CAPS United 25 years after lifting their first League trophy. Unfortunately, the milestone comes at a time when the game has been put on the back burner because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year marks 25 years since Harare giants CAPS United celebrated their finest hour in football history!
It also comes just a week after the chairman of the all-conquering side, Shepherd Bwanya, suffered a stroke in Harare. But amid the gloom, the Green Machine will look back with pride at the year 1996.
The Class of ’96 took CAPS United to new heights of football excellence after winning their first league title in the post-Independence era and will forever be etched in the annals of the club’s history. Makepekepe had waited for 17 years for their finest hour to arrive.
The Harare giants had won their only league title back in 1979 during the days of Joel “Jubilee” Shambo, Shacky “Mr Goals” Tauro, Duncan “Ziko” Ellison, Stephen Chisango, Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma, Stanford “Stix” Mutizwa, Tobias Moyo, Charles “Raw Meat” Sibanda, John Louro, Dixon Ngwanya, Size Torindo, Batsirai Jambwa, Wisdom Mutemajiri, William Chikauro and Friday “Amayenge” Phiri.
While CAPS United went on to claim the “Cup Kings” moniker by winning most of the tournaments in the 1980s and early ‘90s, their rivals Dynamos dominated the important league title race, with 10 titles in the first 16 years after Independence while CAPS United had none.
But Makepekepe’s long wait eventually came to an end when a new generation of players emerged in 1996. This historic group included the likes of 1996 Soccer Star of the Year winner Stewart “Shutto” Murisa who later went on to establish himself in South Africa.
So dominant was the Makepekepe side that the first runner-up for the prestigious Soccer Star of the Year award was another Makepekepe player, Alois “Criss-cross” Bunjira, who also bagged the Golden Boot award that season with 23 goals to his name.
This brilliant outfit also had top-notch talents Joe “Kode” Mugabe, Farai “Mr Perfect” Mbidzo, Morgan Nkhatazo, Mpumelelo “Era Muna” Dzowa, Lloyd Chitembwe, Simon Dambaza, Dumisani “Commando” Mpofu, Edelbert Dinha, Charles Yohane, Percy “Master” Mwase, Silver “Bhonzo” Chigwenje, Frank “Dealer” Nyamukuta, George Mudiwa and the late Cheche Billiat.
“What a talented group. This was more than a football team,” wrote Nyamukuta in one of his football blogs.
“It was like a family. When it was time to work (training/match), these guys would put out a proper shift. They took their careers seriously. These guys would support each other in joyous and sad moments. One’s problem was tackled by the whole team.
Makepekepe managed to marry their thriving junior policy with important signings that year. Skipper Chigwenje, Billiat, Mugabe and Nkathazo who were key pillars of the squad came through the junior ranks.
They were joined by midfielders Chitembwe and Nyamukuta and the fiery forwards Bunjira and Murisa who had come from Darryn T enmasse. “I think the team’s management managed to assemble a well-balanced side,” said Murisa, whose combination with childhood friend Bunjira was almost unstoppable.
“I think the management of the team was football-centred. They made decisions that supported the success of the team. They went for quality when recruiting players. We were a very strong unit, almost like a family.
“And, I would say my combination with Bunjira was solid because we knew each other from a young age in Chitungwiza. So when we played together at senior level, it was telepathic.
“He knew where I needed the ball and I also knew his way of playing inside out. So it was automatic. It was fantastic winning the Soccer Star of the Year award (in 1996), with Alois also making it to the podium,” said Murisa.
Legendary Steve “The Dude” Kwashi was the coach of this all-conquering team, with the late Freddy Mkwesha playing his role well as team manager. Kwashi had a reputation among his players of infusing high standards of work and discipline.
Former goalkeeper Brenna “BaGari” Msiska, who worked briefly as his assistant before leaving to join Black Aces as head coach early in 1996, said Kwashi was a determined man and his influence paid off.
“Of course, 17 years was such a long period without winning the league title. But when we started the season we all believed that it was possible. Kwashi believed in hard work.
“We sat down with the boys and agreed that we needed to put in extra work to achieve the goals and the boys would often say ‘mdhara ko takasahwina league yacho nezvese zvamuri kutiitisa izvi?’ Thankfully, they won it,” said Msiska.
The veteran ex-goalkeeper was unfortunate to miss out on the party after he got injured prior to the 1996 season and was replaced by George Mudiwa. Msiska left Makepekepe to join his former team Aces as head coach early in the season.
UK-based former midfielder Nyamukuta remembers well how Kwashi infused the strong workmanship into the Makepekepe players. “This team worked day and night strategising and plotting how to beat the opposition,” he said.
“They would put together a training programme which was enjoyed by every player. Although it was enjoyable, it was very hard and tough. “Everyone who worked under ‘The Dude’ would agree that his physical training was just a few percentages below the military one.
“As if that was not enough, he recruited one of the toughest rugby physical trainers in Temba Mliswa. It was tough, but every player benefited from it. Everyone was as fit as a fiddle. Technically they were also fully equipped.
“The manager was Freddy Mkwesha (late). Hey, what a father-figure he was,” reminisced Nyamukuta.
Bunjira, who bagged the Golden Boot award before venturing on a career in South Africa, also believes Makepekepe benefited from sound management led by former Harare business executive Bwanya, the astute technical personnel and the backing of their devoted fans whose never-say-die spirit survived them the long drought.
“It sure was a great moment for the fans and the team. I believe the secret was team spirit and management that was on point. The CAPS United administration at that time was tops.
“We never had any complaints as players. Everything was smooth, from our welfare to the way we dressed, camped and travelled. Payments were never delayed. All we did was to focus on playing.
“The administrators were the friendliest and treated the players like family. The coaches were fantastic and great motivators. Steve Kwashi was the only coach in my career who simply told me to ‘go and dribble them and score mfanha. Enda unoita zvako zviya tirove vanhu’.
“The coach believed in his players. Team talks were humorous and full of laughter. We were one big happy family. “The fans were fantastic. They used to motivate us as they came to the stadium in large numbers. “I remember we also used to have a convoy of fans, cars following the team bus when we went to play away.
“We had fans who even flew with us to Vic Falls for the Hwange matches or to Bulawayo. They were so colourful and made us proud to play for CAPS United,” said Bunjira.
That landmark year (1996), they won the league, the BP League Cup, the Charity Shield and the Independence Cup. Bunjira holds out that had the club continued on that trajectory, they could have been one of the biggest clubs in the region.
Charles Mhlauri and his troops might have achieved more, with back-to-back success stories in 2004 and 2005. But the Green Machine slumped again before regaining their soul in 2016 under Lloyd Chitembwe. But the Class of ’96 remains the benchmark.
“I still believe that after 1996, CAPS United could have gone on to be a massive club in the country,” said Bunjira. “Unfortunately, there was a slump going into the new millennium. The team regained its status again in 2004 under Charles Mhlauri and then under Chitembwe. But then, the team as a brand was waning.
“I won’t go into the debate about which squad was the best, but it was really sad to see CAPS United declining and along with the standards of football in the country. By now we should be seeing a CAPS United like Orlando Pirates.
“The club needs to be revived entirely. Without proper structures there is no way the team can regain its status. The success of 1996 and 2004 had a foundation of development. As much as myself, Shutto, Lodza etc didn’t grow up at CAPS United, the bulk of the players grew up at the club.
“With us, we came from Darryn T as a block and it was easy to join the two blocks. The 2004 team was the same. Lodza (Chitembwe) did well. He succeeded after welding a team together but that doesn’t always work.
“The club needs to go back to developing its players and buying only marquee players. Buying or signing a whole new team every season is ‘feja-feja’. And that doesn’t do well for the brand as the fans need to warm up to the players as well.
“People underestimate the power of the relationship between fans and players. That drives the team as well. For me, for the club to get back its status, there is a need to go back to the ways that worked and have probably had a five-year plan, incorporated with uplifting the CAPS United brand to be attractive. Without corporate partners it will always be difficult,” said Bunjira.
Source – The Herald
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