Kwekwe: Football sleeping giant

Two decades ago, Kwekwe-based Lancashire Steel Football Club defied all odds by clinching the 1999 Madison Trophy after beating CAPS United 2-1 in the final and wrote their own Cinderella story in local football.

That triumph by the Chimbi Chimbi Boys became the bedrock on which football in Kwekwe was to be built.

Lancashire on that afternoon defeated a talented Makepekepe side that featured the likes of Mpumelelo Dzowa, Asani Matora, Joe Mugabe, and George Mudiwa. 

It was the genesis of the Kwekwe production line that churned out players, who went on to establish themselves as household names in Zimbabwean football.

Luke “Jukulile” Petros, the free-scoring striker, was one of the architects of the Madison Trophy victory.

After starring for both Lancashire and the Warriors, Petros joined the great trek down South to join Kaizer Chiefs.

Coached by the late Ashton “Papa” Nyazika, the likes of Willard “Mashinkila” Khumalo, Petros Sibanda, Costa Maradzike, Albert Mbano and Phillip Machona, were also standout performers in that final before going onto reinforce their status as formidable forces on the domestic game. 

Away teams knew that it was no stroll in the park when they travelled to Baghdad Stadium to face Lancashire Steel with traditional giants Dynamos, Highlanders and CAPS all struggling to return with positives results.  

Even on their travels, the Chimbi Chimbi Boys were no pushovers either.  At the turn of the millennium, besides Lancashire Steel, Kwekwe was awash with talent that the city had the pleasure of having several teams in the Premier Soccer League (PSL).

Kwekwe Cables and Chrome Stars were some of the teams that emanated from the Midlands town. 

Before and after independence in 1980, ZiscoSteel had been the torch bearer for the town as they regularly fought for honours in the top flight. 

Even firebrand former Football Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Paul Gundani (late) and former Warriors midfielder Kenedy Nagoli have their roots at ZiscoSteel.

The duo of Nani Muchiwa and Lovemore Nyabeza (both late) also cut their coaching teeth in Kwekwe as they were instrumental in the rise of Chrome Stars from the lower divisions leading the now defunct side to the premiership. 

Washington Arubi, the 2012 Soccer Star of the Year, Tafadzwa Dube, Justice Majabvi, Stephen Alimenda, Malvern Nyakabangwe, Sam Mutenheri, Brighton Tuwaya, George Magariro and Wellington Sibanda are some of the players among a glut of stars to emerge from the Kwekwe production line.

However, just over a decade ago the last of the remaining PSL teams in the town, Lancashire Steel got relegated and Kwekwe has not tasted PSL football and sadly the production line of players has been cut.

With the steel factory also folding at the height of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, the Chimbi Chimbi Boys also crumbled. 

Football in Kwekwe has been in a moribund state since then and hope of ever watching Premiership football in the town has been evaporating with each passing season.

Baghadad Stadium is slowly degenerating into an eye-sore.

With Lancashire Steel, Chrome Stars and several other former top flight teams from the mining town now defunct, the battle to bring PSL action to the town has turmed out to be nothing more than a wild goose chase.

Army side Tongogara have in the past two seasons fought to the very last day in the Zifa Central Region Division One for the sole ticket to the country’s elite league and on both occasions lost out.

The most recent attempt to gain promotion for Tongogara was the ill-fated 1-0 loss to eventual winners TelOne FC that resulted in violent reactions by the army side’s fans, consequently Tongogara were slapped with a two-year ban.

That further shattered the dreams of watching PSL action for football lovers  in Kwekwe as Tongogara looked the most promising to break the jinx.

Jukulile, the hero of the 1999 Madison Trophy final, opened up to the Daily News on Sunday as to why the game is in the doldrums in the town. 

“When you look at the great teams that came from Kwekwe, most of them were sponsored by the big companies like ZiscoSteel, Chrome, Sables and Lancashire Steel among others,” Petros said. 

“When these companies closed a couple of years ago that had negative effects on the football development.

“The mining activities that are still happening in Kwekwe are being done by artisanal miners (makorokoza) and you know how these guys do their business, we can’t really rely on them to sponsor football.”

The former Warriors striker teared down into some big mining companies in the city whom he accused of providing cosmetic sponsorship in football and not really putting their all into the development of the sport.

“There are some companies who run football teams in Kwekwe but you can see that they are just doing so for convenience and not putting enough to have strong teams to challenge for promotion,” he said.

“There is a missing link between the company administration and the football teams and how they are managed, these companies need to be genuine like what we had at Lanchashire and teams like Zisco.”

Jukulile believes there is light at the end of the tunnel for football in Kwekwe if only the few companies that are still into the game can genuinely invest and rope in football-minded people into the system.

“Midlands has produced arguably the best talent in the country in terms of football and I think that is undeniable,” he said. 

“If football stakeholders and companies unite and set up football structures and  have targets, we can bring back PSL football to Kwekwe, not this thing of just having teams for the sake of it.”

Jukulile, who is now the head coach at Zifa Division One Central Soccer League side Whawha, juxtaposed the current crop of players to the squad that won the Madison Trophy in 1999 and said there are glaring differences between the two.

“Apart from the talent we had in the team of 1999, the players had the three Ds — Discipline, Determination and Dedication — our squad had fighters and the work ethic was superb, not what we are seeing in the current crop of players,” he recalled.

“The youngsters of today need to have the three Ds and toughen up a little bit if they are to go far because talent without good work ethic and discipline will not take you far.”

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