Sikhumbuzo Moyo Senior Sports Reporter
HIGHLANDERS and Zimbabwe football legend Willard Mashinkila Khumalo has died. He was 49. Khumalo died in the early hours of yesterday morning at the United Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) after a long battle with diabetes.
Family spokesman and former Highlanders chairman Ernest “Maphepha” Sibanda said: “It’s sad that we’ve lost such a great character, a football man”.
He said funeral arrangements would be announced in due course as they were still waiting for Khumalo’s relatives from the United Kingdom and Zambia.
“His daughter is flying from the United Kingdom while some of his uncles are coming from Zambia, so we’ll announce the burial arrangements when all family members have arrived,” said Sibanda.
As word of the death of the legendary midfielder spread, mourners started gathering at the family home in Mzilikazi suburb to offer their condolences and pay tribute to arguably one of the finest soccer players to emerge on the domestic scene.
Among those that visited the family yesterday were Premier Soccer League president Twine Phiri, Zifa vice-president Omega Sibanda, former Bosso strikers Zenzo Moyo and Tobias Mudyambanje as well as the man who “unearthed” Khumalo —legendary juniors’ coach Ali “Baba” Dube.
A minute of silence was observed in honour of the Bosso and Warriors’ legend in the double-header ties involving How Mine and Triangle as well as Tsholotsho’s clash against champions Dynamos at Barbourfields Stadium yesterday.
A minute of silence was also observed at Ascot Stadium in Gweru in the match pitting Khumalo’s former side Highlanders and premiership newboys Whawha.
There was warm applause from the 4,000 fans and players from all sides at Barbourfields Stadium after the referees in both games blew their whistle marking the end of the one-minute tribute to the midfield great.
Born on June 11, 1966, Khumalo burst into the Highlanders first team in 1983 when the then Bosso coach Bobby Clark promoted juniors en masse.
They included Netsai “Super” Moyo, Summer Ncube, Francis Muringayi and Abraham Senda, among other talented youngsters who formed what was then known as “Liverpool”, one of Bosso’s most feared junior teams.
Ali Dube, who nurtured Khumalo said: “Willard came to me as a 13-year-old in 1979. He was brought by his mother while still a student at Mzilikazi Primary School. He looked too big for his age,” said a distraught Dube.
“He then graduated to the Under-16s where we now had players like Godfrey Paradza and Oliver Ncube. I remember in 1982 we went to Masvingo for a Chibuku Cup semi-final against Ngundu Stars with Khumalo as my captain and we won 2-0 with goals coming from Oliver and Agayi.
“After the match we were physically attacked by the home team supporters and up to now I still have a scar sustained there. During the skirmishes, Willard was ‘kidnapped’ by Ngundu supporters and taken to some hotel where they bought him lots of food and congratulated him for a good show.”
Khumalo struggled a bit in the first team until the Chibuku Trophy final against Dynamos in April 1984 where he scored the winner in a 2-1 victory. The other goal came from Madinda Ndlovu.
Khumalo was part of Highlanders’ all-conquering squad of 1986 that won everything on offer in domestic football. They won the BAT Rosebowl, the Independence Cup, Heroes’ Cup, Chibuku Trophy, Rothmans Cup and the Castle Cup.
He was also part of the Cesafa senior national team that beat Kenya 2-1 in the final.
In 1987, he travelled with Highlanders to Germany where the club established a relationship with a Division One side Emstedden 05, a team that Khumalo, Tito Paketh and Madinda Ndlovu joined in 1989.
He made an emotional return to Highlanders on November 4, 1990, in the Zifa Cup final where they again beat rivals Dynamos 3-1 in a game in which the late Adam Ndlovu was on song.
Khumalo was a key member of the national team, the Dream Team, under the late Reinhard Fabisch. The team gave neighbours South Africa a baptism of fire on their return to international football on August 16, 1992, hammering them 4-1, with Khumalo famously describing Doctor Khumalo as a “nurse” after outclassing him in midfield.
In the twilight of his career, Khumalo played for Division One side Shushine following differences between him and then coach Roy Barreto. He also played for Ziscosteel and Lancashire Steel in the late 1990s before a season’s stint at Free State Stars in the South African Premier Soccer League in 2000.
Khumalo returned home in January 2001 as assistant coach to his long time friend Rahman Gumbo at Highlanders.
He took over later in the year following Gumbo’s dismissal.
His worst nightmare as Bosso coach came in Tunisia when Bosso were mauled 6-0 by African giants Esperance in the second leg of the Caf Champions League second round.
He also coached the Zimbabwe Under-23s, Lancashire Steel, Mwana Africa and Zimbabwe Saints.
Khumalo was appointed Highlanders’ welfare manager in 2013 up to the end of last season.
Mourners are gathered at House number S 22 in Mzilikazi.