The Sunday News
Yesteryear, greats with Lovemore Dube
GROWING up as a footballer’s son, Leonard Chunda nicknamed Wagga by his Zimbabwe Saints fans in the early 1990s, did not have to look far for inspiration.
His father, Christopher was a utility player who starred for Black Chiefs and Eastlands while his uncle Charles, a long serving administrator with the Bulawayo Amateur Football League also played for a number of lower division clubs.
Wagga was part of the Bulawayo Select that took part in the 1990 tour of Aberdeen and Wales where Peter Ndlovu was identified by Coventry City.
A brilliant midfielder who would later play as right back at Zimbabwe Saints, Leonard grew up around a very talented crop of junior players in Bulawayo.
To have been among stars like Benjamin Konjera, Peter Ndlovu, Gift Lunga, Musawenkosi Masango, Simba Nyakudziwanza, Abedi Mugadza, Makheyi Nyathi, Methembe Ndlovu, Chris Kahwema and Lovemore Ncube speaks volumes of the great footballer he was born to be.
Small in stature with the heart of a lion, Leonard was a delight to watch in midfield as he had skill and big occasion temperament.
Outstanding too he was as a false right back when Zimbabwe Saints improvised in a mobile team teeming with youthful stars in the early 1990s as the old guard of Kenneth Mathe, Josphat Humbasha, Misheck Sibanda and Ephraim Chawanda began to retire or moved elsewhere.
Coaches were left with no option but to dig into their junior reserves, a successful conveyor of talent since the 1960s.
Leonard was born on 17 August 1972 in Sizinda, Bulawayo and would attend elementary school at Maphisa Primary School before the family moved to Mpopoma.
He continued with his primary school education at Mpumelelo before he was on the road again to Mckeurtain Primary School in the Bulawayo Central Business District.
He recalls playing against Nkosana Gumbo at primary school. The two would later become close buddies and teammates at Zimbabwe Saints.
At secondary school he says he faced a number of very good players like Peter Ndlovu, Benjamin Konjera and Howard ‘Romario’ Mago whom he described as a rare talent.
Mago played for Zimbabwe Saints and Delma Lupepe’s AmaZulu FC.
He started off his organised football journey at Merlin Husky under Themba Tshuma.
With Merlin Husky going bust in the mid 1980s, Leonard joined Zimbabwe Saints then under the tutelage of the legendary Jani Gwede and Lazarus Zimangi.
“I was promoted to the Zimbabwe first team in 1990 with the likes of Lloyd Jowa, Nkosana Gumbo and Henry Ndlovu.
The same year I went to Scotland and Wales as part of a Bulawayo Select which was made up of Highlanders and Zimbabwe Saints juniors and some of the players in the team were Peter Ndlovu, Benjamin Konjera and Chris Kawema,” said Leonard a former Northlea High School pupil.
Touring Europe as a teenager, Leonard describes that as a chance of a lifetime.
“Well it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be selected to the last 18 players to Aberdeen and Wales out of almost 60 players that time.
I was playing for the Zimbabwe Saints Under-18s.
To be selected among stars like Peter, Benjy, Makheyi, Chris Kahwema, Jowa, Methembe and Lovemore Ncube who were already more established with reserve and first teams was a dream come true for me,” he said from his Johannesburg base on Thursday.
The team fared well in Aberdeen and got an all expenses paid for trip to extend their stay in Europe by playing at the Ian Rush Junior Football Festival.
This is where if Coventry City were doubting Thomases about Peter Ndlovu’s talent, he won their confidence with top drawer performances revolving on teamwork, individual skill as his sublime performances saw the Bulawayo Select go far in the tournament.
His talents could not escape talent spotter Wieslaw Grawboski who featured him twice in the Zimbabwe Under-23 team.
He was in the same team with the likes of Methembe, Alois Bunjira, Elast Kapowezha Lungu, Francis Jeyman, Gift Muzadzi and Thabani Moyo.
He speaks well of his junior development coaches Tshuma, Gwede and Zimangi.
Of Gibson Homela he says he was a good identifier of talent who had the nerve to play junior players and feature them where at times they never thought they would play.
“I was a midfielder before being converted to a false right back by Gibson Homela,” said Leonard, who in that converted role was a delight to watch as he paced down the line with the ball leaving many defenders sprawling on the ground with some intelligent paces and dribbles as he looked up for strikers like Agent Sawu to pounce.
He describes Rangers, Olympics and Zimbabwe Saints legend Philemon Dangarembwa and Kaizer Chiefs hero Ebson Sugar Muguyo as two figures who were influential in his senior football career.
Dangarembwa and Muguyo were members of the great league and cup winning side of the 1970s which featured Lucky Rufani, Homela, Emmanuel Sibanda, Stephen Chuma, William Sibanda, Musa Muzanenhamo, Simon Supiya, Chita Antonio, Andrew Kadengu, Isaac Banda, Steve Kwashi and Max ‘Shaluza’ Tshuma.
“Ebson Muguyo and Philemon Dangarembwa were an inspiration to my career.
They believed in my talent despite my height which other coaches felt was a hindrance to my progression,” said Leonard.
His Super League derby was against Highlanders soon after their return from Scotland.
The match was an entertaining derby that ended in a nil- all stalemate.
Years later he would score his first goal at Ascot Stadium in a match against Tongogara.
“Peter Ndlovu had just come from Coventry.
He brought a pair of Adidas boots. He challenged me to score in Gweru.
He had said if I fail to score he would take them back. Imagine I scored the only goal of the match.
We beat Tongogara 1-0,” said Leonard who would later on aid his team with a number of assists.
His elder brother Francis one of the most talented juniors of the late 1980s played for Railstars.
His favourite local player was his teammate Ronald Sibanda, a creative genius who played for Dynamos and Zimbabwe Saints.
Leonard whose favourite dish is rice and turkey was impressed by Arsenal forward Dennis Bergkamp and is a lifelong supporter of Gunners.
He believes the standard of the game in Zimbabwe has gone down.
“The standard of the game now has declined compared to the 1980s.
Before you enjoyed watching possessional football with creativity on the field, nowadays there is no entertainment value at all,” said the single father of two children.
He visits Zimbabwe occasionally and hangs around with Nkosana Gumbo and other former teammates.
Turning to the nickname Wagga, he said he was given by a friend after the Kaizer Chiefs legendary powerful forward Leonard ‘Wagga Wagga’ Likhobe.