Willard Khumalo: True legend

24 Aug, 2015 - 00:08 0 Views

The Chronicle

Lovemore Dube Sports Correspondent
THE 1980s stood out as one of the most exciting era in the history of the country’s oldest club Highlanders FC with a galaxy of stars that represented the country with distinction while picking up silverware like confetti at a wedding.

It would be mischievous for anyone to talk about that period without mentioning Willard Mashinkila Khumalo, a gifted midfielder whose body build deceived many.

Khumalo passed away at the United Bulawayo Hospitals yesterday morning, bringing to an end the life of a true legend who earned his stripes for both club and country.

Mawii had not been in good health for a while, but like a true Warrior, he had soldiered on refusing to give in to one of life’s biggest battles —he had the will power to live.

Khumalo epitomised the 1980s Highlanders, whose play revolved around a gifted midfield that had several heroes of repute.

Born and bred in Mzilikazi, Khumalo learnt most about the game on the streets of the suburb, playing with aplomb from primary to secondary school.

After attending Mzilikazi Primary School, Khumalo moved to Northlea High School where he first hogged headlines. He became one of football’s schoolboy internationals in 1984, at a time it appeared a preserve for a few in minority sports like Graeme Hick in cricket.

Impressed by his football exploits, his family bought him a car. It was unheard of that a township boy could play for his country while still at school, drive a car and rub shoulders with the game’s Who’s Who of then, who included the best crop of players from the Rhodesian era and those whose careers blossomed soon after Independence.

The 1980s saw Highlanders lose quite a big number of stalwarts from the South Zone League era, who included Josiah Nxumalo, Doughty Sithole, the late Tymon Mabaleka, Augustine Lunga, Shakespeare Mabika, Macdonald Silongwe, Majuta Mpofu, Billy Sibanda and Lawrence Phiri.

Bosso had done well to invest in the future with Albert ‘Ali’ Dube doing a sterling job in the junior ranks. It was every young player’s dream then to play for Olympics, Highlanders, Zimbabwe Saints and Bulawayo Wanderers’ juniors.

Khumalo was part of the 1982 Highlanders Under-18 side having risen from the Under-14s with a crop of equally talented footballers.

They were a cohesive unit that conquered all that came before them with Khumalo and the likes of Summer Ncube shining like beacons in that team’s midfield. They were nicknamed Liverpool because of their great attacking and passing game, and then Bosso coach Scotsman Bobby Clark introduced a good number of them into the first team in 1982 and 1983.

The stocky Khumalo, by virtue of his physical looks, invited a lot of attention. Usually his lot is not expected to excel though there have been exceptions in players like Majuta Mpofu, Ebson ‘Sugar’ Muguyo and Jomo Sono in his late years in the game.

A gifted player, Khumalo had this uncanny tackle where he could trap the ball with both power and skill from an opponent, dribble past one, look up and send a dissecting pass into enemy territory.

The next thing he would imitate a galloping horse march to the amusement of his team’s followers, and in a flash be in space to receive a ball and either shoot at goal or set up a teammate. After the likes of other legends such as David Mandigora, the 1980 Soccer Star of the Year, Khumalo was among the most exciting defensive links as football moved from the traditional 4-2-4 and 4-3-3 formations of yesteryear.

He was a modern player who ventured forward to assist in attack and was equally at home in defence, doubling up as a twin centreback when the need arose.

Khumalo read the game well and for him to have earned his national colours during a golden era of talented footballers such as Tito Paketh, Joel Shambo, Stix M’tizwa, David Mwanza, Jimmy Phiri, Chemai Hunidzarira, Ernest Makosa, Francis Mwinga, Stanley Ndunduma, David Zulu and George Ayibu speaks volumes of his talent.

Khumalo emerged as one of the most promising stars of the 1983 team that hovered in the relegation zone for a while. With his stock rising, he was one of the scorers in the 2-1 win over Dynamos in the Chibuku Trophy final in 1984, with Madinda Ndlovu, another club legend, netting the other.

His name was scripted into the Highlanders folklore with a hearty performance against one of the best Dynamos sides of the post Independence era, which boasted the likes of Sunday Chidzambwa, David Mandigora, Kembo Chunga, Kenneth Jere and Misheck Chidzambwa.

Khumalo was one of the stand-out players of the 1986 and 1988 campaigns in which Bosso won virtually all silverware, except the league title. He was capped at both Under-20 and senior level while still at school and was chosen among the Soccer Star of the Year finalists several times with the likes of Madinda, Alexander Maseko, Peter Nkomo and the late Mercedes Sibanda.

When Bosso opened relations with a lower division side in Germany in 1987, Khumalo and two other Zimbabwean football legends Madinda and Paketh were seconded to a club there in 1989.

He returned to partner the likes of Rahman Gumbo and Benjamin Mpofu in the famous 3-1 Zifa Cup triumph against Dynamos in which Adam Ndlovu scored a sweet hat-trick at the National Sports Stadium on November 4, 1990.

He was flown by Bosso specifically for the cup final and he lived up to expectations with a good performance. When the Dream Team was assembled in 1992 under Trevor Juul Carelse’s stewardship of Zifa during the Reinhard Fabisch era, Khumalo was one of the stars of the side.

He had stints with East Rovers, Lancashire and Ziscosteel, but will always be remembered for his colourful and successful Bosso career where he played with so many great midfielders, among them Thoko Sithole, the late Nqobizitha Maenzanise, Paketh, David Phiri, the late Titus Majola, the late Benjamin Nkonjera, the late Makheyi Nyathi and Benjamin Mpofu.

Khumalo was until last year Highlanders’ welfare manager.

His death came on a weekend in which Dynamos lost its former treasurer, leaving a dark cloud hovering over the troubled Zimbabwean football landscape.

With his passing, the game is poorer without one of its most celebrated stars and true legends of the game. Performances at stadia in recent years have left many of the yesteryear fans talking about and longing for the wizardry of the likes of Khumalo, who honed their skills on the streets of our high density suburbs.

Ikhotheme induna leaving the younger generations, who did not watch him, to associate him with folklore stories about the hare/umvundla whenever his name pops up.

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