By Lovemore Dube
Growing up in a town where entertainment was all about Bruce Lee, Wankie FC and football in the 1970s, Stanley Nkomo did not stray beyond expectation.
The other escape routes available to kill time would have been athletics or drinking the Wankie Colliery opaque brew in Tigele at Number One Beerhall in Lwendulu Village.
By the time Nkomo finished his Grade Seven, he was already a kind of local hero turning out for Rufaro Rovers’ second team in 1981.
While at primary school he revelled in the rivalry between his school Lwendulu and St Ignatius. It was the kind of competition that had even adults making time to watch as it dated to almost a decade-and-a-half before.
Many great players had come through the two schools to don the Wankie FC colours. Set in one suburb, St Ignatius was the more prestigious of the two academic-wise with poor performers from Grade 5 onwards taken to Lwendulu at one stage. So the adversity was real.
“St Ignatius had the likes of Gosa Kasongola and Venancio Ncube household names in the game in Hwange, Madumabisa had Thembani Dlamini, Ndlovu, Mebelo Njekwa, London Khumalo, Isaac Tshuma and Mindo Nyoni.
Other schools we played against were St George’s Makwika and Mabinga. The rivalry between Lwendulu and St Ignatius inspired the players and had something special for the fans,” said Nkomo.
His Lwendulu side boasted of Fidelis Sakala, son of former Hwange legendary sprinter and footballer James Mwape Sakala who also coached the side and Arthur Nyadete.
He described the competition as high among the schools with boys playing from as early as Grade Three for their school junior teams if good enough with seniors Grade 6s and 7s. Having shone his mettle at primary school, Nkomo arrived at John Tallach as a player a lot was expected from. So many guys he grew up with were regulars at Inyathi, Gloag, David Livingstone and John Tallach.
His school team which had Mandla Balanda, David Mpala, Griffin Tshuma, Dumisani Ndlovu, Evans Sikhosana, Zakhele Mlotshwa and Thabani Maphosa, was quite strong.
It gave schools like Inyathi who had Nkululeko Dlamini and Thoko Sithole, who would star for Highlanders, a torrid time.
“We used to top among schools in the district. I remember beating Gloag and their goalkeeper James Phiri winning the man of the match award. Phiri who is now working for ZPC Hwange was a good goalkeeper who could have gone far was he serious with the game,” said Nkomo.
Outstanding at secondary school he was. Brilliant in the local league and was among the founding players of the legendary Lwendulu outfit Iwisa FC formed by multi-award winning athlete Zephania Ncube in 1982 and other residents with Nkomo, Juma Phiri, Lovemore Phiri, Jive Ndlovu, Zephania Chitonje, Paul Chuma and Patrick Phiri.
He had moved to Marathon, another to Wankie Amateur Football Association side when he crossed the floor to Iwisa.
His big break came in 1984 during the school holidays when Paul Moyo threw him into the mix. It was a Division One clash with a Bulawayo side and Nkomo would play for the Wankie FC side every holiday until the team changed its name to Hwange years later.
By the time he finished his O-levels in 1985, Nkomo was already established in the side. A versatile player, good ball control, vision and a stinging shot, Nkomo could play rightback, central midfield and be a forward if need arose.
He played with the likes of Venancio, Njekwa and Labani Ngoma who coach Moyo infused with aging veterans David Khumalo, Isaac Phiri, Lazarus Mwambopo and Skeva Phiri.
He admits to have borrowed a leaf from national team player Rodrick Simwanza who played for Wankie FC and Highlanders. He was a workaholic on the field who could play as a midfielder and striker. Simwanza gave the coach and his teammates many options.
Nkomo was that kind of a player. So much was expected of him though, his career to many who saw him emerge never reached the dizzy heights he promised at infancy.
Fans used to call him Sinyo after the great Caps Rovers/United and Black Rhinos great Stanley “Sinyo” Ndundum. Furtively he would effortlessly taken on the opposition, subtracting the numbers in attack.
Aged seven and 10 when Wankie FC won the Castle Cup in 1970 and 1973 respectively, Nkomo says a majority of those generations inspired him to be the good football player he got to be.
Nkomo who became a stalwart with the side even in its early days as Hwange FC, rubbed shoulders with Kakoma Kayonga, Chris Nyoni, Dick Banda, Ben Soko, Roger Sibanda, Lowani Nyathi, Knight Mathe, Chris Piningo, Sherperd Muradzikwa, Adam Hungwe and Godfrey Tamirepi.
Willard Khumalo, Stix M’tizwa and Joel Shambo were his toughest opponents.
“You had to be at your best to challenge these, I used to feature with Knight, Chris Piningu and upfront Roger Sibanda, Lowani Nyathi and Antony Sibanda. Khumalo, Stix and Shambo were complete footballers. Even chosen in same team, you would offer to play second fiddle to them,” said Nkomo.
Nkomo’s best game was a cup match against Highlanders and he scored a brace against Musa Masango in a star studded side with Alexander Maseko, Madinda Ndlovu, Adam Ndlovu, Cleopas Dlodlo and Mercedes Sibanda.
Hwange won 2-1 to knock Bosso out of the Zifa Cup but the coalminers met their match in the next round against Caps. His worst was the 7-0 drubbing by Dynamos.
“We had running tummies on our way, we were weak and we were hammered by Dynamos. We had won first leg of the cup 1-0 but floodgates opened up,” said Nkomo, who grew up supporting Caps a side that hit the ground running with the 1979 Chibuku Trophy win.
Nkomo said the local league, Wafa provided talent for both Wankie and Hwange FC.
“There were development structures in Hwange which allowed local talent to flourish. The Wafa league was very competitive and players as they grew up wanted to play for teams in that league,” said the former midfielder/cum striker who was forced into retirement at the age of 28 in 1991 following an injury.
The intensity of the local league was so valued that people would even walk to Makwika over 10km risking being maimed by wild animals to watch the Number 3 derby between Brazil and Kabwe Warriors.
Similarly when the two teams went to play Rufaro Rovers or Black Aces at Lwendulu, matches were before big crowds. The demise of the local league has cost Hwange great talent as a lot of boys are being lost to social ills.
Nkomo strongly believes reviving Wafa could be a boon for Hwange football as the Matabeleland North Zifa Division Two League is too expensive for most communities hence the choice to play social soccer by many.
Football remains very popular in the town but less numbers are playing the game than before when the Colliery ran two divisions providing sponsorship that included transport as part of its corporate social responsibility.
Nkomo (58) is married with three children and works for the Colliery as a senior accounts clerk. He still watches his Chipangano. The Sunday News