By Langton Nyakwenda
Legend has it that George “Mastermind” Shaya never missed a penalty for almost a decade, from 1969 when he won the inaugural Soccer Star of the Year award until 1977 when something special happened at Rufaro.
Dynamos were playing Rio Tinto and Laban “Black Cat” Kandi, who had joined the Kadoma side on loan from DeMbare, was in goals for the visitors.
When DeMbare were awarded a penalty, it was obvious Shaya would take it, and everyone was sure the gifted forward, regarded by many as the best Zimbabwean player ever, would score.
However, the unthinkable happened.
Kandi dived to his left and saved Shaya’s penalty in one of the most significant top-flight football incidences of the 1970s. That incident forced Shaya to surrender the penalty-taking duty to David “Broom Boy” George, who confirmed the story to The Sunday Mail Sport.
“I played in that game and, yes, mudhara Shaya missed the penalty. After that incident, he stopped taking penalties and I took over the duty,” revealed George.
Nonetheless, that day belonged to Kandi, a nomadic goalkeeper who also played for Mutare United, Arcadia United, and Zimbabwe Saints between 1975 and 1984. It is almost 45 years since that incident at Rufaro, but Kandi still vividly recalls that moment as if it happened last week.
“Whichever game we won was memorable, but one that still rings in my mind loudly is the one in which I saved Shaya’s penalty at Rufaro in 1977,” said Kandi.
“I had played with Shaya for a long time and I knew from our training sessions back at DeMbare that his trick was to always place the ball to the keeper’s right side.
“But, football is a game of wits and I was so sure he knew I was aware of this traditional spot-kick trick.
“I told myself he was going to place the ball to my left side because he knew I was aware he always fired to the right side. I guessed right and I saved that penalty. He never took any penalty after that until he retired.”
Kandi has been hard at work at Arcadia Sports Club, where he is overseeing individual training programmes for two Arcadia United junior players.
He is now the head coach at Arcadia United, who are attempting a comeback two decades after they were relegated from the Premiership. He has identified two teenagers — Tawananyasha Cuthbert Dzumbunu (15) and Tinashe Masunga (18) — whom he believes will soon become the next big stars in local football.
“I have been doing so many things and coaching is part of them. But I try to budget my time as much as possible.
“I also do music, I am into acting and I also have a family,” he says.
Kandi dreams of reviving Arcadia United, a team that produced 1978 Soccer Star of the Year George “TNT” Rollo, Charlie White, the late Hamid “Muzukuru” Dhana, Bethal Salis, Charlie Jones, Reg Payne, Carlos Max, and Wesley Gilbert.
Sadly, Danny Bismarck Stadium, which was once a fortress for Arcadia United, is now in a sorry state. Two-metre long grass, rusty goalposts, and a dilapidated grandstand now characterise the once-popular stadium, which used to host some exciting top-flight matches in the 1980s and early 1990s.
“We need to revive Arcadia United at all costs. The good news we have is that there is a benefactor, Alexia D’Almeida, a young lady who was born here in Arcadia and has offered to spruce up the facility for us.
“I am also on a drive to identify exciting young talent from the vicinity. That is how I discovered Dzumbunu and Masunga — two very good boys.
“They have individual training programmes because of the Covid-19 regulations. But, I can assure you that these boys will be something else,” said Kandi, a former Zimbabwe Under-20 goalkeepers’ coach. The two players have since been adopted by Arcadia-born businesswoman, D’Almeida, who has pledged to take care of their sporting needs and education “until they finish university”.
“Arcadia United had been in the doldrums since the team’s relegation from the Premiership.
“The club was, however, resuscitated in 2017 and is playing in ZIFA’s Division 2A,” says Kandi, one of the finest keepers of the 1970s era.
Kandi is a former Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) employee, whose nature of work saw him transferred across various towns.
“That is how I also ended up playing for Mutare United, which later became Tanganda, Rio Tinto in Kadoma, and Zimbabwe Saints in Bulawayo.”
Kandi played in an era when Zimbabwe boasted of great goalkeepers such as the legendary Posani Sibanda, who starred for Hwange, and Frank Mkanga, who featured for Ziscosteel.
“Posani Sibanda is one of the best goalkeepers ever produced in Zimbabwe. I also played with Raphael Phiri at Rio Tinto, he was also good; so was Musa Muzanenhamo of Zimbabwe Saints and Mike Mhlanga, who played for Arcadia United.
“Back then players had both talent and determination.
“Nowadays, the word talent is used loosely because there are so many things attached to it. You might have fancy footwork but without discipline and a positive attitude, you will not get anywhere.
“Nowadays we are dealing with youngsters who lack discipline and respect. It’s very rare to find dedicated teenagers like my boys Tinashe Masunga and Tawananyasha Dzumbunu, young boys who do not stop training because there is the coronavirus pandemic.
“Perhaps it is because of information technology. When we used to play, we were sort of original, we honed our skills playing chikweshe (homemade plastic ball), then after that, you would get the feel of the actual football.
“But, these days they play those Play Stations; the player is already calling himself Messi when he is still six or seven years old. When you then try and coach him, it becomes difficult because of this self-praise and ego.”
Kandi is a football coach, actor and musician rolled into one.
“I am mostly into heavy rock music, but I also do Afro-jazz. I have released two albums and some singles.
“Not all of my kids are into football. My second-born child played for some German team when he worked in that country,’’ said Kandi. The Sunday Mail