By CHARLES MABIKA 

THEY are often referred to as the 12th man because supporters can passionately inspire their teams to victory on the soccer pitch.

And they’re also some individual fans who add glamour, high spiritedness and humour in and outside stadiums. Sadly, in the local game, these types of individuals have disappeared over the years resulting in teams having to summon all their courage and ability to march to victory. Where have all these colourful supporters gone to? Even before the advent of top-flight competition in 1962 up to the turn of the millennium, almost all the sides had outstanding or more individuals that they knew could assist them in uplifting their play especially when the chips were down.

Arcadia United, who were pipped by a single point for the league title by Black Rhinos in 1984, always seemed to be spurred on by the antics of their late No. 1 fan, Julia Tommy better known as Auntie Cookie.

Tommy would travel to all the Red and White Army’s away encounters and was the star attraction at those encounters as her team marched relentlessly towards a Top Two finish in 1984 and the Chibuku Trophy crown over pre-tournament favourites Highlanders at Rufaro a year earlier, winning 1-0..Long-standing and ardent Arcadia United fan, Funny “SB” Mushava, recalled the antics and passion of Auntie Cookie for these long decades as their team’s leading cheerleader.“Oh, it was just rabble-rousing to see Auntie Cookie dressed in the red and white colours of the team, as she marched all around the stadium’s stands, shouting herself hoarse with those three famous and immortal chants: ‘Come on Arcadia’!” he reminisced.

Auntie Cookie had also been part of the success story for her side back in 1968 after the Jimmy Finch-inspired team had shocked a star-studded Dynamos 4-1 to win the country’s premier knockout Castle Cup final’s tie at Gwanzura.In those high-octane decades of the top action, Dynamos were also buoyed by three hugely popular fans who were simply known as Madhara eMahovhorosi. The pot-bellied trio, dressed in matching blue overalls, would crack jokes and sing in crackling melodies as they danced and hugged right around the stadium, especially at their side’s favourite hunting venue of Rufaro Stadium.

The Glamour Boys also had a hoarse-voiced and bearded fan called Bernrd Musoja whose favourite chorus after a Dynamos goal would sound something like this: “Muri kuvaona here vapafana ve Dynamos . . . ivo vapfana veDynamos!” Stauch De Mbare fan, George Mutangadura, said today’s the game had lost its finesse and flair because of the decline in standards and he sorely missed those comical entertainers of yesteryear for fans to at least go back home and tell tales about their day’s encounter at a soccer match.“Nowadays its all damp and squib but we hope things will improve but I doubt whether it will be like those fun-filled days,” he claimed.

Bulawayo giants also had their answer to their Northern Region rivals in the form of passionate fan Dakamela who, clad in traditional gear, would lead Bosso onto the pitch at Barbourfields and delight the huge crowd with mesmerising somersaults before and after the match.

Dakamela would, at times, be accompanied by the Masuku twins – Ngqai and Mujombo – who would be churning out Battlecry chants as they rallied their team to prospective victory.

Bosso’s rivals, Mashonaland United, later known as Zimbabwe Saints, had a self-styled “witchdoctor”, popularly known as Dr Khumalo, a light-skinned giant, who would also be clad in traditional attire as heled Chauya Chikwata onto the pitch, carrying a gourd filled with “lucky charms” and liquid, which he would sprinkle on the centre circle spot before kick-off and rhythmically dance to the delight of his team’s fans as they prepared for a total onslaught over their opponents.

Dr Khumalo would also keep himself busy by running around than standing, chanting his team’s slogans and clapping hands as he encouraged his fellow supporters to follow suit.

And of course, who dares to forget the vibrant and now-defunct Gweru Unite’s supporters who would come to the stadium with bundles of paper, that would be unfolded and burnt after their team – Pisa Pisa – scored a goal all over the stands. The little flames would illuminate the stands in crystal balls of fire whilst the fans were dancing.CAPS United was also buoyed by a guy called Kalindawalo (who was rumoured to have been a registry clerk at a local tertiary institution).

He would march all over the stadium’s stands, dressed in green and white and holding a voluminous catalogue that contained countless action and group pictures of the Green Machine’s squad of the 80s and 90s that was boldly titled: “Joel Shambo United”.Kalindawalo also loved to dish out a rendition of his radio commentary piece especially at the end of a goalless first half as Makepepkepe and their opponents walked back to the dressing room. In a high-pitched voice, belt out: “We go to half-time 0-0 in favour of CAPS United!”

The Mhangura squad of the 90s which featured the likes of Davison “Stopper” gurajena, Tendayi “Bhule” Magwira nd Benjamin “Kalusha” Zulu had a female cheerleader, Emily Nhakwi who was nicknamed Auntie Cookie by the copper miners’ fans after Arcadia United’s Julia Tommy. After the demise of Mhangura, Nhakwi moved to Shabanie Mine in the early 2000s where she continued with her jovial antics until she passed away in 2012.  Nowadays, however, there are sprinklings of comical soccer fans like Bosso’s Melisi Ncube, a wheelchair-bound follower; the De Mbare pair of Romario (Chris Musekiwa) and Chuchu (Michael Chindowa); Makepekepe’s Mupostori (Washington Makona) and Hwange’s Angeke. The honorary life president of the Zimbabwe National Soccer Supporters’ Association, Eddie “Mboma” Nyatanga, bemoaned the absence of yesteryear’s colourful fans and hoped that there will be more followers to make the atmosphere at stadiums to be more exciting again.

“I would dearly love to see fans like Auntie Cookie, Kaliwandalo, Dakamela, Bernard Musoja, just to name a few, who used to thrill us with their exotic fanfare before and after matches. I hope that we will still live to see more colourful entertainment during all our national teams’ matches once we are re-admitted by Fifa into international football,” he said. Maybe it was because of these kinds of merry-making fans that Pele termed soccer “the world’s most beautiful game”.

Mabika, affectionately know as CNN, is a veteran sports Journalist and commentator.