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NINETEEN years ago, Evans died, which in itself was a pity because he was still very young, and a nation’s big loss, because his husky voice had inspired a generation in domestic football.
He was only 38 and, three years earlier, we had formed an unlikely alliance at Accra’s Municipal Stadium in Ghana on July 13, 1997.
Little did we know it was going to be his last live radio commentary, his farewell show, his swansong event, the 12th international match he had covered outside the country.
Evans had arrived alone, without an analyst, and asked me to help him by providing the analysis for his radio commentary during the Warriors ’98 AFCON qualifier against the Black Stars.
By the time I arrived in the commentary box, Evans had already removed his shirt and, with a fiery passion which he used to generate whenever he slipped into the groove, went about providing the soundtrack to the events unfolding in that stadium.
To say I enjoyed my cameo live radio shift would be an understatement, the disappointment, of course, coming from the fact that when this duel finally ended, our Warriors had lost the match 1-2.
Shepherd Muradzikwa’s trademark pile-driver, as good a goal as any central midfielder has scored for our team in an AFCON match, lost in the mist of that painful defeat where the inspirational Abedi Pele had made the difference for the Black Stars.
As we made our way out of that stadium, some Ghanaian fans spotted the replica Warriors jersey I was wearing and came to us, told us to find comfort from our fine performance despite the narrow defeat.
They also praised our Warriors for putting in a shift that deserved a point, said Shepherd’s goal was magical and said they wished us a safe flight back home.
Once those Ghanaians had left, Evans burst with anger, started shouting at the top of his voice and was still a very angry man by the time we reached our hotel about half-an-hour later.
He was swearing at those Ghanaians we had met and was also swearing at our team.
He kept saying he didn’t understand how they could say we had played well when we had lost, how they could see anything positive when we had nothing, in terms of points, to show for that?
He lectured me about football at this level, something he had learnt during his days in Zambia, told me it was about time our boys knew that this wasn’t a beauty contest, but a tough battle for points.
He said for all its beauty, brutality was a big part of the DNA of this game, and the difference between winners and losers was very small.
He told me this was an unforgiving sport which never remembered those who came second, even when they were probably the best team, had already forgotten about the super Brazil team of ’82 because they didn’t win the World Cup.
He said when Benito Mussolini ordered the Italian players to either win the 1938 World Cup final or face death, the fascist dictator didn’t care a hoot about performance or style, but just the right result.
“This is not WWF, this is real stuff and not that wrestling we see on TV,” he thundered.
“Bafana Bafana came with that Shoe Shine and Piano, but got hammered 4-1 in Harare and changed course.”
The next morning, Evans was gone.
Jimmy “Daddy” Finch, the charismatic man who was the Warriors team manager back then, told me Evans had to rush to the airport to catch his flight.
I WONDER HOW EVANS WOULD HAVE REACTED TO ALL THIS CRITICISM TOWARDS THE WARRIORS
Given how he suffered that day in Accra and, everything he did for our game, I was disappointed that, when his Warriors finally found a way to apply his formula, to divorce themselves from style that didn’t have substance, to play for qualification and not clarification, he wasn’t there to see them in Tunisia in 2004.
And, that he wasn’t sitting or standing by my side two years later in the Egyptian city of Ismailia at the 2006 AFCON finals, when his Warriors finally got their due revenge for that defeat in Accra by beating the Black Stars 2-1, also hurt.
Nineteen years after his death, I have never forgotten Evans Mambara, my final memories of him being revived this week by the tragic tale of Brazilian commentator Rafael Henzel, who survived the airplane crash that killed most of the Chapecoense players in November 2016, but died on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack.
Henzel had been playing football with friends when he collapsed.
Evans’ infectious passion for our Warriors, a symbol of both loyalty to their cause and his pride in always singing in their corner, a romance he always paraded for everyone to see.
He was there in 1991 when Congo-Brazzaville broke millions of Zimbabwean hearts by pick-pocketing that draw, with a very, very late equaliser, after a fumble by our ’keeper John Sibanda, to qualify for the ’92 AFCON finals, while leaving us to lick our wounds.
That the same Congolese side that scrambled a lucky draw against us, because we failed to manage our lead, because we still wanted to chase something that wasn’t just the result we needed in those dying stages of the game, went all the way to reach the quarter-finals of the ’92 AFCON finals, was a brutal reminder of the quality of our team, which sadly failed to make it.
He was also there, two years later, when a Zambian side, reeling from the decimation of their team by that plane crash in Gabon, found a way to break our hearts with a late Kalusha Bwalya header giving them the goal they needed to qualify for the ’94 AFCON finals at our expense.
That the same Chipolopolo side, which forced a late equaliser in that defining game against us, went all the way to reach the final of the ’94 Nations Cup only to fall 1-2 to Nigeria in the decider, was also another painful reminder of the quality of our men who didn’t even make it to that showcase.
Evans was from the old school, he was taught at a very young age that all that matters in this game is the result, anything else — style, entertainment, whatever — is secondary.
They told him no one talks about how the Real Madrid team, which won the first five Euro Cups, now the Champions League, used to play.
But all that everyone talks about is that Real Madrid won those five titles on the trot and no other team, including the finest entertainers of all-time, the Ajax Amsterdam side of the ’70s and Pep’s Barcelona, have come any closer to matching that.
They taught him about a certain Dutch national team of the ’70s, led by the immortal Johan Cruyff, which first introduced total football to the world, and which in 1974 and 1978 was good enough to reach the World Cup final, but on both occasions, lost to the Germans and Argentina.
I’m pretty sure Evans, just like me, would have been disappointed by all the criticism being channelled towards these Warriors by those who claim their performance on Sunday was poor, those who say their show was devoid of style and entertainment, it was all an eye-sore.
The same people who have spent the last 28 years talking about the cruelty of that result against the same Congolese, and not the performance of that day, suddenly switch the debate to something about performance on Sunday, rather than the result, which secured us a place at the AFCON finals.
The same people who have spent the last quarter-of-a-century talking about the cruelty of that result against the Zambians, and not the performance of our boys who hit the crossbar and played with style in that doomed mission, suddenly have now switched the debate to the so-called pathetic performance on Sunday, rather than the result which handed us another appearance at the AFCON finals.
TELLING PEOPLE LORD JONES IS DEAD WHEN THEY NEVER KNEW THAT LORD JONES WAS ALIVE
Maybe we are a horrible team, and If we are this bad, as they claim, how come we won in Kinshasa, how come we picked a point in Brazzaville, how come we never conceded a goal at home in three matches in these qualifiers, to an opposition player?
Especially, when we have had the likes of Cedric Bakambu, the most expensive African player of all-time, Benik Afobe and Yannick Bolaise, who have both played in the English Premiership, all taking aim and failing to breach our defence? How come the only goal we conceded at home in these qualifiers was an own goal by our outstanding centreback Teenage Hadebe, against the DRC and how come no team managed to score more than a goal against us in all six matches?
Of course, Evans died before social media arrived and turned anyone with a smart phone into a pundit and an authority in this game.
My good friend didn’t live long enough to see the prophetic description by English writer Gilbert Keith Chesterston that journalism “largely consists of saying, ‘Lord Jones is dead,’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive,” come to pass.
Where today it’s even acceptable, if not reasonable, to say, given a choice on Sunday, the 55 000 fans in that stadium would rather have been entertained by a swashbuckling and kamikaze display, which eventually ended in defeat, than a composed and disciplined show which delivered the AFCON finals ticket.
Has this game changed so much since Evans left this world of the living that it’s now acceptable, and probably even fashionable to say fans now demand to be entertained by passes, movement, nutmegs, and whatever, more than just winning?
Isn’t it ironic that a country that even once believed its Warriors were cursed as their beautiful performances in the first two decades of Independence couldn’t deliver the AFCON ticket, is now the one that cries loudest in its hour of triumph, mourning the absence of style, the absence of romance, the absence of swagger?
Try asking the PSG fans what they would take — the style their side displayed in two legs against Manchester United or the result which helped these Red Devils to find a way to qualify for the Champions League quarter-finals?
If this game is all about style and not the result, why has Kyllian Mbappe, a World Cup winner at just 19, been crying since PSG were knocked out in their home by Man Utd that day?
Yes, given a choice, we would rather see a stylish Warriors team that also delivers results, but do we have the players for that when we have been searching for the next Gidiza for the last 15 years, when our best central midfielder is now being restricted to the bench in Belgium?
Sometimes, in football just like in life, you can’t have it all, and it’s better to make the best of what you have, and for us, the starting point should be to celebrate what these fine Warriors have achieved because, when you come to think about it, this has been a fine story.
Trying to reduce it to just what happened in the last 45 minutes on Sunday, when the mission had been completed, and conveniently try to forget the other 495 minutes when we won in Kinshasa, scored nine goals, with five coming from Musona, will be an insult to the fine efforts of these Warriors.
And also to the loving memory of Evans and a betrayal of the pain John Sibanda carried into his grave after being haunted by these Congolese Red Devils to his death.
There are some who even claim it’s now easy to qualify for the 24-team AFCON finals, but the same people ignore the Togo, World Cup finalists just 13 years ago, Congo-Brazzaville, AFCON quarter-finalists four years ago, Burkina Faso, bronze medallists at the AFCON finals two years ago and Zambia, Nations Cup winners seven years ago, failed to make it to Egypt.
That their boys, Knowledge and Khama, also known as the Deadly Double-K combination, have scored 14 goals in the last two AFCON qualifiers, doesn’t seem to mean anything to them.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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