It Is Now A Pure Platinum Race

In the gloom of a bleak summer day, a shower of rain and missiles and a pitch invasion, a carpet was laid out on Saturday for the start of a ceremony which will culminate in the domestic Premiership finally exorcising demons which have haunted it for more than half-a- century.

The rural heartland of Mhondoro provided the perfecting setting for this football ritual and, for those who believe in superstition, there was even a shower of rain to wash away both the pain and sins inflicted by 51 years of darkness for those from outside Harare and Bulawayo.

When the football gods’ hostility to the interests of those from outside the country’s two biggest urban settlements transformed the domestic league championship into an exclusive property of clubs from either Harare or Bulawayo.

Translating into more than 50 years of both frustration and pain for the likes of Rio Tinto who, in 1983, went toe-to-toe with Dynamos in this race only for the dreams of John Rugg’s gritty gold miners — who had one of the best squads of players on the local scene — to be destroyed by an inferior goal difference to the Glamour Boys after the two teams finished with the same number of points (36).
It Is Now A Pure Platinum Race
For goodness sake, in an era where clubs from outside the big two cities were giving as much as they were getting, Gweru United, with a catchy nickname, “Pisa-Pisa”, which was a reminder, too, of the raging fire that used to burn inside them, even finished third in the championship race that year.

Ten years later, in the first season of the era of the Premiership, another Gweru side Chapungu finished third in 1983 after completing their campaign just five points behind eventual champions Highlanders, with the airmen with the same number of points, 34, as CAPS United whose superior goal difference gave them the runners-up slot.

For goodness sake, in an era where clubs from outside the country’s biggest two cities were quite a match for those found in Harare and Bulawayo, Eiffel Flats — a new identity version of the old Rio Rinto — finished fourth in that race.

Mhangura, the hometown of Spencer Manguwa — the Dynamos and Liverpool-supporting business executive who came up with a controversial formula that FC Platinum will be crowned champions this season by a two-point advantage — finished third in the championship race in 1994.

Shabanie, with Thomas Makwasha and Asani Juma spearheading their attack — also finished third in 2001, a position they took again three years down the line — while Luke Masomere’s Masvingo United had their fate in their hands in 2005, needing just a home victory over Dynamos at Mucheke in the final game of the season to be crowned champions, only for them to suffer the aberration of a 1-2 defeat.

Then, as on Saturday in Mhondoro, the rains came down.

Now, a dozen years after that Yuna Yuna meltdown, which opened the way for CAPS United to win the league title by a two-point cushion, Ngezi Platinum might have dealt a mortal blow to DeMbare’s hopes of extending the big boys’ stranglehold on the domestic league championship and ended half-a-century of waiting for clubs from outside Harare and Bulawayo.

A team which, from the colour of its kit to the faces on its coaching staff and many of those on the pitch, appear a rural clone of the original Glamour Boys but which now throws a harder punch than a big collection of misfits currently dressed in the borrowed robes of these Glamour Boys, inflicted a 2-0 beating on DeMbare amid chaotic scenes at Baobab.

And, rather than Lloyd Mutasa and his troops taking over the leadership of this championship race, it is someone who used to be one of them, Tonderai Ndiraya, and a good number of players who also used to be part of them — Tichaona Mabvura, Godknows Murwira, Walter Mukanga, Qadir Amini and the injured Partson Jaure — who are now top of the table.

The equation is simple — win their next four games against Bantu Rovers (away), Chicken Inn (at home), FC Platinum (away) and Triangle at home — and Ndiraya and his men will be champions irrespective of what happens elsewhere.

Of course, this appears easier said than done because, after all, they only won one of their remaining four matches in the first round of fixtures when they beat FC Platinum 2-1 in Mhondoro and drew against Bantu in Mhondoro, Chicken Inn in Bulawayo and lost to Triangle in the Lowveld.

But even if Ndiraya and his troops were to falter, the good money appears to be on FC Platinum,who have a home league match against ZPC Kariba, and away match against Tsholotso, a home tie against Ngezi Platinum and an away game against Chapungu, to complete their programme.

It was at Ascot, last year, where CAPS United celebrated their championship crown after their victory there finally ended the challenge of FC Platinum and relegated the Zvishavane miners — who self-destructed at home six years ago in the penultimate match of the season when a draw, instead of the defeat they suffered at the hands of DeMbare, would have been enough for them to be champions — into a familiar role as bridesmaids.

Of course, the old beast — the one which ruined Rio Tinto’s party in 1983, the one which destroyed Masvingo United’s hopes in 2005, the one which crushed FC Platinum’s dreams in 2011, the one which wrecked ZPC Kariba’s ambitions recently — might be down right now but it is certainly not out of the race.

Twelve points is still too much to play for where the difference right now is only two points and with the leaders set to also battle against themselves.

But something will have to change dramatically for these Glamour Boys, who have badly lost their way and whose shortcomings are there for everyone to see, to mine gold against Chapungu at home, Bulawayo City away, Bantu Rovers away and Chicken Inn at home.

Heads have dropped, too many players have lost their way, the character which made them collectively punch above their weight has disappeared and they have become a shadow of the team that won the Harare Derby, beat Ngezi Platinum in that thriller and scored four at Ascot before the hour mark.

Denver Mukamba has turned to his wayward ways, Christian Epopupa Ntouba has lost his compass, Lincoln Zvasiya has lost his way and DeMbare have become what many predicted — a club short on genuine quality who will wilt when the going gets tough and boys are separated from the men.

Of course, in football, it’s never over until the old fat lady sings but it’s hard to see one of the two platinum sides failing to finally produce league winners who can step into the special enclosure where the late Father Anthony Davis — a football-loving priest who turned his St Paul’s Musami into league champions in 1966 — paraded their trophy.

No one has done it since then but someone appears ready to do it this year.
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