FT African Legends Series: Peter Ndlovu [Zimbabwe]

Peter Ndlovu became the first black African players to play in the English Premier League in Coventry City but did even more for his people as captained the nation to its first ever African Cup of Nations appearance in 2004 most importantly taught them to believe.

As time elapses and the future arrives every single day, memories fade even more so when the now presents pleasantries on a silver platter. We were there when the Egyptian returned, saw and conquered the 2017/18 English Premier League season, breaking all sorts of records and his shooting boots immortalized in an English Museum. Mohamed Salah’s story is a like puzzle piece that fits perfectly into the large narrative painted by African footballers of times past respective of whether the stories were told or not. As we celebrate those who raise their nations’ flag up high whenever they step onto any football pitch on this earth, we look back and respond to the fading memories, rehashing names of those, whose echoes never die out. Let us launch the party, zooming into the Southern African nation of Zimbabwe and reminisce the career of the Peter Ndlovu.

To many Zimbabweans, he is a man that needs no introduction. Born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe and having roots in one of the most remote areas in the country, Binga - At just 19 years of age, he began writing the story of Africa and African football in one the most competitive leagues in the world. In August 1992, Ndlovu became the first black African player to play football in the English Premier League in Coventry City colors after being recruited from the Bulawayo Club, Highlanders. He quickly became a fan favorite, scoring goals in most important matches, including the first hatrick at Anfield by an away player in over 30 years. He almost became the most expensive player in to be signed by an English club after reports surfaced that Arsenal were ready to part ways with £4m to secure his services in the 1993/94 EPL season. Peter became known as “Nuddy” or “The Bulawayo Bullet” by Coventry City fans before he joined Birmingham City, Huddersfield Town and eventually capping off his English career at Sheffield United in 2004. In total, he made 423 appearances for all the English clubs, scoring 91 goals from 1991-2004. He finished his club career at South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns.

Back home, in Zimbabwe - his impact was crazier. He was capped a hundred times and scored 38 goals but did more than just that. Ndlovu was known as “Nsukuzonke” which described his ability to turn on the style whenever he so desired. In 2004, He captained the country to her first ever AFCON appearance in Tunisia. His blistering performance against Eritrean in the match that sealed the qualification is still treasured by the steward of my brain’s memory center. Nsukuzonke did what he knew best, rounding all Eritrean internationals from the center arc and finding the back of the National Sports Stadium’s saggy blue nets - sending chills down almost every Zimbabwean’s spine. Football lovers and non-football lovers alike. New heights had been reached by the country as a result of one man championing all of that, bodies became numb and the reality of the idea that a people can achieve anything if they believe, became a popular reflection. It was kind of what Salah is doing to Egyptians, giving them goosebumps every time he scores a goal. The numbness was soon dissolved as bodies became projectiles, ululating, whistling, dancing and singing through the night a melody with the chiShona words; “Mo faya, mo faya, mai mwana! Ndikuvaviwa, Ndikwenyeiwo mai mwana!” Meaning, “more fire, more fire, mother of my child. I feel itchy, please scratch me.” Perfectly coining the status quo at the time.

That and many other inexpressible feelings and possibilities Ndlovu opened to the Zimbabwean people as a whole, is his legacy. Not too far ago, in an interview with BBC Africa News, Peter talked about his experience in the English leagues and alluded that his national team colors was what he wore with the greatest pride. He infamously said that he would only part ways with his national team shirt only if he were to give it to the then President of the country, Robert Mugabe.

At 45 years of age, Peter Ndlovu is currently serving as the agent of the Zimbabwean football starlet, Khama Billiat.