“Give the ball to Dr Melusi, he dribble, dribble, gives to Tymon Mabaleka he dribble too and then he gives to Dididi (Daniel Ncube) to score,” this used to be the scenario in the Eastlands FC dressing room in the 1970-1972 era.
The words are attributed to club coach Luirgi Jiji who was the club coach. He had belief in the trio delivering. And yes, at times it went according to that script for one of the two teams from Matabeleland that played in the Rhodesia National Football League Eastlands.
Mashonaland United (Zimbabwe Saints) and Wankie (Hwange) were the other two. Back then the region’s most famous and most successful club (Highlanders) was languishing in the lower rungs of the local game with one side in Division Two and Matabele High City retaining the club’s franchise in the Bulawayo African Football Association.
Melusi Sibanda nicknamed Doctor was a menace on the right-wing. A conventional winger who defenders had a torrid time keeping at bay. He would on his own change tactics to outwit defenders and change the complexion of the game.
Sadly, he played at the wrong time or was with the wrong teams. A number of times he was called up to the national team under Danny Maclenan only to play second fiddle to the equally mesmerising right wing duo of Titus Mugodi and Robert Godoka.
“I was called up to the national team on a number of times by Danny Maclenan and I would always be beaten by Godoka and Mugodi. They were very good right wingers. At that time too I was hot, I was among the best in the land,” said Doctor.
Born in Filabusi on 15 September 1949, Sibanda did not have it easy moving from one school to the other. His maternal family took him to Collen Bawn for his Sub B and Standard One education.
Soon he was on the road to St Patrick’s in Makokoba, Bulawayo where football in the street and on patches with turf youngsters played on. There were youth clubs like Thabiso also to while away time at.
His parents got a house in Tshabalala forcing him to leave St Patrick’s with Msitheli his next destination for his primary education.
He would complete his Standard 5 and 6 at Masuku Primary School.
Mpopoma, a renowned centre for high school education back then was his next destination in 1964. At that school were footballers like Tivington Ncube, Nivathi Songo and Nehemiah Dube.
“In my first year at the school there was a national strike and we stopped going to school. I continued in 1965, staying for another three years,” said Doctor.
His name rates among the most mentioned of the 1970s era in both RNFL and the shortlived South Zone Soccer League started by Silas Ndlovu and Highlanders.
His first organised league team was Central Africa United in 1965.
It was a star-studded outfit with Noah Banda who played for Rex and Eastlands and Lazarus Mpofu among those he remembers, 56 years later.
In 1966 Rhodesia Railways started its own Rhodesia African Football Association.
“There was debate on the name. A friend suggested Imperial Wizards and I came up with Railstars, a name drawn from trucks that the railways had just bought. I played in that league for two years,” said Sibanda.
The dribbling ace’s talents could not be ignored any further with Bulawayo Wanderers in the RFNL First Division his next destination at the age of 18.
“At Wanderers I found players like Ronny Maseko, Mapleni Nyathi, Jani Nyoni, Robson Nyoni, Alton Mpofu and Elias S’gebenga. They were a good team.
“They played in the Southern Region Division One with clubs like Mashonaland United, Eastlands, Wankie, Bulawayo Callies, Bulawayo Sables and Bulawayo Rovers whose defence was marshalled by Boet Van Ays who later became a bigger player at Highlanders FC,” said Sibanda.
In 1969 with his stock rising he was visited by Eastlands officials who wanted him to cross the floor.
“They had Job Kadengu, later Dynamos chairman, Herbert Nyashanu, Nyaguze, Chikerema and Jimmy Madondo all big business people in Bulawayo. They said with the advent of the Super League in 1970 they were keen on my services for their project. To soften me and my mother, they brought groceries and a deal was sealed,” he added.
On his first day he found the Eastlands Under-18s training and he did not waste time in recommending that Tymon who would rise to probably Bosso’s player of the next decade be promoted to the first team. “I watched him, he was a gem, he had pace, ball control, could dribble, maintain his balance and shoot very well. He was being coached by a Magumise and Mafoti and looked ripe to play with seniors. He joined the first team and we played together up to the end of 1972 when he moved to Highlanders and I moved to Rex.
“We became friends and even worked together for some furniture company. We were bought bicycles to trace those that were defaulting in their payments. This brought us even together on and off the field,” said Sibanda of his legendary former teammate.
Sibanda said the 1970 Super League was started on invitation with Wankie, Zimbabwe Saints and his Eastlands on board.
He remembers another legend joining the side. Daniel Dididi Ncube was identified. Highlanders had just bought him boots for the on-coming season and Eastlands paid back the 37 Pounds Bosso had spent.
Sibanda was guaranteed the right wing spot at the club with Mabaleka occupying the old Number 8 role, with Dididi (9), Elijah ‘Tsholotsho’ Murape (10) and the legendary hard shooter Matthew ‘303’ Marume on the left wing. Those days teams employed a 4-2-4 or 4-3-3 with wing play expected to carry the day with creativity and eject fans at Barbourfields, Ross Camp, White City, Sizinda and Matshobana off their seats while creating scoring chances.
He still remembers the regular starting 11 of his time. In between the goalposts was William Chirwa poached from Gaths Mine by Mashonaland United’s Herbert Ushewokunze. But with Eddie Frano and another dependable goalie at Saints unshakable, Gorilla as Chirwa would later be christened for his spectacular saves and great dives, he was offered to Eastlands.
Sibanda says the Super League was very competitive with clubs like Arcadia, Dynamos, Mashonaland United and Mhangura.
He speaks highly of the Mhangura side and the Chieza brothers citing Isaac as the best leftback he ever faced.
At 23 he realised that football needed back up. It was not paying so the best was to play for a team which offered employment as well.
“Rex came by and offered me a job and I took it up and was made assistant coach. I needed security of a job,” said Sibanda.
He teamed up with Harry Chitsa among the best players of the South Zone Soccer League era, Kenny Masunda, Nephas Ngwenya, Edward Siyawadura and Noah Banda.
His best achievement with Rex in Division 2 when they went all the way to a cup final with Dynamos fired by George Shaya, Ernest Kamba and David George and losing 2-1.
“That was a great run by our side and Dynamos were a very good side playing with great cohesion and vibe. We had a good tactician in Paul Kruger. The following day after the final the headlines in Chronicle were ‘ Rex Nearly The Kings’,” he said.
At the end of 1976 the Cold Storage Company management said they could not continue sponsoring the team.
“With Highlanders pulling out of RFNL at the end of 1976, I was contacted by Silas Ndlovu if I could form a team. I got together with guys like Chitsa and Alfred Ngedla Phiri to form Black Chiefs with other players like Johnson Mpala, Shadreck Makhulumbo and Francis Sikhosana.
“When the South Zone collapsed in 1979 to usher in the National Professional Soccer League, the Black Chiefs franchise was bought by Supersonic,’’ said the football Doctor.
At the peak of his career Sibanda recalls Dynamos’ Morrison Sifelani buying him a ticket to try his luck at Dynamos.
He said he was comfortable with the teams he played for and was never keen on a move to the crowd pullers Highlanders and Zimbabwe Saints. He retired in 1979 and took coaching badges run by Peter Nyama and Mick Poole.
At one stage was coach of Red Seal with players like the late Joshua Mhizha, Dave Phiri who played for Highlanders and Martin Ndlovu.
He spent 27 years at CSC and another nine at Denver Abbattoir for a total of 36 years in the beef industry.
Retired and now a communal farmer in Dandanda, Sibanda coaches the local side. He believes there is so much talent to be tapped from rural areas, coaches must visit to identify.
Sibanda believes the era of dribblers like Majuta Mpofu, Boy Ndlovu, Mark Abrahams and Tito Paketh was among the best after Cobras’ Jambok and Dusty King had set the pace in the 1950s and 1960s.
He said Robson Nyoni whom he found at Bulawayo Wanderers set the torch alight for generations of players at the club who in the 1980s had Tanny Banda, Fracis Paketh, Majuta and Boy lighting up stadia with fancy footwork.
Former Bulawayo Rockets defender Madodana ‘Horsepower’ Tshabangu described Dr Melusi Sibanda as a gem.
“To cut it short, he was a nightmare for defenders, he could dribble, cross, pass and shoot. If he had played in these times, I have no doubt he would have played abroad,” said
Sibanda is married with eight children and six grandchildren. The Sunday News