By Charles Mabika
|1979| 1996| 2004-5| 2016|
THE end of the 1975 North Zone Division One season heralded a new beginning for CAPS Rovers as they were promoted into the top-flight league.
Since then, the side, who later changed their name to CAPS United four years later, have established themselves as one of the country’s football heavyweights alongside rivals Dynamos, Highlanders and FC Platinum.
But, which Makepekepe squad is the finest to don the green-and-white jersey of this illustrious side?
I know that I have torched a fiery subject here because this topic is a perennial debate that rages among the Green Machine’s faithful.
However, after a lot of soul-searching, I eventually came up with the four outstanding squads since the club’s maiden dance with the top-flight in 1976 — the league championship-winning sides of 1979, 1996, 2004-5 and 2016.
I also talked to three legendary sons of Makepekepe to find out their choices.
The first time Makepekepe won the league title was in 1979 under the tutelage of flamboyant coach Ashton “Papa” Nyazika.
That side, which lost only once in the entire season (a 1-2 loss to Black Aces), boasted perhaps the most naturally talented players ever to feature for the club.
The side’s starting line-up read like a Who’s Who of Zimbabwe Football with ‘keeper Steven “Ba Munyaradzi” Chisango, David “Bambo” Gwanzura, William “Weeds” Chikauro, Joseph “Bhofani” Chingwalu, Solomon Kaseke, Salad Twaliki, Charles “Raw Meat” Sibanda, Stanford “Stix” Mutizwa, Joel “Jubilee” Shambo, Dixon “Dhikela” Ngwanya, Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma, Shacky “Mr Goals” Tauro, Friday “Breakdown” Phiri and Kainos Chindungwe.
Tauro was crowned that season’s Soccer Star of the Year with Mutizwa grabbing the second runner-up’s spot behind Rio Tinto’s Joseph “Doctor” Zulu.
Nyazika picked up the Coach of the Year top prize.
They stunned the local fraternity by trouncing Zimbabwe Saints 3-1 in the Chibuku Trophy final and, a year later, embarked on their “Cup Kings” juggernaut, winning the Natbrew/ZIFA Cup four years on the trot.
A lean spell followed, which was halted in 1996, after former Zimbabwe Saints stalwart, Steve “The Dude” Kwashi, who had been in the losing Chauya Chikwata team 17 years before in that Chibuku final, joined CAPS United from Black Aces.
That awesome side included the likes of ‘keeper George “Darling” Mudiwa, Karim Abdul-Karim, skipper Silver “Bhonzo” Chigwenje, Frank “Dealer” Nyamukuta, Farai “Mr Perfect” Mbidzo, Lloyd “Lodza” Chitembwe, Maxwell “Cheche” Billiat, Morgan “Mogiza” Nkathazo, Stewart “Shutto” Murisa and Alois “Criss-Cross” Bunjira.
Murisa and Bunjira would go on to be crowned that season’s Soccer Star of the Year winner and first runner-up.
Kwashi picked up the Coach of the Year award.
Makepepkepe had to wait for eight years and, in 2004, Charles “The Lecturer” Mhlauri, another arrival from Zimbabwe Saints, came and re-ignited their furnace.
And Chitembwe, the only survivor from the 1996 elite class, led a galaxy of stars like Energy “Gokwe” Murambadoro, Witness Munkuli, Cephas Chimedza, Silent Katumba, Ashley Rambanepasi, Leonard Tsipa, Brian Badza, Raymond Undi and Zambians Laughter Chitembe and Ian Bakala on the pitch, with astute leadership.
Mhlauri won the top gaffer’s award prize for those two years running.
He later, would, mastermind the national team’s second appearance at the African Cup of Nations finals at Egypt 2006.
Once again, CAPS United would endure another 10-year agonising wait for league championship success.
And this time, it was Chitembwe who led from the touchline after hanging up his boots in 2006.
The side were powered by the likes of Hardlife Zvirekwi, Prosper Chigumba, Justice Jangano, Steven Makatuka, Ronald “Rooney” Chitiyo, Devon Chafa, Joel “Josta” Ngodzo, Cabby Kamhapa, Phineas Bhamusi, Tsipa and Dominic Chungwa.
Zvirekwi would later be crowned that season’s Soccer Star of the Year with Chitembwe picking up the outstanding coach’s accolade.
So which Green Machine squad is the finest-ever?
Mutizwa picked the Class of ‘79.
“Back in those days, almost every side in the top-flight league was very strong and competitive and it was a Herculean task to win matches.
“We only lost one match throughout the league campaign and if one looks at our line-up, he or she will admit that it was an awesome one indeed.
“I can boldly predict that if we had been able to participate in the African Cup of Club Champions in 1980, we would have probably reached the semi-finals.
“In Shambo, Ngwanya and myself, we boasted the finest midfield trio in the land and upfront our attack, which had Sinyo, Mr Goals and Breakdown, was the deadliest and our defence, marshalled by Salad and Raw Meat, was a fortress.”
But Murisa disagrees.
“With all due respect to that great 1979 squad, and their famous names, I will categorically state that our side is the finest Makepekepe side that ever lived.
“Our defence, led by Bhonzo and Dealer, let in the fewest number of goals that season, our attacking combination was fierce.
“Criss Cross and I, accompanied by Mogiza, Kunyado (Felix Antonio), “Madhimoni” (Shingi Twaliki) and Yokozuna (Simon Dambaza), scored the highest number of goals for two seasons running.
“And the jewel in our supply shed’s crown, Mr Perfect, what a fantastic player he was. Very often I roll back those glorious days and wish we could ‘twist again’,” he said. And, Chitembwe weighed in with his choice.
“You see, when I answer such a question, the bottom line for me is — which squad worked as a whole unit to achieve the best results?
“Yes, in terms of individual talent and skills, there’s no doubt at all that the 1979 and early 80s squads were miles ahead in individualism and showmanship.
“But did they really work as a team to achieve the best on offer? My answer is No!
“The same goes for the 1996, 2004-5 squads, skillful and exciting to watch but all coming short in the box that matters most — best achievement.
“That’s why my choice would be the 2016 championship-winning side that I coached. That was a disciplined side, hard-working bunch of players who also blasted their way into the mini-league stage of the following year’s African Champions League.
“That side didn’t have one particular player standing out despite Hardy (Zvirekwi) and Lenso (Tsipa) occasionally hitting the headlines after most games,’’ said Chitembwe.
So which one is your choice?