The Sunday News
Until 2017, football was a sport he barely followed despite being a fanatic of South Africa’s glamour side, Kaizer Chiefs. And at some point, he even sponsored a social soccer club in Johannesburg called Afrocombs named after Afrocombs College, a family business.
Popularly known in his Plumtree community as “Isirata”, he is a 68-year-old Plumtree-based businessman with only one thing on his mind: a seat at football’s high table — the Premiership.
Mkhulunyelwa Nkomo, the founder and co-president of Zifa Southern Region Division One side, Mainline Football Club spoke to the Sunday
News revealing how he was convinced to get involved with football and where he sees the club in a few years.
Mainline Football Club has been availed land to build a stadium by the Plumtree municipality. Nkomo said the local council has approved club’s application for land and was just waiting on council to peg the site after which construction work will commence. He said they were been given land near a local dam which will be an advantage to the club during construction work and when it becomes ready for use.
This is his story: I have never particularly been fanatic about football although I played ibhola lama phepha (homemade paper footballs) like all young boys did but more so to fit in with my peers than out of any real passion for the game itself. Growing up, my love for football was mainly pedestrian, it was no more than a mere attempt at fulfilling my “manly” obligation to the sport!
When I was younger I lived in South Africa during which time I formed a social soccer team called Afrocombs Football Club in 1988.
Afrocombs is a College in Johannesburg that belongs to my family, having been established by my elder brother in the 70s. I ran the club for about a year playing against other social soccer clubs from in and around Johannesburg. However, I decided to leave Jo’burg and move back to Zimbabwe to start my business after which the team folded.
Between 1988 and 2017, all I did was support my Kaizer Chiefs on TV having miraculously survived the Ellis Park Stadium incident in the 80s that left scores of people either dead or injured. I had attended that particular match and was in the stadium until maybe 15 minutes from full-time. My instinct told me that there could be violence and I decided to leave and go home. So I left the stadium, got on my motor cycle and by the time the violent scenes erupted, I was at home watching it all unfold on TV. And from that moment, I never set foot near a football stadium again!
That is until 2017 when my club’s assistant coach and executive committee member, Shelton Gumede approached me to help with establishing a football club for the Plumtree community. Gumede came to me maybe three or four times before I agreed to do this.
I wasn’t too keen on getting involved in football for a variety of reasons, key among them being the inhibitive costs of running a football club.
I had also lost love for the game having witnessed the violent scenes at Ellis Park and a few more such incidents after that.
But this young man kept going at me until I gave in and agreed to set up a football club. Gumede is literally the reason why Mainline Football Club was formed! He’s a very persistent young man!
It also hit me that I needed to do something to stem the growing trend of drug and alcohol abuse among our local youth. Football became a solution for me to take action against drugs and alcohol. I had also realised that apart from bars and nightclubs, there was no other form of entertainment for our young people.
So I was sold to the idea of establishing a football club and saw the added advantage of not just being a source of employment but to also provide entertainment for the Plumtree community.
We began working on logistics to register and affiliate the club in Division 2 ahead of the 2017 season. The most difficult step was raising a team but fortunately for Mainline FC, while Gumede was working me over, he was also quietly identifying talent for the club.
In our first season in 2017, we tried to prioritise signing players from within the Plumtree community. We registered 35 players with all of them coming from our own community. However, as the season progressed we began having problems with these locals. They would come late for training if at all and sometimes be problematic to the coaches. I began to wonder if I had made the right call!
The very same people we had founded the club for were the very same people who were causing problems for the club. We then decided to cast our net wider as the club began to grow and with it our ambitions. The following season in 2018 when we began campaigning in Division
One, we recruited players from as far afield as Beitbridge and Bulawayo. This season we registered 18 locals and nine from outside Plumtree.
Our club has been growing in leaps and bounds and we have even attracted a local supermarket, Greens to partner us. Greens will soon be selling replicas and membership cards within their supermarket. They recently advised me that the replicas are being imported from the
United Kingdom and were now en route to Zimbabwe. They have also designed membership cards that they will selling at the shop.
We believe this will boost our membership levels and also become a key revenue stream for the club. The local council also recently gave us land for the construction of a stadium and we are planning to start work on it before the end of the year.
Last year, Jonathan Ndlovu who runs a construction company in South Africa joined the club and became my partner and co-president. His arrival has added impetus to our ambition to fight for promotion into the Premier Soccer League. Our target is a place in the PSL in 2021!
At inception, we developed a three-year development programme that would culminate in Premier League football in the fourth year! We are a year behind schedule but I think we have done enough in the last three years to give us confidence that a place in the PSL is not just a possibility but well within our grasp!
In the 2020 season we intend to fight for promotion and I am convinced that we have reached the peak of our learning curve. We may need to sign new players ahead of next season but we won’t make wholesome changes to the squad. We know where we need to improve to turn us into promotion candidates.