A cricket talent that paved way for football excellence
Tadious Manyepo Sports Reporter
IT’S Kelvin Madzongwe’s proudest moment.
Everything is happening fast.
There is no time for disruptive reflections.
He is walking down the tunnel at the Kouekong Stadium alongside Zimbabwe’s crème de la crème as the Warriors open their African Cup of Nations football campaign against Senegal.
He needs total concentration in those hot-humid Cameroon conditions in January last year.
Life has a way of rewarding honesty, maybe.
This is a boy who had a good chance to disregard the law and could have stayed put in the United States upon the expiry of his study visa after completing his Public Relations Degree at Boston University.
But he elected to pursue a dream. And a trip to the AFCON finals following yet another sweet season with FC Platinum is the reward. A starting berth in a double-anchor role alongside Kundai Benyu against The Lions of Teranga is the bonus.
And what a moment for the gangly player. He is one of the only two local-based players starting the match together with FC Platinum teammate and goalkeeper Petros Mhari.
A gallant all-round show follows and with the big digital system clocking 90 minutes, he couldn’t yearn for anything better. But the worst was on its way.
He would become the villain of a 1-0 defeat after conceding the decisive penalty right at the death.
It’s a “stain” that he will be associated with for as long as the nation remembers that match. He issued a passionate apology and the nation ought to forgive him.
After all, he had thwarted the Senegalese threat powered by their talisman Sadio Mane for most of the game.
He was so down after that match he hardly talked to anyone in the bus as the team made its 130km journey back to their base from the Cameroonian western region capital of Bafoussam.
At that point, it crossed his mind that, probably he would have chosen to follow his first love.
While growing up in Bulawayo, Madzongwe was conflicted.
And probably confused.
Cricket and football are closer to his heart. But he knows which side of his bread is buttered.
He loves the former.
He is a gifted all-rounder. Exceptional with the bat and a beast with the ball.
He even made the Bulawayo Junior Provincial Select team.
The path to greatness in the gentlemen’s game seems to have been laid well.
He just has to put in the work.
But he doesn’t come from a well-up family. He is a ghetto boy and odds are never pointing to a success story in cricket.
“I wasn’t much into football growing up. I was fascinated by cricket,” Madzongwe stresses.
“I was so good in this game that I was part of the Bulawayo Provincial Select squad as an all-rounder. I had the talent but it needed to be developed for me to stand a chance of making it big in the game.
“But being from the ghetto, I realised that the odds to succeed were slim because of the high cost of cricket equipment.”
Begrudgingly, he decided to join ghetto fellows in football.
Until then, he was an average player since he was throwing much of his attention and focus to cricket. He discovers his flaws.
And seeks to perfect them.
Before long, he breaks into the school team. He is not a big star.
But his potential is beyond doubt.
Highlanders’ Juniors’ coach Clemence Chimimba bumps into a primary schools football tournament.
And he takes notice.
Madzongwe’s first page in his football story goes for print.
With the backing of a supportive family, Madzongwe is recruited into the Highlanders junior structures aged just 12.
“After settling for football, I was then scouted by Highlanders in 2002 when I was 12 and I credit them for my development into the player and person that I am today,” said Madzongwe.
But his problems were not over.
Still, his parents couldn’t afford to buy him the requisite equipment including football boots.
“Obviously the biggest challenge was economic. My parents didn’t earn enough to spend on football boots and other requirements.
“We were a bit lucky during those days because we were allowed to play barefoot.
“On other days, you could borrow a pair of football boots from a generous somebody, those things… That’s how most of us survived the challenges.”
Chimimba, who first identified Madzongwe at Masotsha Primary School, said focus and his willingness to learn made him stand out from the rest.
“I was coaching the Highlanders development side and in the early 2000s I was given a task to scout for talented youngsters.
“I used to move around wherever there were football matches being played, especially in schools.
“So it happened that we visited Masotsha Primary School where Madzongwe was learning.
“We selected three players but Madzongwe was the most serious of them all.
“He was playing right-wing,” said Chimimba.
“I left Highlanders to coach a First Division team in Botswana called Stonebreakers and when I came back, I joined Sparrows in Division 2.
“Madzongwe also joined that team together with the likes of Timothy January and Welcome Ndiweni.
“Madzongwe was so good he was drafted into the Njube Sundowns side in the Premier Soccer League.”
It was around that time that Madzongwe got a scholarship to study at Boston University in the United States where he majored in Public Relations.
He retraced his footsteps back home upon the expiry of his visa and he joined Bulawayo City before moving to rivals Bulawayo Chiefs.
He would join FC Platinum where he won two Castle Lager Premier Soccer League titles and as many Castle Lager Super Cup championships.
He also won the Chibuku Super Cup in 2021 before he retained the same trophy after re-joining Bulawayo Chiefs last year.
But his highest point was being able to represent the nation during the African Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon last year.
“The most memorable achievement in my career is obviously when I represented the nation at AFCON in Cameroon.
“I never thought for once that I would reach that far with football. I had my doubts and limitations to what I can really do but being chosen to wear the (senior national team) jersey was a really proud moment for me,” said Madzongwe.
While that moment will be etched in his mind for a long time or probably forever for good reasons, he will also remember it for bad reasons too.
“That costly mistake at AFCON against Senegal remains my lowest point in my career. If there is anything that torments my life and tears into my soul, it’s that very moment. It haunts me and it’s a terrible thing to be known for the wrong reasons.
“But it’s the stain that I’ve to live with because I chose to play the game and I knew the pressure that came with it.”
The reserved midfielder, who is also an art fanatic so much that he usually attends galleries and museums, has joined CAPS United where he has made it clear he wants to help the Green Machine achieve as much as they deserve as a big club.