, Gweru United and Railstars were once part of the Premiership, but they, too, could not survive.
Motor Action, Hackney, Circle United, Sporting Lions, Chrome Stars, Buymore, Njube Sundowns, Kambuzuma United, Kwekwe Cables and Monomotapa can also be found in the same graveyard.
Eiffel Wildcats, Mwana Africa, Shooting Stars, Lengthens, Eastern Lions, CAPS FC, Gunners, Kiglon, Underhill, Eagles, Highway, Douglas Warriors, FC Victoria, Blue Rangers, Blue Ribbon, Hardbody, Quelaton, How Mine, Tripple B, Chiredzi and Tsholotsho are casualties.
Similarly, Dongo Sawmills, Flame Lily, Border Strikers and Nichrut were recently joined by Mushowani Stars, who folded soon after their relegation from the top-flight at the end of last year.
Perhaps the most popular club in that cemetery could be Black Aces, which assumed the nickname “Shaisa Mufaro” because of their giant-killing acts.
Ironically, Aces were the last team to win a Super League title in 1992.
The Highfield outfit, one of Harare’s football talent hubs, finished third on two occasions in 1995 and 1997, before winning the BP League Cup with a crushing 4-1 win over Amazulu.
Aces also produced a Soccer Star of the Year winner in 1992 when Wilfred “Silver Fox” Mugeyi won it.
The “Silver Fox” opened up on his feelings for Black Aces.
“Aces gave me the opportunity to play at the top level and I will always be grateful, especially to Steve Kwashi who recruited me from a Division Once club Circle United when I was only 19-years-old.
“Bra Steve (Kwashi) was fired before the Premiership era and I was disheartened. We bounced back though and even won the 1992 title.
“We were a closely knit family and of course I cannot forget that it was Aces who provided the springboard for me to go to South Africa.
“I was scouted by Bush Bucks after Aces played that side in a pre-season match in 1993. I then joined them mid-year.
“I also remember well the passionate fans we had at our games, the club directors were always on point and I always felt at home playing at Black Aces,” Mugeyi said.
While Black Aces lasted seven seasons in the PSL, Fire Batteries, which was owned by businessman Lovemore Gijima Musindo, had a once-off dance with the league.
The team was relegated at the end of the 1993 season before sinking into oblivion.
Musindo is still alive and hustling as before, but the Rusape farmer and property owner feels the Premiership has failed to achieve what was envisaged back in 1993.
“I am proud to be one of the founder members of the Premiership,” brags Musindo.
“But, it is sad that what we envisaged is not what turned out. We wanted to create a situation where clubs would be run professionally and become self-sustaining, but as you can see, more and more clubs are still struggling financially.
“Football administration needs a proper mix of former footballers and businessmen with a passion for the game. I believe we are lacking in that aspect because we now have opportunists and corrupt individuals in some football positions,” Musindo said.
His Fire Batteries nurtured players such as Gilbert Mushangazhike, Ralph Kawondera Sr, Darlington Mukwava, Lewis Kutinyu, Douglas Makwinja, Mike Maringa, Milton Mushambi, Charles Yohanne, Innocent Chikoya and Hussein Amidu.
“Fire Batteries provided everything for us, from education to employment. The owner Musindo was so helpful, he paid school fees for the less privileged and employed some.
“I played for Fire Batteries until mid-season of 1993 when I left for Dynamos, but I still have fond memories of that team,” said Amidu.
There are also a number of former champions in the cemetery, just as much as there are historic teams like Zvishavane-based Shu Shine, who were relegated in their debut season, but still provided two players – Tavaka Gumbo and Isaac Riyano – on the 1993 Soccer Stars calendar.
One will also find the graves
of Lancashire, the typical mid-table side from Kwekwe which enjoyed 13 consecutive seasons in the Premiership between 1995 and 2008, winning the 1999 Madison Trophy along the way. Monomotapa, who made their Premiership bow in 2005 under the directorship of Solomon Mugavazi, before winning the title in 2008 under the guidance of Norman Mapeza, remain one of the four Zimbabwean teams to reach the CAF Champions League group stage. “Monoz” finished bottom in a group that had TP Mazembe, Heartland and Etoile du Sahel during the 2009 Champions League campaign.
Dynamos, CAPS United and FC Platinum are the only other teams to have reached the Champions League group stage. Monomotapa were relegated in 2013 and subsequently folded.
Gunners won the championship in 2009, in only their second season in the Premiership, thanks to a fruitful combination of boardroom acumen and Moses Chunga’s tactical nous on the bench.
They were founded by close buddies Cuthbert Chitima and Sweeney Mushonga, who bought the Sporting Lions franchise in 2005.
“Basically, what we had at Gunners was a proper football structure made up of people with football brains and businessmen who were passionate about the game.
“We made sure the resources were available for the players, we paid salaries and bonuses on time and our players were always motivated.
“It was money from our pockets, so when the economy turned upside-down, it became difficult to sustain the team. You see, it is difficult for clubs in Zimbabwe to attract corporate sponsorship because football has been tainted. “I also want to urge existing clubs to invest in junior development. With juniors, you do not use a lot of money and yet they provide the foundation for the future of the club,” said Chitima.
Gunners also exported Zhaimu Jambo and Willard Katsande to Kaizer Chiefs and Ajax Cape Town respectively, as well as Ovidy Karuru, who joined French club Boulogne.
Ralph Kawondera, uncle to FC Platinum star midfielder Ralph Jr, had a curious streak as he flirted with four clubs, which have since gone bust. He played for Darryn T, Fire Batteries, Rufaro Rovers and Blackpool, who are all now defunct.
He was part of that Blackpool side that reached the semi-final of the 1995 African Cup Winners Cup, becoming the first Zimbabwean side to do so in the process.
Popularly known as “Ndochi”, Blackpool lost to JS Kabylie of Algeria on aggregate, having won 2-1 in Harare before losing 0-1 away.
“That was a great achievement, we still talk about that up to this day with some of the players I played with back then,” said Kawondera.
Ernest Chirambadare, George Mbwando, Alex Munawa, Vusi Laher, Masimba Dinyero, John “Toto” Ncube and Joseph Dube were some of the players who turned out for Ndochi.
The Chitungwiza-bred duo of Stewart Murisa and Alois Bunjira also starred for the Blackpool side that nearly wrestled the championship from Dynamos in 1995.
Ronnie Chihota and Joe Salifu (late) were the brains behind the formation of Blackpool, which made their PSL debut in 1994 before coming close to winning the title in 1995.
However, Kawondera reckons his best football moments were at Darryn T, a team that was formed through a merger between State House Tornadoes and Darryn Textiles.
Owned by Polish football scout and coach Wieslaw Grabowski, Darryn T had a controversial stint in the Premiership.
Expelled from the PSL in 1994, Darryn T never gave up as they returned during the 1999/2000 season.
They, however, breathed their last in 2001 when they failed to register in the Eastern Region Division One League, following their relegation from the top-flight.
“I played for a number of clubs, most of which are defunct now, but I enjoyed my football at DT (Darryn T),” said Kawondera.
Darryn T gave the Premiership such talent as Gift Muzadzi, Lloyd Chitembwe, Edelbert Dinha, Musareka Jenitala, Felix Antonio, Elasto (Lungu) Kapowezha, Mapeza, Bunjira and Murisa.
They also won the Castle Cup in the year preceding the Premiership era after walloping CAPS United 4-0 in the final. Clubs such as Mwana Africa and Lengthens, who also wrote their own piece history, can also be found in the local football cemetry.
Bindura-based Mwana Africa won the CBZ Cup – then the league’s premier knockout competition – in their debut season in 2006 and played in the 2007 CAF Confederation Cup.
They also won the 2007 Nestle Charity Shield after beating Highlanders 3-0 on aggregate before they were unfortunately relegated at the end of that season.
Arthur Tutani, who was assistant coach to the late Willard Khumalo, spoke a bit about Mwana Africa – a team that he led into the PSL at the end of 2005. “We remain proud of the fact that we led Mwana Africa into the continent,” said Tutani.
Lengthens, who were founded by then-Harare dealers Musa Gwasira and John Chikochi, played four seasons in the PSL between 2007 and 2010. They won the 2009 BancABC Sup8r Cup after beating Shooting Stars and were semi-finalists in 2010 – the same season they were relegated.
You also find in this cemetery one-season-wonder teams like Highway of Mutare, who came in at the beginning of 2009 and left for good at the end of that season.
But that was after they introduced a gritty midfielder called Willard Katsande, who would captain Zimbabwe to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.
“Nothing inspired me more than helping talented youths in the community that I lived in,” said Binali Yard, who owned the Manicaland-based side.
“However, it was difficult to stay afloat because I was the sole sponsor of the team and I couldn’t sustain it anymore. Football in Zimbabwe is not rewarding,” Yard said.