By Robson Sharuko
Harare - For one Harare family, the 2018 Zimbabwe Premiership has been quite a remarkable adventure which has seen a father-and-son combination in terms of smashing records, including one that used to belong to legendary footballer Peter Ndlovu.
Innocent “IDB9” Benza is a 46-year-old businessman who made history this year when he became the oldest player to feature in the Zimbabwean Premiership, playing for the club he owns, Herentals FC, who are making their maiden appearance in the league.
Last Saturday, at the spiritual home of Zimbabwean football, Rufaro Stadium in Harare, Benza added another chapter to his record-breaking year when he became the oldest player to score a goal in the Zimbabwean Premiership.
His goal came two minutes before the end of regulation time, in a Castle Lager Premiership match between Herentals and Chapungu, and sparked delirium among the band of noisy fans who always follow the new boys whenever they play.
Questions have been asked throughout the season about the wisdom of having a 46-year-old, who has virtually no pace and only thrives on waiting for set-pieces to try and make a difference, with some critics suggesting he was only being thrown into the team because he owns the club.
Coach Kumbirai Mutiwekuziva has been forced, on a number of occasions, to play the advocate’s role in trying to defend Benza’s repeated inclusion in the team with some of the analysts saying that his presence was undermining the profile of the country’s top-flight league.
“We have been persecuted for Benza’s inclusion in the team but today he has proven the critics wrong, justifying his inclusion in the team,” Mutiwekuziva said.
“It was only a matter of time before he scored, we have always believed in him, to me it was a great goal.”
Of course, it was.
With a lifeless game staggering towards a fitting close, on an afternoon where quality on the pitch was a product that a rare commodity, the moment the Herentals family had been waiting for all season finally arrived.
A ball was pumped into the Chapungu box and it landed in the path of the ageless Benza who took a touch and then volleyed it into the roof of the net to give his side the lead and also make history as the oldest player to score in the Zimbabwe Premiership.
Benza spread his arms in triumph, to celebrate his finest hour as a footballer, and then ran to his team’s bench where he was greeted by an army of delirious teammates and support staff.
In a frenetic ending to the contest, Chapungu found a way to equalize and gain a point on the road but there was no denying that the moment belonged to Benza, the old man who dared to believe and never gave up the pursuit of his dream to become a footballer who can make the grade at the highest level of Zimbabwean league football.
Benza, who is usually guarded by some bodyguards on the occasions he is not on the pitch, has been a man of very few words, choosing not to give away the soundbites the local football writers will be looking for as he rarely gives interviews.
However, his coach and his team were quick to celebrate the occasion.
“Celebrations were in order yesterday as The Doc ID[B]9 scored, opening his Zim PSL scoring account. What a goal Chihwaaaa,” the club said on their official Twitter account.
“What a game by Captain IB9 Dr Innocent Benza and what a goal, he has broken a record being the oldest player to score in the Zimbabwe Premier League.
“A moment of brilliance & a great goal. Well done.”
Chapungu coach Rodwell Dhlakama described Benza’s strike as a “great goal,” and said it came as a surprise.
“To be honest I never expected him to score nevertheless, it was great goal from him,” said the coach.
Former CAPS United midfielder, Moses Muchenje, who was playing in the CAF Champions League last year, said the ageless midfielder deserved respect.
“Innocent Benza is actually a good player, which is the reason why his team registered him and I don’t agree that he is his team’s weak link which teams can capitalise on,” said Muchenje.
“I don’t believe all that, if he was not good enough I think his team would not have registered him. He is as good as any other player in the Premiership.
“He is actually a very good player.”
Not everyone, though, agrees with all this.
There are others who have even suggested that his presence paints a picture of a league that is like a boozers’ outfit rather than a competitive top-flight league.
They say it’s another sign that the league, which in its heyday used to provide the continent with clubs, like Dynamos, who were good enough to play in the final of the CAF Champions League, has lost its glamour.
Benza’s son, Tinotenda, is a 17-year-old schoolboy who is known as “Zizou” and has already been on target in the Premiership this season.
He became the youngest player to ever score in the domestic top-flight league, beating the record set by the legendary Ndlovu when he struck Highlanders’ second goal against Dynamos at the National Sports Stadium in 1990.
Ndlovu was also 17 when he scored that goal in a 2-2 draw and, 28 years later, Tinotenda, just a few months younger, became the youngest to score when he drilled the ball home against championship-chasing side Ngezi Platinum Stars.
“To learn that I have created some history by becoming the youngest player ever to score in a Premiership game, makes it very special indeed,” said the young player.
“It’s also my first goal in our debut season and I hope that this is the start of more glamorous things to come.
“I would like to thank the whole Herentals family, including the club’s supporters, who are just wonderful as they follow us at home and away.
“The technical team, which also includes my uncles Gerald and Paul, have been fantastic in my short professional career and my two elder brothers (Tafadzwa and Tariro) and my mom (Patience) always encourage me in good or bad times.
“My dad always keeps pushing me to strive for better things.”
It has been quite a ride for the father and son combination that has been breaking records in the Zimbabwean Premiership.