Ricky Zililo, Senior Sports Reporter
BEFORE the introduction of professionalism in Zimbabwe football, it was every junior player’s dream, especially those from Bulawayo, to turn out for either Highlanders or Zimbabwe Saints.
Railstars also became a club of choice because of its ability to provide work opportunities for footballers with or without qualifications.
For those in the capital Harare, Dynamos and Caps United were clubs of choice, with army side Black Rhinos and Darryn T being other options.
Those from mining towns, Hwange was a sanctuary for footballers from Matabeleland North, particularly those who competed in the coal-mining town’s Wafa league.
Rio Tinto in Kadoma produced a number of stars and Mhangura was also a force when the mine was still operational.
Born on May 23, 1980, fringe former national team left-back Vorster Chitemu, who had successful stints at defunct sides AmaZulu and Monomotapa where he won the league title, also dreamt of playing for Bosso, but fate led him to Usuthu, as AmaZulu were popularly known.
Chitemu, who started his football career at junior level playing for Bulawayo Wanderers and Eagles in 1996 before joining Ernest “Maphepha” Sibanda’s Mthala project in Mpopoma in 1997, moved to AmaZulu by default in 1998.
At Mthala, he rubbed shoulders with players like Bekithemba “Super” Ndlovu, now the Highlanders’ assistant coach, Mike Zvivira, ex-Highlanders and Lancashire Steel winger Wellington “Gripa” Sibanda as well as Archie “Mandoza” Mahlangu formerly with Chapungu and Border Strikers.
“I could have played for Highlanders, but then found myself training with AmaZulu juniors in Nguboyenja. What happened is that I had arranged with my friend Gift Mpelo that I would pick him up at his place in Njube one afternoon and walk to the Highlanders clubhouse for training, but I found him gone already.
“I was coming from Lobengula and I decided to walk alone to town, but when I got to Nguboyenja, I was tired and saw AmaZulu juniors warming up and decided to join them. That’s how I landed at AmaZulu before rising through the ranks into the senior team,” said Chitemu.
“Then, Highlanders and Zimbabwe Saints were teams to play for. AmaZulu were still coming up and their financial muscle and ability to lure experienced players also made them a club of choice.”
It seems Chitemu made the right decision by opting to train with the Usuthu juniors, as barely four months at AmaZulu, the then first team coach Conwell Dube selected him as part of the juniors to train with the senior team.
He started featuring in the reserve side, while still playing for the club’s Under-19s.
Among the juniors he trained with in the first team were Esrom Nyandoro, who went on to become a household name and was snapped up by Mamelodi Sundowns and earned legendary status at the South African club.
James “S’bonda” Phiri, goalkeeper Dominic Sithole and Cosmas “Tsano” Zulu’s son Nigel were also recommended to train with the senior team.
Chitemu recalled that it wasn’t easy to break into the first team because of the stars AmaZulu had assembled.
“It was hard to make it into the senior team because there were a lot of good and quality players. We found what I can term the best of the best in terms of defence, the likes of Misheck “Nyere” Makota, Matambanashe Sibanda, Richard March, Sikhumbuzo Ndebele, Golding “Yellow” Dube, Nkosana “Sancho” Gumbo and Mkhuphali Masuku. In this pool of defenders, I competed with Nkosana, Goodson Gama and at times Ackim Muganyi.
“After seeing how difficult it was to break into the senior team, I decided to move to Thorngrove FC which was owned by the late Joseph James, a friend to AmaZulu director Delma Lupepe. What was happening at AmaZulu was that juniors would rotate to be on the first team bench so that we have turns to get allowances. One day, against Air Zimbabwe Jets, it was Esrom’s turn to be in the final 18 and while in camp, Makota picked up a bug so Quarter (Nyandoro’s nickname) had to start. Esrom had the game of his life and scored a scorcher to cap a fine performance. The coaches didn’t remove him from the squad from then on so I decided to move to Thorngrove,” said Chitemu.
He was at Thorngrove for a year and one day in 2000, AmaZulu players and the technical team went to watch Thorngrove play against Shabanie Mine which had the likes of Thomas Makwasha, Asani Juma and Francis Chandida. That afternoon, Chitemu was in top form and AmaZulu decided he was ready for Premiership football and recalled him.
“I remember the late Benjamin Nkonjera would tease me saying ‘ubona ngani lizadlala la ligqoke isepa’, meaning my studless boots and after training he would call me and give me his. The problem was he wore size 6 and I had a big foot so I went on to trade those.
“The late Nqobizitha Maenzanise loved youngsters and made us feel at home. Nyere (Makota) was the best joker,” he said.
“Of all the coaches I worked under, I give credit to Mdala Homs (Gibson Homela) because he believed in me. Mind you, AmaZulu were star-studded and one day in 2001, Homela came to watch the morning session, returned for the afternoon session and suddenly I was in the first 11. That was the turning point of my career and I never looked back.”
Chitemu was a known crude tackler and one of his victims was former Dynamos winger Eddie Mashiri whose ankle he broke.
Chitemu ranks Mashiri, former Highlanders’ winger Siza Khoza, ex-Shabanie Mine’s Clarkson Dzimbiri and Samson Choruwa, formerly with Dynamos, as the most tough opponents he faced.
“Siza, Mashiri, Dzimbiri and Choruwa were a menace. You know at AmaZulu there were hard tacklers, so the strategy was always to go in hard early on and then play our normal football. Because of our aggression at the back, we had a code that we used whenever we wanted to ‘discipline’ tough strikers. We would just say ‘Germany’ and the guys would play rough. Remember, Bundesliga back then had rough players and at AmaZulu we were the Bundesliga side of Zimbabwe,” Chitemu said.
In 2003, AmaZulu won the league championship and in 2005 they were relegated after losing points via the boardroom as teams decided to fixture their matches against Usuthu on Saturdays.
Lupepe was a devout Seventh-Day Adventist and his side did not play on Saturdays and asked that Usuthu play on Sundays or mid-week, but the league rejected his pleas.
Teams chose to play their matches against AmaZulu on Saturdays knowing the team wouldn’t pitch up and they would earn three points on a walkover score line.
“Seeing AmaZulu go down really hurt and in 2006 I moved to Monomotapa where I played until 2010. Just like AmaZulu, Monomotapa were an organised and ambitious club. We won the championship in 2008 and I must say that is where I enjoyed most of my game because we managed to reach the mini-league stage of the Caf Champions League. Also, at Monomotapa I was a senior player and players respected my input,” he said.
Towards the end of his career, Chitemu played for Zimbabwe Saints, as well as defunct Beitbridge sides Border Strikers and Town United.
The former Njube and Mzilikazi High Schools pupil also won the prestigious Copa Coca-Cola boys’ tournament title in 1999 with Mzilikazi High.
He’s now a holder of a Zimbabwe Soccer Coaches Association (Zisca) Level 4 coaching certificate.
Before transferring to Mzilikazi High, Chitemu was teammates with former Railstars forward Sizalobuhle Dube, uncle to Bidvest Wits defender McClive Phiri, and Welcome Sibanda, whose promising career was cut short by a knee injury. Sibanda came from a footballing family that had the former Hwange pair of Ozzy and the late Johnston as well as ex-Bosso, Motor Action, Hwange and FC Platinum striker Charles who now turns out for Bulawayo Chiefs.
At Mzilikazi, Chitemu played alongside United States of America-based former national-team striker Joseph Ngwenya, Belgium-based Vusa Nyoni, the late Highlanders defender Bekithemba Nkiwane, goalkeeper Ndodana Sibanda and legend Johannes Ngodzo.
“I’ve got a passion for coaching having developed that when I was playing in Beitbridge. I assisted the late Gishon Ntini and John Phiri. I’ve been assisting with training at Dabuka Express Academy, training juniors. Hopefully when the football season resumes I’ll be able to get a coaching job in the juniors of an established club,” Chitemu said. — @ZililoR