Harare – For Southern Africa’s oldest professional footballer Innocent Benza, the “age ain’t nothing but a number” is more than a cliché.
Just six years ago, the 48-year old striker - who owns and plays for Zimbabwe Premiership side Herentals FC - never thought he would ever play in the topflight.
After all, he was 42-years-old and despite his passion for the sport, age just was not on his side.
All that changed when he accompanied his then 14-year old son, Tinotenda, to a junior football tournament in Harare.
“I never really thought he (Tinotenda) was that good”, he admits. “But the way he controlled the ball, the way he dribbled past thickets of bemused defenders amazed me. I looked at myself, and thought, ‘What if I become his teammate?’
“I was seated alongside Herentals coach (Kumbirai Mutiwekuziva) who had on a number of occasions urged me to lace up. Herentals was still in the First Division at the time. Mutiwekuziva told me that he was going to sign Tinotenda after he caught his eye with those scintillating displays.
“Instantly, my son became my hero. I was really inspired and decided to set myself targets so that I could become fit enough to one day join him in the field of play.”
Today, father and sign line up together for Herentals in the Premier League.
While some may say the club owner has placed himself in the squad, no such claims can be made about his son, Tinotenda, who is a regular player in the Zimbabwe national Under-20 and Under-23 teams.
The elder Benza says: “I didn’t want to become a professional player. I was content playing social football but my son inspired me. He is my hero. Just seeing how talented he was, I thought maybe I should also have done this when I was much younger but I didn’t take the game seriously then.”
Innocent adheres to a strict diet and training routine to keep in shape.
“I wake up at 4am every day and jog. Then I do ball drills before going to training. At the moment I am covering over 12 kilometres every morning and train alongside my son. In the evening I lso go to gym and I adhere to a special diet so that I keep in shape.”
While Tinotenda is the father’s hero on the field of play, Innocent is the son’s hero when it comes to business and academics.
Innocent - who says he wants to play soccer until he is 60-years-old – is a businessman of note with interests in education and mining, and he recently earned a PhD.