Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
JUST two days before a panel of local football specialists met to choose the 2018 Soccer Star of the Year, an inspiring tale of the ultimate in human defiance was broadcast on the BBC Focus on Africa television programme to millions of homes across the world.
The timing of the broadcasting of this powerful story could not have been more ironic given that its central figure was, two years ago, feted as the Soccer Star of the Year after a landmark season in which his star shone brightest.
But this wasn’t just a gripping tale of someone who once touched the heavens, but the story of a man who came close to death, but somehow lived to not only tell his story, but also return to play the game he loves.
By his own admission, Hardlife Zvirekwi is lucky to have escaped from a horrific car crash in March with a shattered hand because the accident was so bad it’s a miracle he escaped with his life.
It cost him his palm, which the doctors had to amputate, but it didn’t destroy his burning desire to defy the odds and return to captain his beloved CAPS United in the domestic Premiership just four months after the horror car crash. In a domestic Premiership season short on genuine heroes, where performance levels again dipped and greatness was in short supply, it was left to Zvirekwi to provide the story that would charm the world.
Ironically, while the international journalists who have been following him since his car crash continue to tell his remarkable story to the world, the locals appear to have long forgotten this amazing tale and why his incredible comeback continues to be such a box-office attraction around the globe.
They didn’t even consider to give him a ceremonial honour like “Comeback of the Year,” when they sat down last week to choose the Soccer Stars of the Year.
Given this was a season dominated by mediocrity, where his story made more headlines around the world than all of the local footballers combined, such an award would have been appropriate.
They didn’t even mention his name, and what he did, as if his compelling drama never happened even though it attracted more positive global coverage for a forgotten and dying Premiership than any of the 11 players they chose that day.
That he was the winner of this Soccer Star of the Year gong just two years ago would probably have made him relevant in other countries and other societies, for his story to be part of the narrative of the events that day.
In a world that has recently been laughing at the plight of former Bafana Bafana star Loreto Chabangu, who has gone from hero to zero, Zvirekwi’s beautiful tale of tragedy-turned-into-triumph should have, at least, been celebrated by those who honour the players who would have shone brightly this year.
The overwhelming power of its inspirational tone, a hero who refused to be crushed by tragedy and showed he could fight his way back, should just have been enough to earn him plaudits and a standing ovation in another country.
And another Premiership.
Sadly, in our game, things have to be done in some crazy way and real heroes — like Zvirekwi — whose deeds would have charmed and inspired millions across the world are not given the recognition they deserve. Things have to be done by the book, even when the world around us is changing fast, and even in a season where the dominant story came from someone who charmed the globe with his never-say-die spirit, it’s all about honouring 11 men who probably don’t deserve the plaudits.
Not that Zvirekwi should have been named Soccer Star of the Year, far from it, and he should not have been named among the 11 players who will grace next year’s calendar.
But, just a token of recognition would not have been out of order and even handing him an award for the “Comeback of the Year,” would certainly not have been wrong in a league with a 46-year-old goalscorer.
At least, the world hasn’t forgotten him and that’s even an indictment of us, those whom he calls his people, the ones he expects to lead the way in helping him and praising him for his bravery and inspirational tale.
It’s a measure of the importance of his story that the BBC, in their teaser of his article, put it above their call for people to vote for the BBC Footballer of Year.
The BBC were there in March when his car rolled over and, like many international media organisations, they have remained glued to his remarkable journey which culminated in his return to action in July. And they were there again last week to tell another chapter of this powerful story.
“No matter the situation that we go through in life, we should never give up,” Zvirekwi says on BBC Focus on Africa just two days before the selectors sat to choose the Soccer Stars of the Year. It’s never over until God says it’s over.”
And, then, he narrates his story.
“On my way back home, there was a kombi, it just crossed over the lane that I was driving in, that’s when all hell broke loose. People were shouting and screaming when they were trying to pull me out of the car, the hand had crashed too bad. They (doctors) told me to move my fingers, but I couldn’t. They came back and told me the only way to go was to amputate and I just thought maybe this was the end of it. But, still deep inside me I just prayed that if there is a chance for me to go back into the field and play again, I was going to take it.
“If I was going to be the first person to play top-flight football like that, so be it. Most people thought it was going to be the end of my career and obviously you don’t blame them.”
But the journey back wasn’t easy.
“The rehabilitation process wasn’t easy, it wasn’t easy at all. My family was always there for me, trying to encourage me to push you know, though it was painful. It was hard sometimes, but they were always behind me, cheering me to go on and I’m very grateful for that. It was just an out-of-this-world feeling (when he made his comeback as an 87th minute substitute at Rufaro in July) considering that at some stage I thought this was over and when I came back, it was an emotional moment for me.
“You don’t have to give up on yourself no matter the situation, no matter the circumstances, sometimes it might be the beginning of something new, the beginning of greater things.”
He even dreams of returning to the Warriors one day and his coach Lloyd Chitembwe describes him as one of the players with the best brains in the domestic Premiership. The BBC documentary shows him driving on his own in Harare and he takes the journalists to his Waterfalls home where he shows them his medals and his national team jerseys, including the ones he wore at the last AFCON finals in Gabon.
“These are the jerseys that I used when I was playing for the national team and I was so proud,” he says.
“It was just an honour for me to represent my nation.”
But, there is something he says he values more among his medal collection — the Soccer Star of the Year trophy.
“2016 was one of my memorable years. It was massive, it was big for me because I got the highest gong in the nation, which was the Soccer Star of the Year award,” he says.
It’s a pity those who feted him just two years ago, in his finest hour, chose to forget him now even as his remarkable comeback tale continues to shake and inspire the world.