Ricky Zililo
AS Zimbabwe celebrates 35 years of independence today, legendary Highlanders FC former goalkeeper Peter “Oxo” Nkomo has a unique reflection of what it means to be free. Now Highlanders goalkeepers’ coach, Nkomo was one of the first footballers to go for an international tour three months after Zimbabwe got its independence on April 18, 1980.

The ever jovial trainer was part of Zimbabwe’s national Under-23 men’s team that attended the 1980 Moscow Olympics held in the then Soviet Union.

For Nkomo, the excitement to be part of the first team was not only about the delight of representing his country, but the veteran goalkeeper found thrill in visiting the country where some of the liberation war heroes were trained.

Some Zipra cadres, Zapu’s military wing were sent to the Soviet Union for advanced military training and many of these became commanders leading the struggle in neighbouring Zambia or inside the then Rhodesia.

“To be honest, when I heard that I was among the people chosen for the trip to the Soviet Union, I was overjoyed. Remember before independence Rhodesia was banned from participating in international tournaments and there I was, being among the first group of boys set for the Olympics,” he recalled.

“What quickly came to my mind were stories that we heard about liberation fighters training in Soviet Union. I wanted to step on that land and see where these gallant sons and daughters of this country got their specialised training.”

The Under-23 soccer team that travelled to the Soviet Union was under the guidance of Paul Moyo and Obadiah Sarupinda.

Sheppard Murape was also part of the officials that travelled to Moscow and attended coaching and administration clinics, which were meant to empower them .

Their Under-23s did not compete at the games, which ran from July 19-August 3.

They only played four friendly matches, winning two, losing one and drawing the other.

Zimbabwe beat Poland 3-2 and thumped Finland 4-1. They went on to play a 3-3 draw with local club CCP.

Zimbabwe went on to lose 6-5 after penalty shootouts in their last match to CCP who they had played to a 4-4 draw.

Nkomo says he enjoyed the summertime in Moscow and remembers how they spent most of their time cheering their fellow Zimbabweans competing in other disciplines.

“Some of the players that we travelled with to Moscow were Stix Mutizwa, the late Joel Shambo, Stanley Ndunduma and Tobias Mudyambanje. Since we had nothing to do there, we had gone as spectators more than anything else. We spent the better part of our stay supporting those participating in athletics, swimming and hockey where our ladies won gold,” he said.

Long distance runners Zephaniah Ncube of Hwange and Kenias Tembo did not fare well with Ncube coming second from the last in the 10,000m heats while Tembo was last in the 5,000m race.

It was the Zimbabwean hockey girls who came back home with gold and became known as — The Golden Girls.

“We celebrated their achievement but for some of us hockey was alien. It was good experience to watch them in action though,” Nkomo said.

His message to youngsters, especially up and coming footballers is to take sport seriously.

“We never had the same opportunities that these boys have before independence. Now they can compete at the Afcon, World Cup, Olympics or Africa Games.

“If they have the same desire that we had during our time then they can make it. What’s only needed is for them to work hard and concentrate,” said Nkomo.

His wish is to see Zimbabwe qualifying for its first Fifa World Cup.

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