Muradzikwa's thorny rise to the top

HARARE - Former Zimbabwe midfielder Shepherd Muradzikwa thought his life had fallen apart after impregnating his girlfriend whilst still a form four student at Mutare’s Elise Gledhill High School 29 years ago.

But the discipline instilled from that episode would see him rise to become a Zimbabwean football household name, earning numerous caps for the national team in-between turning out for three top-flight teams.

Muradzikwa’s glittering 17-year career at the highest level for club and country was highlighted by three appearances on the Soccer Star of the Year calendar.

But the man who was nicknamed “Dragline” by adoring fans for his for his robust midfield prowess which was akin to the piece of heavy equipment used in surface mining, says his life was never a smooth ride.

Born in Mutare’s high density suburb of Sakubva in 1967 in a family of six, Muradzikwa showed early signs of promise before an incident in November 1985 threatened to derail his career.

“During our youth I think was one of the first person to do such a thing. It was like a taboo that a child would get another child pregnant,” Muradzikwa tells the Daily News.

“Everywhere I walked I was reminded of my wrong doing. But I rose from that.”

Circumstances soon forced the two teenagers to stay together and fend for themselves.

Fortunately for the then young Muradzikwa, his talent would prove to be way out.

Soon the Sakubva-raised starlet travelled to Gweru for trials at Airforce (now Chapungu) but left for Hwange where he would make the grade under coach by Paul Moyo.

“That’s where my soccer career started at Hwange in Division One. I remember having a sterling season that year as an attacking midfielder, helping the team earn promotion at the end of that season.

“In my first year in the Super League as a 17-year-old, I was selected to represent the Zimbabwe Under-20s.”

Muradzikwa’s early performances also saw him attract the interest of Rio Tinto before sealing a move to the Kadoma-based side in 1987.

“That transfer was the highest in the country at that time. $10 000 Zimbabwean dollars. It was something else because at that time the Zimbabwe dollar held a lot of weight,” he says.

“I received $1000. That was my first time to buy an upright fridge, sofas, colour TV and other household stuff.”

Whilst his football career was beginning to fall into place, things were also looking up off the pitch.

“I paid lobola when I was 20. I got married in court under Chapter 37 and I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart for 29 years now,” he says.

At Rio Tinto, Muradzikwa teamed up with such players as George Usayi (late), Abraham Mwanza, Abel Kolowa and Bonface Chiseko.

The 1988 season saw Muradzikwa being selected as one of the 11 Soccer Stars of the Year finalists as a 19-years-old.

Shortly, Muradzikwa alongside another promising player, Henry McKop, were called up to the senior national team as efforts by Gibson Homela to blend experience with youth.

The midfielder got his first taste of senior international football in 1988 at the Central Africa Challenge, in Lilongwe, Malawi, where he enjoyed some cameo roles coming off the bench.

At that time, Muradzikwa was donning the same jersey with the likes of Joel “Jubilee” Shambo, Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma and David Mwanza.

“As a young player getting a chance alongside such players was something else,”Muradzikwa says.

“I went onto play under several coaches but during Reinhard Fabisch’s time was the best. For once we beat the likes of Egypt.

“On a whole it was a united squad. Whoever got the chance would rise to the occasion. We knew there was Bruce Grobbelaar playing for Liverpool, so to get to play with him was a good experience.”

At club level Muradzikwa’s Rio Tinto had fallen on hard times, with the mining company withdrawing all financial aid after the side was relegated in 1990.

What followed was a change of name to Eiffel Flights.

“We struggled under meagre resources but Rio Tinto would chip in here and there. Fortunately we re-gained promotion into the Supper league in 93,” he says.

“At the end of 1995, I then moved to Arcadia United before I travelled to Switzerland in 1997 for trials with FC Thun.

“I went there with Benjamin Nkonjera (late) and stayed there for six months but the trials did not go well. The same year I went to Bulgaria but that did not go well because of the language barrier and weather.

“I then went for trials with South Africa’s Manning Rangers. I was at Manning for three for three months but when the deal was about to be sealed Arcadia wanted me back. There were battling relegation and asked Rangers to let me go. This obviously frustrated me because this was my chance. I was now playing but not with my heart.”

Under the weight of financial constraints, Arcadia were soon relegated at the turn of the millennium.

Demoralized, Muradzikwa called it quits.

“I said to myself better I start coaching courses,” he says.

Muradzikwa is still giving back to the sport that brought him fame through coaching.

He has coached such sides as Circle United, South East Athletic, Highway, Sporting Manhenga as well as several football academies and junior teams.

Muradzikwa is currently coach of Eastern Region Division One side South Down.

“Looking back at my heydays I’m happy I was on the calendar three times in 1988, (as Rio Tinto player), 1992 (Eiffle Flats) and in 1996 (Arcadia United),” he says.

“I was also voted best player of the tournament at the Cosafa Cup in Mozambique in 1998. My only regret is that Arcadia frustrated my move to South Africa. Unfortunately we never had any groups to protect players, taingotamba iripo (we followed the status quo).”

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