Coach Mziray shunned celebrity status, was a hard-hitting columnist

By Fred Ogot

Four weeks ago, at the height of panic as the deadline for submission of columns for The Guardian on Sunday was about to pass, I called Syllersaid Mziray, asking him to flash his latest piece for Sports Flexibles.

“Mwanagu, I won’t make it this week because I’m down with malaria.”

I registered my sympathies to Mziray, who addressed all his acquaintances as ‘mwanangu’, the corrupted, but generally accepted Kiswahili expression for close acquaintance.

That was the last day I spoke to Mziray who had been a regular sports columnist writing for The Guardian newspapers for the last six years.

It will not be easy to forget the jokes of the deceased. Besides ‘mwanangu’ he was fond of invoking the word ‘ubwabwa’, not in reference to rice, but to a job or career prospects.

Whenever someone did or say something that seemed set to jeopardize his prospects, he light-heartedly remarked: ‘Mwanangu usiweke mchanga kwenye ubwabwa wangu’.

Mziray was a cheerful person who liked cracking jokes and never nursed grudges. He was straight forward, generous, open and knew how to defend himself whenever things went wrong. The way I knew him he never feared anybody especially when it came to telling the truth, liked criticism, including self-criticism.

He liked challenging soccer coaches and sports administrators and wasn’t the praise-singing type. His latest seminar with Sports Editors was a Vodacom-sponsored workshop held in July at Giraffe Hotel. He was one of the paper presenters during the event organized by Keen arts. His presentation impressed many, including Director of Sports Leonard Thadeo who was the guest of honour.

Human greatness does not lie so much in someone being great, but a great person ‘boycotting’ the greatness. Up to the point when he lost the battle to a long illness, the man who had steered many battling soccer teams to victories, was unmatched as coach.

And yet, household name notwithstanding, Mziray was, by deeds, words, and lifestyle, a simple man who mingled and struck camaraderie easily with people of all walks of life. He had the means to drive a private car or be chauffeured, as most show-off-oriented individuals do, but deliberately, he frequently commuted in the common man’s ‘daladala’.

Fellow commuters, especially on the route from and to his Tabata Magengeni residence on the outskirts of the city, were amazed, but thrilled that the man justifiably branded ‘Super Coach’ was a free, engaging talker.

Soccer enthusiasts amongst them enjoyed his conversational company, and were particularly touched by his openness, soberness and freedom from irrational fanaticism.

They found it strange but pleasant, that, he would pin-point the shortcomings of teams he coached and acknowledge the strengths of rival ones ! He was, he stressed, a coach first, and everything else was secondary, third-placed, and so forth. Much as he had sentimental attachments to teams he coached as Mziray, the plain individual, he was, sports-wise, Mziray the technician, who didn’t lament over his teams losing as paying a legitimate price for being lousy, and sincerely credited opponents with superior games and deserving victory.

That aspect of him was manifest in his ‘Sports Flexibles’ in The Guardian on Sunday, and ‘Thinking Aloud’ in The Guardian.

He never minced words – giving praise where due, but hard-hitting those who, as individual sportsmen and sportswomen; as well as institutions, agencies or organs, were under-performers.

The man for whom the ‘punky’ cut was a trademark of sorts, wasn’t just a critic, though, often capping criticisms with what should or could be done to solve problems, or to consolidate gains.

His columns had an unmistakable depth of feeling – revealing utter frustrations over things in the sports sector going wrong, whereas they shouldn’t.

One of the things he bemoaned most was the grabbing of open grounds and thereby depriving youngster centres for playing, and the near-death of physical education and sports development in institutions of learning.

Position mongering, intra- and inter-club bickering and factionalism also upset him immensely, as they demoted sports from being a recreational and leisurely pursuit, to a commercial enterprise.

Unbeknown to many people, Mziray was a great music enthusiast, a passion that inspired him to become a rhythm guitarist of considerable talent.

Until his death he was the assistant coach of Simba. With Mainland national soccer team, Mziray won East and Central Africa Senior Challenge Cup when the team beat Uganda Cranes on penalty shootouts in Nairobi, Kenya in 1994. Ever since the team has never won the regional title.

He helped Kakakuona (Mainland B) reach Senior Challenge Cup final held in Mwanza in 1992. Apart from training Simba, he also trained Yanga, Sigara and Pilsner at different occasions. May the Almighty God rest his soul in eternal life. AMEN

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