SIMILARITIES of the two icons stick out like a sore thumb.Both were fresh-faced young talents when they left their African homeland for the United Kingdom, to sign their first professional contracts.
Both had gone against the trend at that time, as young black Africans, arriving in the UK to play in the English Premiership of their respective sporting disciplines, a rare feat back then.
Both had been brought over to England as finds of shrewd scouting, amid excitement over their prodigious talents, to play for Premiership teams that bear the names of the cities of their location.
Both were prolific scorers as well as diminutive, quick-footed and explosive players who in their prime were nearly unplayable.Both captained their national team, and are living legends in the country in their separate sports.
Both turned out for iconic Pretoria-based teams towards the end of their playing days — after lengthy and successful careers elsewhere — with both South African sides wisely seeing the value still left in these ageing stars, when others probably saw spent forces, or yesterday’s men.
Both have older brothers who also represented their country in the same sport, with both siblings tragically dying in car accidents in their post-playing days.
Both are currently on the support staff at two separate sporting institutes in Pretoria, a city that has given them a home, and greatly adores the two former flying stars.
Both are Hall of Fame inductees in their chosen disciplines.Both bear a similar moniker because at the peak of their powers, they dominated in a manner resembling some kind of monarch’s reign, in the eyes of many charmed onlookers, so their fans nicknamed them King something.
Zimbabwean sporting icons Peter Ndlovu and Kennedy Tsimba have probably never met, despite living and working in the same city these days, and are possibly not aware of the uncanny parallels in their lives.
Ndlovu — the first black African player to feature in football’s English Premiership—skippered Zimbabwe in several games and is the country’s most capped player and record goal-scorer.
Tsimba, seven months younger, was the first black person to captain Zimbabwe in rugby. 1997, when Ndlovu left Coventry City with so many endearing memories after six seasons, was the same year a 22-year-old Tsimba was arriving in England to sign for Bath Rugby Club in the English Premiership.
Unlike Ndlovu — who would stay on in the UK to become a record long-serving African footballer on the English professional football circuit—an experienced Tsimba made just five appearances for Bath in a single season, unable to exhibit his well-known natural flair in difficult northern hemisphere weather conditions, before returning to the continent to enjoy an illustrious career with Free State Cheetahs in South Africa.
Birmingham City, Huddersfield Town and Sheffield United were the next destinations for Ndlovu during his UK sojourn and, when opportunities appeared to dwindle in England, Mamelodi Sundowns could not resist importing the wizardry of the Zimbabwe captain to South Africa in 2004 for a record signing-on fee and salary.
Although joining on a free transfer from Sheffield United, Ndlovu’s arrival was then seen as a big coup for South African football, a high-profile signing for a history-making player who was 31 years of age at that time.
In four years, the Zimbabwean striker made 80 appearances and scored 20 goals for the stylish Pretoria outfit, owned by wealthy tycoon Patrice Motsepe.
And then following low-key stints with minor clubs in both South Africa and Zimbabwe in-between retirement, the legendary ex-Warriors skipper has been part of the coaching staff at Mamelodi Sundowns since 2013.
While the Zimbabwean’s job title is team manager, the highly successful Downs head coach Pitso Mosimane has previously spoken of his great admiration for Ndlovu, stating how he regards him more as a trusted assistant and adviser.
Together, the combination has yielded a total of nine trophies and an African Champions League title.The man fondly called King Peter by mainstream media in his home country already has a special place secured in the psyche of Pretoria folk, and they can easily recognise the Zimbabwe Sports Hall of Famer if he walks down the streets of Mamelodi.
Perhaps identified much easier in the more affluent parts of Pretoria is the other great Zimbabwean, Tsimba.
The dazzling flyhalf is best remembered by rugby fans in the Pretoria area as a member of the Blue Bulls squad that won the franchise’s first Super Rugby title, back in 2007, although the ex-Zimbabwe captain was battling injury and featured infrequently in the number 10 shirt behind Springboks Derick Hougaard and Morné Steyn.
But, of course, the name Tsimba had already been etched into South Africa rugby folklore before arriving in Pretoria for an undisclosed fee.
Credited by many in the rugby world for revolutionising the way flyhalves play and control the game, and to some the best number 10 on the planet at one time, Tsimba had secured legendary status at the Cheetahs franchise in Free State.
An attacking flyhalf who wowed the crowds with his graceful running and playmaking skills around the turn of the millennium — also admired for a clever rugby brain — the Zimbabwean became the fastest player in South African rugby history to reach 1 000 points in all domestic competitions.
The King of Bloemfontein, they christened him, on account of how he won the hearts of the rugby-mad inhabitants of Free State’s provincial capital.
But there is probably something about Pretoria and Zimbabwe’s finest sporting talent, bringing into view the striking similarities between Tsimba and his fellow countryman Ndlovu.
These days, World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Tsimba is winding up his duties as director or rugby at St Alban’s College in Pretoria. In his first year in charge, the Zimbabwean guided the school to an unthinkable result, winning 41-13 against the city’s heartbeat and arguably one of the best rugby playing schools in the world, Pretoria Boys High.
Such had never happened before in the history of the two city rivals, and Pretoria Boys High records it as one of the lowest points in its existence.
Early this year, Tsimba was headhunted by the University of Pretoria’s rugby team to become its defence, kicking and skills specialist in the Varsity Cup—hopefully the beginning of a professional coaching journey towards reuniting with the pride of the city, Blue Bulls.
Having turned out for Bulls at Pretoria’s famous Loftus Verseld Stadium — hallowed turf also once graced by compatriot Ndlovu in the colours of Mamelodi Sundowns—Tsimba might also in the near future occupy the same place on the Loftus dugout where the legendary former Warriors captain sits these days alongside Mosimane, directing win after win for Masandawana.