WHEN one mentions the quality of players that set the football scene alight with their fancy footwork in yesteryear, football pundits quickly mention those from Bulawayo and Harare.
Those players received much attention unlike the players from the smaller urban areas such as Kadoma, Mutare and Gweru.
One of the provinces that stood out was Midlands, it had great teams such as Ziscosteel, Chrome Stars, Bata Power, Lancashire Steel, Shu-Shine and these teams produced gem of players.
One of the yesteryear gems plucked out of that unsung football territory of Midlands was Wonder Chaka. In finding the back of the net he was a hero, earning him the nickname Wonder Boy.
The road to prominence for Chaka started in 1976 when he joined Gweru United juniors at the age of 17.
He reveals that he used to play almost all the attacking positions but failed in defence.
“I was good in attacking positions but lacked in defence and failed to clear the lines,” he says.
He reckons that although he was a good player he was a bench warmer for one season in 1977.
“Gweru United was a good side and to break into the first team was not a stroll in the park as there were many good players, as such I was benched for a season and I had to start from the bench and make a difference by scoring,” he said. Due to his dedication in 1978 he earned a place in the senior team for Gweru United, famously referred to as Pisa Pisa, as a 19-year-old.
“I played my debut match against Highlanders at Ascot Stadium. We won the match and there was no team that came out undefeated because Ascot Stadium was our hunting ground,” he recalls.
The club’s rank and file felt it could not afford his salary which was way above of the rest of the players so the Midlands outfit loaned him to Caps United during the 1979 season.
He stamped his authority, as such his presence was felt at Caps United , he played alongside the late Stanley “Sinyo” Ndunduma, Joel Shambo, Stanford “Stix” Mutizwa and Shakeman “Mr Goals” Tauro. The Harare side was coached by Obadiah Sarupinda and Ashton Nyazika.
“I impressed at Caps and they wanted to sign me but the deal suffered a still birth as my former club (Gweru United) wanted a lot of money,” he said.
How did he conduct his training sessions?
“Since I had secured a job as a clerk at a now disbanded Gweru company I used to practise with Gweru United from Monday to Wednesday then I would travel to Harare. I would practise with Caps on Friday and Saturday then play for them on Sunday,” recalls Chaka. In 1980 he was loaned to Rio Tinto where he stayed until mid-season of that year.
“I was invited by John Rugg who wanted a direct replacement for the right-sided winger Robert Godoka who had moved to Canada. During that time the best wingers in the country were July Sharara, Steven Kwashi Ndunduma and I. I then came back to Gweru United for the 1981 season.”
At Rio Tinto he played alongside Wonder Phiri and Joseph Zulu.
There is something interesting about his contract when he was with Rio Tinto.
“The contract had a clause that disallowed me to play against Gweru United. I do not know maybe the club authorities at Rio Tinto felt I would not put maximum effort,” he says.
With Chaka’s return to his boyhood club Gweru United not many anticipated that he would be a top goal scorer in the country.
“I scored 25 goals that season, I think Shackman was behind me with 23 goals,” Chaka says. His star shone brighter in 1981 and he was picked as one of the Soccer Stars of the Year.
He revealed that in 1982 he scored 27 goals and found the target 24 times the following season.
His goals were not only winning the hearts of many in the Midlands Province, but they propelled Gweru United into a dominant force in the Super League.
It came as no surprise when the then 21-year-old Chaka was picked to be part of the pioneering Zimbabwe national football team at Independence in 1980. He reveals that he played in the national team from 1980 up to 1984.
The 1984 season saw the Pisa Pisa machine reach the second round of the African Cup Winners’ Cup, where they were knocked out by Uganda’s Kampala City Council FC 4-2 on aggregate.
“I had to hang my boots in 1986 and concentrate on my work as a Maintenance Planning officer,” he said.
Chaka went into coaching, assuming the leadership of lower division outfit ZimAlloys. In no time authorities at ZimAlloys catapulted him to director of sports.
“During my tenure I had the privilege of working with Peter Manote and Innocent Chogugudza,” he says.
Chaka said that in yesteryear players the teams were strong in strike force and midfield. The defenders were not skilful, but hard tacklers.
Wonder Chaka was born on 31 July 1958 at Gweru Hospital.
He was born in a family of three and being the only son.
He is married to Judith Chaka, a teacher at Senga Secondary School who teaches Home Economics.
They fellowship at the Dutch Reformed Church where he is an elder.
The couple is blessed with four children namely Sandra (38), Isheunesu (36) a Dean of Students at Midlands State University, Wendy (34) an Environment Management Manager at Orange Free State and Wonder (29) an agronomist.