The Sunday News
“I WAS hoisted by the fans from Barbourfields Stadium to Happy Valley after we beat Dundee United from Scotland. They were happy with my performance against a team that had beaten all others in the country. The players were on cloud nine too,” these were the words of Brian Stephen Bell a former Mashonaland United goalkeeper, as he reminisced one great football match he had in the 1960s.
The ever smiling former goalie joined Zimbabwe Saints in 1963. He had been invited to the club by former club official Herbert Ushewokunze and Peter Nemapare.
“They were instrumental in my moving from Bulawayo Rangers to Mashonaland United who later changed to Zimbabwe Saints. I had a great time at the club,” he said.
European clubs used to visit the country for a series of friendly matches with local clubs while preparing for their season. Bell in his time featured in matches Saints played against Dundee and Kilmanorck and Glasgow Rangers.
“It is the two matches against Dundee and Kilmanorck that I will never forget. My game was at its peak. We came across good opposition that had stopped all before it in the country but when they came against Mashonaland United, they met their match.
“We were a great side that played as a unit and boasted of some very talented players like Gibson Homela, the late William Sibanda, Aleck Mwanza and Mdara Sando. I was actually privileged to have played for such a team for a number of years,” said Smiley as he is affectionately known by his peers and Coloured Community in Bulawayo.
At a time when Harare teams dominated the scene and national team, Bell speaks highly of Mangula and their driving force the Chieza brothers.
“No doubt the Chieza brothers were the driving force behind Mangula. They played some breathtaking football and I enjoyed watching them and facing them in matches. It is them and the Hendricks and Nxumalo brothers who set the stage among footballing families of note in the country.
“Bigboy, Tebby and Wilfred Hendricks all played for Arcadia United, a team that at one stage dominated the Chibuku Trophy and won the Castle Cup in the 1960s, while Nxumalos were with St Paul’s and Sables.
“Football back then was exciting. We played with passion for the fans and club badges. Money was not the motivating factor, we liked the game, it had that great feel good after playing, if after the match we had a drink that was cool with us,” said Bell.
But his decision to play for Mashonaland United saw him being considered an outcast in his Barham Green neighbourhood. Fans would bay for his blood in matches between his new club and his boyhood team Bulawayo Rangers who had Glamis Stadium at the Bulawayo Agricultural Showgrounds as their home.
“Traitor! They would shout at me. They could not phantom the fact that I had left a team dominated mainly by Coloureds to turn out for an all Black side. At Mashonaland United I was well received. The colour of my skin meant nothing as they took me as one of them and guys like Homela and Sibanda were good company both on and off the field,” he said.
He regrets the fact that Zimbabwe Saints have paled out of the football radar despite making a huge impact on Zimbabwe and Southern Africa football.
Bell was so good that he even had a call up into a national team that played Rhodesia in the build up to the one-off 1970 World Cup qualifying match against Australia in Maputo in 1969. The national coach was Danny Maclenan who identified the Select X1.
“It was a proud moment for me to be considered for a strong Select X1 that played the Rhodesia World Cup team. I was in between the sticks and we beat them. The squad was dominated by Harare based players. Gibson Homela may have been the only Bulawayo lad as the Nxumalos were playing for Harare based Sables.
“The players who made up Select X1 included Hugh Kinnard, Boet Van Ays, Chubby Bent, we were no pushovers, we were just as good as those in the national team and we beat them to show that we deserved caps,” said Bell.
Bell got married in 1970 and decided to quit football. By then he was already working for the Rhodesia Railways.
He would years later try to revive his career in Hwange after being posted to Matabeleland North for the compulsory “climatic assignment” within the railway grades.
“Hey, when I got to Hwange who were under Dave Lawler I found a very strong side that had Posani Sibanda, the best goalkeeper of that time nationally as first choice. The club had great players like Amos and Daniel Rendo, Chutika Tembo, Rodrick Simwanza and Barry Daka.
It was hard for me working for Rhodesia Railways to get time off that coincided with training times for Wankie so I then decided to call it quits in the game and concentrate on my job,” said Bell who had a stint in the army under the compulsory call-up.
After retiring Bell has kept a distance from the game though at some stage he would volunteer his time at Barham Green Primary School.
But how did it all start for Brian Stephen Bell in football?
Smiley was born in Bulawayo on 23 September 1946.
He went to Barham Green Primary School where his school team was a dominant force beating others like Gifford, Milton (Junior) Hamilton, Mckeurtan and Tait House near Mzilikazi Barracks.
Benjie Brandt, Freddie Bent, Bruce Mawa and Winston Feldman, who starred for Rangers, Eastlands and City Pirates are some of the players he had in his school team.
“We dominated primary schools football. We won all our matches and were a feared lot with these guys and I am happy that they went on to play for big city clubs,” said Bell whose favourite team these days is Chicken Inn.
From Barham Green he moved to nearby by Founders High School. In his four years there he faced good competition from Embakwe, Morgan High School where the Hendricks brothers were pupils with the likes of Jimmy Finch, Henry Noble, Brian Harry the former Zifa secretary-general and George Rollo (the 1978 Soccer Star of the Year).
In his youth he never was short of being surrounded by good players.
Feldman, Brandt, Clarence Solomons, Jack de Wit, Bob Evans, John Weber, Bent and Mawa were among his Founders teammates and all went on to star for Rangers and other big clubs of that era.
He recalls fierce competition from Embakwe’s Desmond Pullen, Judge Vary Greenland and Raymond Naidoo.
Bell was inspired by Stalins coach John Johnie who coached another Coloureds only side.
But it was the heroics of none other than the legendary John Chipukula Malalapipe Walker Phiri that grew his interest in goal. He was a respected goalkeeper for Northern Rhodesia and City Pirates whose penalty saves and penalty area command was second to none.
Bell regards Moses Madalaboy Moyo as the best player he ever watched while Topsy Robertson is the striker he feared most.
He speaks highly of the strikers of that time.
“During those days, guys could pack ferocious shots, so hard that even if you caught the ball, you would cross the line with it. Bobby Chlamers and Billy Sharman were among strikers whose shots were something else,” said Bell.
He says he will encourage children from his community to return to mainstream football.
Bell believes there are so many Henry Mckops, Mawas and Feldmans out there waiting to be polished.