Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Football heroes and nicknames: An African perspective

By Lot Chitakasha

Over the years African football has produced some great players. What has left a permanent mark on the mind is not only the skills, the great goals and the defending but also the legend that has developed around these players.

Flying Elephant: Peter Ndlovu when he was playing for Sheffield United in England
Flying Elephant: Peter Ndlovu when he was playing for Sheffield United in England

For instance a certain player in Zimbabwe had a reputation of playing with a list of all creditors in his pair of socks, apparently this motivated him to play and win so he could pay off the loans.

The purpose of this paper is discuss the nicknames that have been attached to our football heroes and the origins of some of them reflect the qualities inherent in these players but also the creative nature of our fans.

The focus of this paper is Zimbabwe and our neighbour South Africa. In future, I hope to make an exploration of other African countries. Nicknames have also been attached to teams and even stadiums all pointing to the creative minds of the fans.

Zimbabweans will remember the days of George Shaya, Peter Nyama, Chita Atonio, Freddy Mkwesha, Obediah Sarupinda ,Shaw Handriede the list goes on. George Shaya was known as the “Mastermind”.

The reason for this is cannot be disputed, adoring fans appreciated his football brain and he proved this by going on to win the much coveted soccer star of the year award five times. His dribbling skills, passing and scoring abilities made him the mastermind indeed and the fans were quick to come up with this nickname.

I watched George Shaya towards the tail end of his career but my brother Saul believed and still believes that he was better than Maradona…now that is some claim! Players of his generation include Peter” Thunderboots” Nyama, the nickname being a product of his booming shots. Legend has it that one of the shots actually ripped through the nets.

The only other person with such a powerful shot was George” TNT” Rollo whose shot once ripped the nets during his playing days at Black Aces. Obediah Sarupinda was known as” Wasu” because of his Manicaland background, an eastern region in Zimbabwe. The people from this region have a tendency of calling everyone WASU meaning one of our own.

The conveyer belt of talent continued in the 1980s and the 1990s. Let us look at the Dynamos team of the 80s. There was Japhet “Short Cat” Mparutsa, his height and handling ability gave rise to this one.

There was Oliver” Flying Saucer” Kateya, his speed down the wings was a nightmare for most teams. These days people talk of wingbacks, we used to know them as overlapping defenders and Oliver was a pioneer of the art.

In the same team was Edward “Twinkle-Toes Madhobha” Katsvere. For an explanation of these nicknames I am arranging an interview with Graham “Iron Man” Boyle, the former Rio Tinto defender. He was known as “Iron Man” because of his strength in defence but against “Madhobha” he would struggle to such an extent that he would either be substituted or be shown the red card for persistent fouling.

The battles between the two was a subplot to the bigger battle between the two teams which would keep the spectators on their feet. In the same team were David “Yogi” Mandigora, Ernest “Mr. Cool” Mutano and Misheck “Scania” Marimo.

Some of the nicknames are self explanatory although I am still trying to figure out how “Yogi” came about..”Mr Cool” was as cool as a cucumber as Charles Mabika was so fond of saying, he never panicked under pressure and “Scania” had the strength of a scania haulage truck.

The late 80s came with Moses “Razorman”Chunga, Kenneth”Computer” Jere, Gift “Ghetto, Muduso” Mpariwa. Gift Mpariwa was a legend of the game, the nickname “Muduso” came from his football approach. Every game for him was a money game, “muduso” for those not familiar with ghetto lingo is slang for money and for him every goal scored was like a pay day hence his zeal for scoring .

“Razorman” to the so called 7 million Dynamos supporters…..I am sure they now claim that the number is 13 million…was as sharp as a razor which cuts from both sides. His nickname was derived from an advert in the 80’s of a man who could deal with any situation because he was always clean shaven.

“Dembare” supporters as Dynamos is populary known believed that no football situation was insurmountable for Moses.

Kenneth “Computer” Jere was that fast and this name came long before we knew much about computers, again pointing to the innovativeness of our supporters. As for the nickname “Dembare”, I give credit to Charles Mabika the doyen of Zimbabwe football commentary who, after watching DINAMO DEFIMA of Madagascar play CAPS in a African Cup Winners Cup then coined the name Dembare.

The CAPS UNITED team of the 80s was packed with talent with no shortage of exciting nicknames to complete the mix. Joel Shambo was known as the “Headmaster, Jubilee”, Shacky Tauro was “Mr. Goals”, Friday Phiri was “Breakdown”, then there was Stanford “Stix” Mtizwa and Charlie “Kabhasikoro” Jones.

Joel Shambo was the complete midfielder with amazing ball skills, he was seen as the head in this team, Shacky was the ultimate goal machine hence the nickname, he scored all type of goals, headers, diving headers, tap ins, screamers, overhead kicks…he had the complete collection, Friday Phiri had so much strength he was like breakdown recovery truck and Charlie Jones was a speed merchant with so much pace down the wing and “Stix” made the chest control his trademark, the ball would stick to his chest.

Later Caps United had Silver “Bhonzo” Chigwenje, Tobias “Rock Steady” Sibanda, Blessing “Yogo-Yogo” Makunike and Never “Maswerasei” Chiku. “Bhonzo” was a result of his slim frame,”Yogo-Yogo” was a result of that popular 90’s song.

I find the legend of Maswerasei interesting. This nickname derived from a lion which used to roam around Kariba terrorising villagers in broad daylight. Likewise Never Chiku would terrorise defenders and ghost from nowhere to score some crucial goals for the green machine. I can go further to talk about Joe “Kode” Mugabe, Stuart “Shutto” Murisa, Oscar “Simbimbino” Motsi and Alois “Zola” Bunjira, “Simbimbino” was another derived from the musical hit by the legendary Bhundu Boys, there are so many stories behind these nicknames…the list is endless.

What cannot be disputed is the fact that the nicknames matched the qualities inherent in the players and most importantly shows the ingenuity of the fans who came up with the names. Alegi P[2004] , argues that by giving nicknames to their heroes, the fans get closer to them and have a sense of belonging to the team, a bond is formed.

The fans help to create the identity of the team and the team’s folklore is weaved around these nicknames.

In the City of Kings, Bulawayo, from Highlanders “Bosso”, we also had talent galore and no shortage of nicknames. Madinda was “Khatazile”, Willard Khumalo was simply “Mawhii”, Douglas “British” Mloyi, Mercedes “Rambo” Sibanda, Alexander “Cool Ruler” Maseko, Peter “Nsukuzonke” Ndlovu.

Peter was an everyday wonder and he would score in every match, he was also known as the “Flying Elephant” during his playing days in England …what a player he was, one of the best the nation has ever produced.

Alexander Maseko was the “Cool Ruler” because he never panicked under pressure. Their city rivals Zimbabwe Saints “Chauya Chikwata” gave us Ephraim “Rock of Gibraltar” Chawanda, Henry “Bully” Mckop and Muzondiwa “Lazy Mzo” Mugadza, Andrew “Mai Maria” Kadengu and Obey “Teacher” Sova.

The one that stands out for me here is “The Rock of Gibraltar”…Ephraim was simply a defensive rock, immovable both for “Chauya Chikwata” and the national team. His confidence was such that he would chest down a shot or cross in his own 18 area box, he was the most assured defender I have ever seen.

“Lazy Mzo” was a result of his languid syle which made him look like someone without a care in the world. “Mai Maria” is a strange one, I have not been able to figure out that one. The team ‘s nickname “Chauya Chikwata” reflected the team’s ethos, unity of purpose and this was reflected by their style of play..the pass and move one touch football, they were a joy to watch on their way to the 1988 title.

The South African team that was given a baptism of fire by Zimbabwe in their first post-apartheid era match was packed with talent and interesting nicknames. The team mauled 4-1 had in their ranks John “Shoes” Moshoue, Donald “Ace” Khuse, Max “Go Man Go” Maponyane, Phillimon “Chippa” Masinga and the legendary Lucas “Chief” Radebe. It was a good team with interesting players and nicknames…the 4-1 mauling was capped by that fine individual goal by Peter…what a spectacle it was.

Over the years we have been blessed with great players who had captivating nicknames. I might just mention Archford “Chehuchi” Chimutanda, one of the best midfielders to grace the Zimbabwean football fratenity, Maronga “The Bomber” Nyangela, George “Zambia” Mbwando, Vitalis “Digital” Takawira and Benjamin”Makanaky” Nkonjera.

The fans’ creativity can also be captured in nicknames like Nkulumo “Daidzai vamwe “Donga, Wellington” Moneymaker “Shangiwa Mike” Mabhurugwa Abrahams” Eddie” Chimombe “Dube,and Memory “Mwendamberi” Mucherahova.

As posited earlier, the nicknames are a testimony of both the qualities of the players and the creativity of the fans. There have been bad ones too, like Albert “Dhalala” Mabika, I know he hated that one , Max “Sikorokoro” Makanza an old car which always needed a push ,he hated it preferring “Scara” instead, and imagine burdening someone with the nickname “Sister”, that was Samson Choruwa for you.

I never found out why he was given this name, unfortunately his career was cut short by injury and he simply slipped off the radar. Others which the players would not have been happy with are George “Zero-Zero” Chirambarara ,Godfrey “Mai Mahofa” Dondo, and Jerry “Dzunguman” Chidawa..sometimes the fans do not always get it right.

One can also add the nicknames given to the teams all of which attest to the creativity of the fans- “Pisa-Pisa” for Gweru United, “Kepekepe” for Caps united, “Vakomana Vechipangano” for Hwange, “Warumwa-Warumwa” for Black Mambas, “Ndochi” for Blackpool that flamboyant team of the imported kits ,”Shaisa Mufaro” for Black Aces and “Chauya Chipembere” for Black Rhinos and the obvious ones Dembare”,”Bosso”,”Tshilamoya”.

In the same breath one can also mention the nicknames attached to stadiums,”Soweto” for that Highlanders stronghold at Barbourfields…die- hard Highlanders congregate here, “Vietnam stand” at Rufaro stadium, you have to be a die-hard Dynamos fan to sit here, or if you sit there do not celebrate when the opposition scores, it would tempting fate, “Pagomba” for Sakubva Stadium and “Baghdad” for the one in Redcliff. Nicknames are a part of Zimbabwean football and they are embedded in our football narrative.

What comes to the fore in this discussion is that nicknames are a part of our football culture, reflecting the special relationship between the player and fans. Although journalists have coined some names, the popular nicknames are a product of the creativeness of the fans, so let us keep them rolling, it is what makes football such a joy.

I hope the fans continue to be creative, I was sad to read that Peter Moyo’s nickname is “Rio”…that is not very creative or imaginative is it?..compared with “MADHOBHA” or better still “Muduso”…no contest! Nehanda Radio