Friday Phiri: A football giant that never disappointed

HARARE - I am deeply saddened by the death of one of Zimbabwe’s most underrated players – Friday “Breakdown, Amayenge” Phiri - who yesterday gave up a good fight he had thrown in his bid to live longer.

Phiri’s death reminded me of so many things that happened during my early life as an innocent boy learning the early steps of ascending the ladder of life.

He was among the first players I got to know when I was doing my Grade Two at Shiriyedenga Primary school in Glen Norah and later throughout my primary and secondary education.

Phiri was quite instrumental in developing my love for football at a very young age.

We resided in the same neighbourhood,  together with the late Shacky Tauro, Elisha Gejo, Oliver Chidemo (late) Charles “Raw Meat” Sibanda, Wonder Chisetera, George Shaya, David Mandigora, David George and Jawet Nechironga (late).

Of course Glen Norah would later become home to a galaxy of football stars who mainly played for CAPS United and Black Aces.

But during the time of “Breakdown” and the likes of Mr Goals, the would-be future players were either in my stream or a few streams ahead of me, and that’s why I am focusing on this golden generation that Phiri was part of.

I got to know Phiri at that young age because he used to work with my late father at CAPS Private Limited in Southerton together with Tauro, the late Joel “Jubilee” Shambo, the likes of Size Torindo and later, Carlos Max, Clever “Musharukwa”Muzuwa (late) and Brenna Msiska.

But I got much closer to Phiri due to his ever presence in my area (KuZvimba) because my parents’ house was separated by five houses from Tauro’s. Phiri stayed at the CAPS’ block of apartments in Glen Norah A near Chitubu.

The presence of Tauro, I must say drew me closer to many topflight league (Super League then) players – including those from Bulawayo and other towns – as they would often visit during national team camping days.

It was Tauro and Phiri who made me fall in love with CAPS United.

Again the duo was instrumental in driving my passion for football that I joined other boys in the dusty streets of Glen Norah where it was obvious that we would swap our names for these stars nicknames and family names.

Being left-legged I likened myself to Phiri although I was a defender – left back for that matter!

Phiri was a left winger.

In Phiri I saw power, passion, discipline, selfness and humility.

This was seen at close quarters, when CAPS United and Dynamos trained at Glen Norah stadium and later, when I was part of the juniors who felt a glow in their hearts because of having the privilege to train while being watched by the First Team players, including Phiri, at Raylton Sports Club.

I remember very well that Phiri favourite football boots were from Asics, predominantly black either with white or gold Asics logo.

Phiri, who had big calves due to his intense fitness regime, was a man for the big occasions.

I recall the big games he played for CAPS United where he scored important goals.

Those who have been following CAPS United from the 1980s and having had the privilege of watching most games, especially Cup finals during Phiri’s heyday, would want to look at the 1987 season.

In 1987 CAPS United were involved in two great cup finals games with Black Rhinos – the Chibuku trophy and Natbrew Cup – where Phiri got a losers’ and a winners’ medal, respectively.

CAPS United drew 3-3 with Rhinos in the first game of the Chibuku Trophy with Phiri and Tauro (brace) scoring for Makepekepe and Rhinos getting theirs from Maronga Nyangela, Jerry Chidawa and the late Simon Mugabe.

Rhinos won the replay 2-1 courtesy of former CAPS golden boy Stenford “Stix” Mtizwa goals. The late Gift Mudangwe scored for CAPS.

In November of the same year, the two teams met in the Natbrew Cup final and CAPS United won 1-0 through Phiri’s header.

There were so many games that Phiri decided.

It’s sad when it is time to go and it is particularly painful to also get reminded that success on the pitch does not always translate to success off it.

Despite his trailblazing career as a player, Phiri was not so good on the bench as a coach.

As Phiri joins many before him, in being promoted to another life, he leaves me with so many memories to treasure as a football fan and one who never missed a moment to be associated with his team, CAPS United.

I knew him as a CAPS United player throughout his trophy-laden career and also as someone who passed through three wise men of football Ashton Nyazika, Obadiah Sarupinda and Freddy Mkwesha (all late).

For a man who lived a quiet life it was only fitting that he went quietly, no matter how painful it is to relatives and friends.

Go well Breakdown, Go well Amayenge.

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