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My consolation was in providing assists: Phiri

By Danisa Masuku

When Alfred “Ngedla” Phiri was playing street football in his teenage years in the dusty streets of Matshobana in Bulawayo, no one ever knew that he would be a star player.

Alfred Ngedla Phiri and his wife

Indeed that was Ngendla who earned the moniker because of his tall body frame. The nickname gained prominence and overshadowed his real name.

He is still known as Ngedla and says most people mistake the nickname for his real name.

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He grew up in Matshobana suburb and attended Gampu Primary School. His parents had to transfer him to Lukhanyiso Primary school before they moved him to Nkulumane Primary School in Mpopoma township.

At the time he was already in the school team and a promising player. In that school team he played alongside Douglas “British” Mloyi and Teddy Nyoni. While he was trying to gel with his peers in the school squad his parents transferred him back to Gampu Primary School where he finished his primary education.

Having made his mind that soccer would be his career he joined a junior academy — Matshobana FC. At 15 years old the fresh-faced Ngedla joined Bulawayo City FC. At Bulawayo City he was warmly welcomed by Philemon Dangarembwa, Arthur Evans and Victor Dliwayo whom he says helped him fit well into the club’s system.

He remembers when his side clashed against Dynamos.

“That was my debut match in a professional side. We clashed against Dynamos at their fortress and we tried to match them toe-to-toe but they beat us 3-2. What was a consolation to me is that I was on top of my game and provided an assist,” he recalls.

After a short stint with Bulawayo City FC he crossed the floor and joined REX FC, a side that was sponsored by Cold Storage Company (CSC). The Paul Kruger-coached side fought for bragging rights against Bulawayo Wanderers, Matabeleland Highlanders, Mashonaland United, Bulawayo Callies and Old Miltonians.

Players who were the core for the team were Noah Sibanda, Melusi Sibanda, Francis Sikhosana, Stewart Mpofu and Johnson Mpala. But in no time CSC stopped financing the team.

However, the club did not fold, businessman Gideon Ngwenya bought the franchise and changed the name of the team to Bulawayo Chiefs. The side participated in the South Zone league after the South Zone teams pulled out of the national league after Highlanders led a spilt in 1976 as it felt it was duped of league championship by the Rhodesia National Football League (RNFL). Rains had pounded Bulawayo all week and Highlanders in consultation with Bulawayo City Council, the owners of Barbourfields Stadium, had notified the national league management that because of poor drainage the venue was not playable. But the league allowed Dynamos to come who found Highlanders not at the venue and were awarded the match on a walk over basis.

Ngedla enjoyed a purple patch at the side and he became a leading light scoring important goals that put him above other forwards and midfielders in the South Zone League.

His sterling efforts were noticed and was crowned Soccer Star of the Year in 1978 in the South Zone league. The first runner-up was Tymon Mabaleka who played for Highlanders while the second runner-up was Gred Faasen who turned out for Old Miltonians FC.

“That was a great year for me because I was among the top goal scorers with 15 goals to my name and I was crowned the Soccer Star of the Year and that goes down as the crowning moment of my career. I valued that because I was chosen among the best and on merit,” he reminisces.

Some of the players who made it in the Soccer Stars calendar were the trio of Highlanders Majuta Mpofu, Douglas “British” Mloyi and Doubt Sithole, Zebron Magorimbo who was with Viking Aces, the pair of Go Beer Thomas Chipempere and Daniel Mahaso, Punky Entmore who was with Callies and Allen Bonzaire who turned out for Old Miltonians.

He points out that his homeboy “British” gave him a headache: “He knew my style of play as we played together for quite a long time and that made it difficult for me to manoeuvre whenever we played Highlanders. Let me hasten to say he was the only defender that gave me torrid time,” he shares.

He revealed that Highlanders were the formidable side in the South Zone League and for their sterling efforts in 1977 they won the league championship.

“What made Highlanders dominate the league was that they had experienced players such as Lawrence Phiri, the late Majuta Mpofu, Tennyson Mloyi and late Tymon Mabaleka and they turned Highlanders into a formidable force in the South Zone League,” he says.

He says the formation of the National Soccer League in 1979 brought brighter prospects for his football career.

“It brought joy because I knew I would compete with big clubs like Gweru United, Hippo Valley, Zisco, Hwange and Zimbabwe Saints and I knew I would be taking my game to greater heights and have a chance to turn out for one of the South African teams just like Ebson “Sugar” Muguyo, Max Tshuma (late), Douglas Maneto, the late Shadreck Ngwenya who were playing in South Africa,” says Ngedla.

He says he had great moments when he was selected as a guest player for Highlanders FC.

“David Khumalo and I were asked by Highlanders officials to turn out for them in a friendly match against Dynamos in Harare. That match remains as one of my memorable matches. We were trailing DeMbare by one goal to nil but I scored an equaliser in the last stages of the game,” he remembers.

Highlanders players who were involved in that friendly match are Mark Watson, Nephias Ngwenya, Melusi Sibanda, Noah Banda, Bonface Nyambwe, Richard Phiri, Henry Chitsa, Stewart Mpofu and Richard Phiri.

One of the worst moments in Chiefs colours was when his side was booted out of the Chibuku Trophy.

“We were booted out of Chibuku Cup semi-finals by Dynamos 3–1. We were hoping to sail through to finals,” says.

After a fruitful stint with Bulawayo Chiefs he joined Bulawayo Wanderers at the time the outfit was coached by Tendai Chieza.

“I just played for two seasons for the side and joined Black Aces, an outfit which was based in Matshobana. I was the player-coach for the side and I spent a season with them,” he reveals.

He had to quit soccer in 1985 and concentrated at his work at National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) where he was assisting boilermakers. He retired in 2012 after serving the company for 40 years and 11 months.

Fact file

Albert Phiri was born in 1952 and is married to Selila.

They have been married for 46 years.

The couple was blessed with nine children but their first born Adolf passed on in 1998 at the age of 26. The nine who are alive are Trevor (44), Stella (41), Aron (35), Sandra (32), Melisa (30), Lindsay (27), Terry (25) and Nicky (22).

The couple worships at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Sunday News