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Willard Khumalo: We treasure the memories

28 Aug 2015 at 15:08hrs | Views
I was deeply saddened by the news of Willard's death. He is one of my great sporting heroes. In 1982/3 we used to enter Barbourfields (B/F) at 12 noon (instead of 3pm) because of that U18 team ("Liverpool") that Willard captained; truly wonderful football from a youthful squad. You saw not only sporting skills but a leadership gift in Willard.

Then one day Willard was not in the team. We thought maybe he had been promoted to the Reserve side. When the Reserve team came out, still Willard was not in the lineup. We thought maybe he was injured. It never occurred to us that he was actually in the senior team. There he was at left back standing in for Fanuel Ncube who could not play because he had an injury. Willard "MaWi" never looked back.

I got transferred to Harare in 1983. Willard was now a great midfield player in a Highlanders senior team that simply brought joy to watch. As a soccer lover I was at Rufaro Stadium with my friends every Sunday because you had entertaining football from Dynamos, CAPS and other teams. But when Highlanders was in town it was not only a must to be at Rufaro on Sunday…it would all start at Oasis Motel the Saturday before that Sunday. And because Willard and his colleagues matched the great names of the day in Stanford "Stix" Mutizwa, Joel "Jubilee" Shambo and Moses "Razorman" Chunga, we always  remained a happy lot, not only because of the many wins, but merely from the display on the field even when we lost.

I remember in July 1986 (probably27th), because Cup competitions were being played at B/F due to  the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Conference, Highlanders met Dynamos in a major cup final: I forget what Cup it was but I can remember the day itself like it was just yesterday!. Towards the end of an interesting but tight goalless match Highlanders won a free kick near the corner of the penalty area at the Mpilo end.  If it is not Willard who made that short pass to Madinda Ndlovu,  it was the other way around. Let us say it was Willard who passed the ball to Madinda who, in turn, flighted an inviting curling pass to Nhamo Shambira (an interesting character) already making his run into the penalty area. Nhamo connected with a glancing header into the nets leaving goalkeeper Leo Ntawatawa clawing into thin air and defender Misheck Marimo dazzled, simply motionless. Expectedly we (the Highlander fans) erupted from our seats in crazy celebration; we never needed to return to our seats because as the match restarted the referee blew for end of the match. As we jumped, the gentleman who was sitting in front of me, a Dynamos supporter, who had been very vocal, saying things we obviously disagreed with throughout the match simply stood up and walked away, quietly, head down. I have yet to see greater happiness in football supporters than what I saw that day. And thinking about it all now I thank God we were lucky to arrive safely in Harare late that night after the drive from Bulawayo.

Then as part of Reinhard Fabisch's Dream Team (which was virtually Highlanders) Willard and colleagues made our visits to the National Sports Stadium just memorable. I can still "hear" the National Anthems and "see" the team in green running into the pitch!! Imagine gunning down those great continental giants like Cameroon and Egypt! Now of course there was Adam and Peter Ndlovu in the picture, great icons.

It is from these memories that Willard played alongside AND against great names that I write. As I have said he was one of my great sporting heroes; the other names I must mention (not that the list is complete) are:

From the Highlander side: There is a danger here of mentioning the whole team that I admired but let me pick just a few! Madinda Ndlovu (We first saw that fast running young striker in those free-entry Heroes Day games and none of us knew his name, we just said we would wait for the morning paper!); Netsai Moyo (that steady gifted gentleman at the back who was unlucky with a serious injury while he was in the "Liverpool" squad; the hard-hitting Mercedes "Rambo" Sibanda;  Saul Ndlovu (that fancy #7 dribbler of the "Liverpool" team that I do not hear much about); Dumisani Nyoni, Titus Majola (who always had tough times with Joel Shambo but gave excellent support to Willard); Benjamin Nkonjera, Douglas Mloyi, Peter Nkomo, Tobias Mudyambanje,  Rahman Gumbo and Alexander Maseko.

From Dynamos: Moses Chunga (who once commented that Willard was his favourite  player) - skilful, sometimes too fancy on the right flank; not-much-mentioned midfielder Kenneth Jere who gave incredible supporting runs to Moses;  Oliver Kateya with darting overlapping moves from left back passing the ball to  #11 Eddie Katsvere for the creative striker to flight those deadly passes to Gift Mpariwa who would already be waiting in the danger zone poised like a leopard ready to prey on a poor unsuspecting buck, to head the ball home with precision and ease. David Mandigora (not much joy as the team's coach) and the two Marimo brothers, Sunday and Misheck were very committed players too. (I tell you as a Highlanders fan it brought shivers  to watch that team on its marauding attacks. Indeed it was easier to watch Dynamos play CAPS.. you just enjoyed good football!!)

From CAPS: That team did not really need defence. Their game was anchored at midfield where Willard had to really show class playing against Joel Shambo and Stanford Mtizwa with Stanley Ndunduma beckoning for the ball on the right flank and Friday Phiri sure to head it in when it comes to the left…but the danger man was that central striker, Shakeman Tauro, who would just wait to hammer the ball into the nets always.

Other great players included Japhet "Short Cat" Mparutsa, Ephraim Chawanda, Carlos Max, Agent Sawu, Francis Shonhayi and Norman Mapeza.

This is to show how all the players of Willard's generation made our soccer days a pleasure and united us as a Nation of Zimbabwe. We will always treasure those memories…pity there was no WhatsApp or Facebook then!

I therefore say to Willard Nduna MaWi Khumalo: REST IN PEACE. I am one of those who have placed you in my Heroes Acre! And to all the players of his generation who have passed on: Rest in Peace. God bless those that remain who we do not hear much about anymore these days!!!

Rodwell Mahlasela Dlodlo. A sports lover. - 077 211 4354 -

Source - Rodwell Mahlasela Dlodlo
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