February 6, 1958, killing eight Manchester United players, three club staff members and eight journalists, you now find a field of sugar beet.
Time has certainly moved on for the people of Kirchtrudering, the Munich suburb where more than half a century ago the cream of the Busby Babes, a team experts believe would have become world football’s first super side, perished.
But the presence of the two memorials about the disaster, where the stricken plane came to a halt on that freezing February day, is an enduring reminder of the tragedy that unfolded on this German soil when the heart of Manchester United was ripped out of its body.
United and Munich seem eternally connected and, as the football gods would have it, Alex Ferguson and his men came back from the dead, against Bayern Munich of course, in Barcelona in 1999 to score twice, in the dying moments, and win the Champions League.
Manchester and Munich, too, seem eternally connected and in the German city where the Busby Babes perished in 1958, Carlos Tevez, of the infamous Welcome to Manchester billboard, refused orders from his coach to come on as a substitute in Manchester City’s Champions League tie against Bayern in Munich on Tuesday night.
Tevez was subsequently handed a two-week suspension by the club as he joined a club of footballers who defied their coaches’ orders and refused to come on as substitutes – Piere van Hoodjonk, Sebastien Squillaci, Alex Kolinko, Kieron Dyer and Dimitar Berbatov.
The latest controversy involving the talented but volatile Argentine forward capped a wild week in world football where even Zimbabwe Saints beat Highlanders, CAPS United made it four losses in four matches in a calendar year against Dynamos, Kaizer Chiefs were awarded a penalty for a ghost handball, and then conspired to miss it and, of course, even Frank Lampard remembered how to score again.
Denver Mukamba, in a moment of madness, momentarily switched off his brains, and ran himself on a raft of emotions, and chose the bay housing the CAPS United fans to celebrate, after he had provided the cross that resulted in the goal, in the Harare Derby at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday.
Denver did not only celebrate in front of the wrong people but he even raised his finger and planted it on his slips, in a mock rendition of silence, telling the CAPS United fans that the time for them to celebrate had come to an end and it was time to shut up.
Brave teenage boy, this lad called Denver Mukamba!
Tevez’s industrial action was a global reminder of the flaws that stalk the geniuses who roam our sporting fields and, while it didn’t justify the virus that cripples their personalities, it reminded us of the reality that there is a very thin line that divides stardom and villainy.
Yes, we would all rather live in a perfect world where all our sports stars are role models who do the kind of things – in their personal lives as in their profession – that we would all salute should it be done by our little kids, who adore them as heroes, when they too finally grow up to become men.
We would all rather have a world full of football stars like Lionel Messi, a man unlikely to court any controversy either on the field or in his private life, but the reality is that we have guys like John Terry who takes his teammate’s girlfriend even though England expected better from its skipper.
Guys like Ryan Giggs, who sleeps with his brother’s wife, not once but more than a dozen times in a secret affair that spreads over years, guys like Wayne Rooney, who drinks so much and urinates publicly in the street singing all sorts of obscene songs.
Guys like Diego Maradona who make cocaine as much a part of his life, at the peak of his career, and the world deliberately looked elsewhere because he was a genius not only winning the World Cup single-handedly but who also gave the barons of the Italian Mafia championship glory at Napoli.
That’s the reality of our world, and its most beautiful game, and while the headlines generated by the Tevezes and Denvers of our planet this week might not make beautiful stories and good reading for the purists of this game, that’s the way it was, it is and the way it will ever be.
The Moment Denver Lost His Bearings
For a guy who had played brilliantly in the past four games, scoring goals with a smile on his face and scaling the heights he reached during that magical performance against MC Alger at Rufaro, Denver Mukamba was certainly ordinary in the big Mbada Diamonds Cup tie against bitter rivals CAPS United on Sunday.
His alibi could come from the point that he wasn’t the only one who struggled on that bumpy pitch that has turned from a dream surface, where artists could wave their magic, into a Potato Field that has paid a huge price for all the public functions held there on a regular basis these days.
The Denver that we had seen at Lafarge, who played something close to the Denver we had seen against MC Alger, was nowhere to be seen at the giant stadium on Sunday and, like most of the 22 or so men who toiled that afternoon without justifying any reason why they should be playing in those famous shirts, he wasn’t only hopeless that day but clearly a mockery to all the great men who made the Dynamos/CAPS United showdown the flagship game of the capital.
Evans Gwekwerere came out with a bit of credit, for fighting gallantly for his team’s cause and playing with passion, and he will look back at his two goals, in 360 minutes of the Dynamos/CAPS United clashes this season, as testimony of the sweat and tears that he put into the shifts without due reward.
Cuthbert Malajila was lively and played at a level that showed why, given other circumstances, he should not have been playing in this game, having long used his talents to seduce suitors from a foreign club, and without the scars of the Libyan revolution, he would have been following the Dynamos/CAPS United game on the internet.
Archford Gutu brought a new dimension to the game that his coach wanted, in a masterstroke substitution that changed a dull game that fittingly produced a scrambled goal for its decisive moment, and that he was there, to put a touch to that cross for the goal, also justified why he will be leaving our domestic fields for Europe in December.
But, for the rest of the outfield men in the blue, green and white kits, the quest to carry the weight of expectations of the fans in this big game, and walk the path of greatness traveled by the Shambos and the Chungas, was one challenge too big.
That the post-mortem of such a high profile game should centre on Denver Mukamba’s pathetic decision to go to the CAPS United fans, in his moment of celebration, and tell them to shut up because their game was up, and not anything else that happened on the pitch, is enough proof of the mediocrity that was on offer that day – from either side.
But derbies, especially when they come in the form of winner-take-all knockout tournaments where to the victors go the spoils and the loser stands small, have been known to be so tense they turn players into machines, who need to play to certain orders and where the drive to try and avoid mistakes overrides the passion to express themselves.
A number of people will argue that the Real Madrid/Barcelona Champions League battle last season was predominantly lifeless and even the Kings’ Cup final, won 1-0 by Madrid courtesy of Ronaldo’s goal, lacked that something special that had come to be expected from this Classico.
So, maybe, we aren’t that different.
But what was Denver thinking about when he chose to go to that CAPS United stronghold and not only celebrate in front of all those dejected souls but have the audacity to lift his finger and give them a sickening sign that it was time to shut up?
On Tuesday, he told us that it all came from his passion for the game, which sometimes overwhelms him so much it detaches his senses from his head and leads him into a period where every move is directed from the heart rather than from the brain.
He did it the other day when Tawanda Muparati scored a last-gasp goal for the winner, against CAPS United inside the same stadium, and Denver – by then having been benched by Lloyd Mutasa – somehow decided to keep dancing on the pitch, after everyone had taken their seats and the players on the field taken their positions, as if he owned the theatre.
It needed the intervention of the referee to push him back to his place on the bench.
But, for a teenager, Denver is refreshingly honest and his decision to not only concede publicly that he provoked the CAPS United fans but to also say sorry for that, showed that this young man needs to be understood, and be supported, rather than be vilified as an outcast who doesn’t deserve a place in this game.
There is no questioning that Denver crossed the line on Sunday and, in a stadium where a similar gesture by Delron Buckley 11 years ago torched a sequence of events that ended in 13 fans losing their lives, Mukamba’s actions on Sunday were not only dangerous but made a lot of people, who still carry scars from that fateful day, tremble.
Surely, you can’t fault the CAPS United fans for the reaction.
Denver is not a horrible person but a young, talented footballer who, I feel – instead of being destroyed for some of his actions that might be out of line in this game – should be helped because there is no questioning that he is a good guy and can exorcise the demons that have stalked him.
He is learning the hard way, from being suspended by Caf for five-matches for challenging a referee in Botswana to being the target of an avalanche of missiles coming from angry CAPS United fans, and we should play our little parts in helping him understand that the magic in his feet is enough to make headlines without him telling people to shut up.
Denver is a good player, no doubt about that, and will certainly get better and better but he needs to appreciate that discipline is as much a key part of succeeding as a professional as is the significance of raw talent, and it’s up to the country’s media, his coaches, his family and his fans to help him because, mark my words, he is the real stuff.
The world gave Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne a chance, didn’t it, and for all his drinking habits he almost inspired a country to World Cup success at Italia ‘90, the world found a way to embrace George Best, Maradona, etc and the world gave El-Hadji Diouf a chance, even though he could spit at anyone, at anytime, including at young kids whose crime was simply because they supported his opponents.
Try to write the 2002 World Cup story without a chapter of El-Hadji Diouf and see if people will take you seriously.
Try to write the history of the Lions of Teranga, without mentioning Diouf, and see if anyone will take you seriously.
I would rather be counted, one good day, among the people, especially the journalists, who helped Denver realise his potential by supporting him, during a period when he appeared to have lost his bearings, than being remembered as one of those fellows who destroyed a talent simply because we felt his wildness wasn’t fashionable.
Oh, by the way, the Harare Derby is not what it used to be and Sunday was another forgettable encounter between the capital’s two glamour sides.
Yesterday, Kenny Daglish, the Liverpool manager, said the Merseyside Derby, too, had lost some of the sparkle that it used to have in the days when the Reds and Everton were fighting for honours at home and Europe, and listening to him, you felt he could have been talking about the Harare Derby.
What Mark Gleeson Thinks About
Mark Gleeson is South Africa’s premier football commentator, analyst and writer and, whenever he says something about the game, people listen.
And, so, when he talked about the quality of the Absa Premiership this week, it raised some eyebrows.
“Frankly, while there are much beefed up and slicker looking squads at the top of the table, there is also a large load of rubbish among the 16 teams in the Premier Soccer League,” he wrote on his blog.
“After six rounds of competitions, two clubs have yet to win a match and two others have but a single triumph since the league started in mid-August.
“Winless AmaZulu have already fired their coach but are stuck on the losing trail while Jomo Cosmos’ yo-yo existence between the PSL and the National First Division looks set to continue.
“They could be relegated for the third successive time, having bounced back after both previous setbacks but are patently not good enough for the top level.”
I didn’t say that.
Mark Gleeson did.
I watched the Orlando Pirates/Mamelodi Sundowns’ game this week and there were only three shots on target all night and the Brazilians didn’t even try to win in the second half, and while the television coverage was brilliant, and the crowd was fantastic, there was little to suggest anything different from watching FC Platinum/CAPS United.
Yes, in a lot of parts, Super Diski is now better than our Castle Premiership and that usually happens when you have more money, when you get all the players that show any promise on the other side, including taking Simba Sithole, whose 10 goals in 10 league matches here are still a marker in the race for the Golden Boot, even though he might not play for Sundowns this season.
Over the last few years, as Super Diski grew, thanks to the power of television which is bringing in US$227 million in the next five years, while ours continue to be ignored, even by the national broadcaster to such an extent results don’t even come out on radio, the South Africans left us behind.
But Mark Gleeson believes a lot of what we see on Super Diski is rubbish, which is probably what a number of people feel about the domestic Premiership, but both leagues have a constituency, in terms of supporters, and there are more fans at a Chiefs/Pirates Soweto Derby than any league match in England, Manchester United included.
That’s why, even after the heartbreak losing the Harare Derby, there will be a lot of CAPS United fans backing their team against Motor Action at Gwanzura today and that’s why I will also be there.
Diamonds Are Forever
Free transport for all traveling teams, appearance fees for all participating players, kits for all the teams, free transport for some lucky fans in the capital, free beers and drinks for the VIP guests at the National Sports Stadium, well, the Mbada Diamonds Cup looks really different.
They have come into the game in a very big way and, judging by the way Shooting Stars, Kiglon and Saints brewed shockers to upset the seeded teams, you get a feeling that the players put in a little more effort to remain in the competition.
We even saw highlights, on ZTV of course, of the game at Gibo in Chiredzi where FC Platinum edged Black Mambas 1-0.
The sponsors got the Derby, which means that their tournament got underway with a good crowd at the National Sports Stadium, and with Dynamos still in the competition, spectator interest remains, and with the Mighty Bulls and FC Platinum also in there, it could turn into a very good tournament.
Diamonds, as they say, are forever.
Who Will Win The Premiership Title?
It has become quite a fascinating battle for the Castle Premiership title and, while I seem to know which team will win it, I wouldn’t want to say it right now for fear of being accused of favouritism.
But who do you think will win it? Can Motor Action defend their crown?
Can FC Platinum manage the heat and turn around their campaign?
Can Dynamos keep their fairy-tale run alive under Pasuwa and end three years of being bridesmaids?
Can Bosso write the comeback story of the year?
It’s all happening in the Castle Premiership and, as they say in Super Diski, we Love It.
Come on United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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