Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
THE first leg of the Castle Lager Premiership flagship clash featuring traditional rivals Highlanders and Dynamos takes place at Barbourfields Stadium in Bulawayo this Sunday.
The two giants of the local game and league champions Caps United are the only clubs that have never been relegated from the topflight since the advent of the PSL in 1992.
Facing off in a year the PSL is celebrating its 25th anniversary, the run-up to the match is rather subdued compared to yesteryear when the atmosphere either in Harare or Bulawayo would be tense and filled with excitement and expectations.
But does the Highlanders and Dynamos clash still have the glamour associated with a “big match” tag? Where has all the excitement gone?
In the past, the impending game ignited such interest that it would be the talk of town and even attracted the interest of non-football lovers.
And when match day arrived, excitement and tension could be felt in the stadium, which would fill up by lunchtime.
Nowadays, fans make their way into the stadium as late as halftime and rarely engage in provocative debates.
“The Highlanders-Dynamos clash is a big game. Yes, the build-up hype might not be the same as it used to be, but still this is undoubtedly the flagship clash of the PSL. Match day figures for the Bosso and DeMbare game might have gone down over the years, but the clash still attracts bigger crowds compared to other PSL games,” said Muziwethu Hadebe, a sportscaster.
Hadebe believes the media has done injustice in marketing the Highlanders and Dynamos clash.
“The build-up is down. By now radio and television should be talking about the big game, but that’s not the case. Look at the hype given to the Soweto derby (Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs). The media in South Africa goes into overdrive to create excitement even though the clashes between the two Soweto sides over the years have ended in draws; sometimes even drab draws.
“Maybe the reason we are not seeing or hearing so much noise is because both Highlanders and Dynamos are no longer attracting the best in the country compared to yesteryear. In the past, the best players from Bulawayo belonged to Highlanders, but now you find the best players at Chicken Inn or How Mine, who pay better than Bosso. In Harare, Dynamos used to share the best players from the capital with Caps United, but now you have your Yadah FC or Black Rhinos where players are guaranteed monthly income without stories. Some of the best players from Harare are even finding home outside the capital at teams like Ngezi Platinum Stars, FC Platinum or ZPC Kariba. Simply put, there are no big name players that can be crowd pullers at Highlanders and Dynamos to talk about nowadays,” said Hadebe.
Former Highlanders and Warriors’ midfielder Johannes Ngodzo said the quiet build-up can also be attributed to the attitude of supporters and the two teams’ present form.
Highlanders are second on the table with 13 points from six games, while Dynamos, who are said to be on a rebuilding exercise, are in position 12 with seven points from five games.
“Look, in the past by Monday of the week of the big match, people will be talking about the clash and that mood was felt even in camp. You would find Highlanders supporters coming in numbers to watch training sessions in the week we play against Dynamos and in some instances we had to either change the training venue or adjust the times. Of late, I doubt very much that the number of supporters watching Highlanders’ training sessions ahead of a big game or even any other fixture can reach 30 people. This shows that the type of supporters we have now are no longer the same as those from the past. They prefer to come to the stadium and the numbers have dwindled,” Ngodzo said.
“Another thing is that there are no big names to talk about now. Look, Dynamos are rebuilding and very few know the names of the players in their squad. So people can’t debate on people they don’t know. You will also be surprised to note that even Highlanders’ players don’t know how Dynamos will be like. During our time, you knew that Callisto Pasuwa is coming and that I might mark Desmond Maringwa. Basically what I’m trying to say is that we had an idea of how their team would look like. We knew each other from national teams, but how many players from Highlanders or Dynamos are in the national teams as it is?”
Ngodzo believes interest and debates about the Highlanders and Dynamos game will intensify as the week progresses.
Richard Choruma, another former Highlanders’ midfielder, thinks ex-Dynamos striker Rodrick Mutuma could bring the hype to the game. Mutuma joined Highlanders at the beginning of the year after being offloaded by the Harare giants.
“His exit from Dynamos wasn’t good and my guess is that like any other player, he would want to prove that they made a mistake by releasing him. He is one player whose move to Bosso might create debate in the build-up to the game. Another thing we can’t ignore is that Highlanders have had a great start compared to Dynamos and having broken the 10-year jinx last year, Bosso will want to win this tie. On the other hand, Dynamos, who won the Independence Cup against Highlanders last month, are also coming to Bulawayo confident of victory. In my view these are some of the key things to look at in the build-up to the game,” Choruma said.
Highlanders will be hoping young striker Prince Dube, who picked up an injury against Chapungu, shakes it off and will be available for selection.
Dynamos, who were inactive at the weekend following the cancellation of their clash against Caps United because of the unavailability of the National Sports Stadium, will have to shake off the rust before embarking on the trip to Bulawayo.
Match Day Eight Fixtures
Saturday, May 13: How Mine v FC Platinum (Barbourfields, SuperSport, 1PM), Bulawayo City v Black Rhinos (Barbourfields, SuperSport), ZPC Kariba v Tsholotsho FC (Nyamhunga), Yadah FC v Chicken Inn (National Sports Stadium)
Sunday, May 14: Hwange v Triangle United (Colliery), Shabanie Mine v Chapungu (Maglas), Harare City v Ngezi Platinum (Morris Depot), Highlanders v Dynamos (Barbourfields, SuperSport), Caps United v Bantu Rovers (Postponed)
P W D L GF GA GD Pts
Ngezi Platinum 7 4 1 2 9 4 5 13
Highlanders 6 4 1 1 8 4 4 13
How Mine 7 4 1 2 6 5 1 13
ZPC Kariba 6 4 0 2 8 5 3 12
FC Platinum 6 3 3 0 6 3 3 12
Black Rhinos 6 3 2 1 6 2 4 11
Caps United 5 2 3 0 9 4 5 9
Chicken Inn 6 3 0 3 8 4 4 9
Yadah FC 7 2 3 2 5 9 -4 9
Bulawayo City 7 2 2 3 6 8 -2 8
Shabanie Mine 7 2 2 3 3 5 -2 8
Dynamos 5 2 1 2 4 4 0 7
Triangle United 7 1 4 2 5 6 -1 7
Hwange 7 2 1 4 5 9 -4 7
Harare City 6 1 3 2 2 3 -1 6
Bantu Rovers 7 2 0 5 12 17 -5 6
Tsholotsho FC 7 0 4 3 3 6 -3 4
Chapungu 7 0 3 4 3 10 -7 3