HARARE – They say you are lonely when you are dead but not for Gishon Ntini, the former Triangle and CAPS United coach who died in the early hours of Monday after battling urological problems during his stint in neighbouring Botswana.
A larger-than-life character whose passion for football did not escape his would-be first employer — CAPS United — “Gizha” was given a befitting send-off in Harare yesterday before his scheduled burial in rural Mhondoro-Ngezi late yesterday afternoon.
Mhondoro, Shona colloquial for lion, was a fitting name on the character of the man who rose from being a ballboy to become a respected coach both at CAPS United and later Shooting Stars, Black Rhinos, Triangle and Chiredzi United.
Indeed, he was the Lion of Zimbabwe football and the army of former and current players that thronged a funeral parlour in the Willowvale industrial area yesterday, was testimony to his character.
They gave him a roaring send-off!
Gizha gave many young footballers a chance, including Limited Chikafa, the former CAPS United striker who now plies his trade with rivals ZPC Kariba and his emotions told of a man who knew he had lost someone special.
But the man who ‘‘discovered’’ Gizha summed him up well.
Giving the late coach’s eulogy on the side-lines of the church service, former Premier Soccer League (PSL) chairman and CAPS United director Twine Phiri described him as a brave and intelligent coach.
“When I came to CAPS in 2001, I saw Gishon around the club. I didn’t know him but because he was hardworking, I enquired with the late Freddy Mukwesha and (then chairman) Shepherd Bwanya and they told me about him,” an emotional Phiri told the Daily News.
“I said to the guys ‘let’s try him with the juniors’. It was after Alois Patsika had passed on and we gave Gishon the juniors coaching job.
“But he didn’t start with the juniors. Gizha started as a ballboy. We gave him the juniors immediately after the departure of Rahman Gumbo because during that time Charles Mhlauri was an assistant to Rahman and when Rahman left, Charles elevated Gishon to be his assistant and was in that capacity from 2003-2006.”
Phiri paid tribute to Ntini for his fearless decisions and calming effect in his job and vividly remembered his feat after assembling a team that competed in the 2006 Champions League in the aftermath of an ill-fated trip by CAPS United and Highlanders to the United Kingdom which saw players ‘‘vanishing from camp’’, to seek greener pastures while on tour.
“Charles (Mhlauri) was also with the national team. We were meant to travel to Burundi because we had won a championship so Charles couldn’t travel and we took Gishon as the head coach in Burundi, we travelled with 13 players,” said Phiri.
“I can safely tell you that he was a very brave and strong coach. He took those 13 players and we managed to come up with a positive 3-2 result. So for me when people where calling him the Lion of Football in Zimbabwe, I agree because Gizha was one of the brave and strong coaches and he deserved the name Lion of Football in the country."
Phiri ensured that Ntini got a decent burial.
“When I heard the news that he had passed on, I rushed to his place and when I got there, they were about to travel to his rural home. I felt sad and had to rush to Nyaradzo so that Gizha could get a decent burial but before I did that I had to talk to the family first and fortunately they allowed me to participate,’’ said Phiri.
“We have lost a brave character in football, a brave coach and a strong guy and to the coaches, I say they should keep on working hard so that we get another Gizha.”
Former Dynamos winger July Sharara thanked the football community for uniting in grief and according Ntini a decent burial.
“If someone dear passes away, most people put their heads together and others even go an extra mile, which is very important. I would like to however, remind the coaches and players that a career lasts for a while and we should always be prepared for the eventuality,’ said Sharara.
“Gizha was a fine young man from our hood Glen Norah, we always shared notes and the last time he was here, he said he wanted to see me but we never got to meet because he left for Botswana,”
One of Dynamos’ greatest strikers, David George, also a coach from Glen Norah, said Ntini had a free spirit and was very cheerful and made football the beautiful game it is.
“He made football exciting, very outspoken and his interviews with the media revealed an interesting character in him that we will never get to see again. We are saddened that we have lost one of us and our deepest condolences to his family,” George said.
Former Shooting Stars chairman Lewis Matindife said Ntini had the ability to convince players to play for his side even in the absence of signing-on fees at the height of financial problems.
“We are saddened by the death of our former coach. We worked with him from 2006-2008 where he inherited the team from the late Zambian coach Keegan Mumba and he managed to take us into the top four in 2007 before he went back to CAPS United.
“We worked very well with him even when things were not looking so good for us. We inherited a group of quality players such as Elliot Matsika, Mtshumayeli Moyo, Clive Mwale and managed to sign them without signing-on fees,” said Matindife.
“It’s not normal to see someone who can work without pay but Gishon Ntini could do that; he would always work and wait for the money to come in the near future.”
Ntini was coaching Botswana second-league side Santos at the time of his death.
But his club allegedly dumped him at Ramokgwebana border when his health deteriorated.
Ntini had been taken to a hospital in Botswana after he collapsed but for two weeks he could not be treated because the authorities insisted on seeing his work permit and when the club availed it, they further requested his citizenship.
According to relatives, his club hired an open truck and drove him to Ramokgwebana and ‘‘dumped’’ him there.
He was assisted to cross to the Zimbabwean side where he handed over his passport to an immigration officer before asking for a toilet to use but was said to have slept for ‘‘many hours’’ before the officer who had his passport remembered Ntini was yet to re-emerge to collect his documents.
The Zimbabwean immigration officer helped him secure a ‘‘lift’’ to Bulawayo where he was stranded before Harlington Shereni’s brother, whom he had miraculously met, drove him to Harare.
By then his health was failing very fast and his wife rushed him to Harare Central Hospital where they were advised to seek emergency services elsewhere.
His family drove him to Mount Darwin’s Karanda Mission Hospital where he died before emergency surgery could be performed to save his life.
Ntini leaves behind his wife Margaret, two daughters Mary, 15 and Blessing, 5 and son Gishon Jnr, 9.
“He lived his life for others; he was a helper, never discriminatory but treated each person as equals. To me he was a pillar of strength, my advisor and stood by me every time I needed a shoulder to lean on,” Margaret said of the affable coach.