Through The Eyes of a Legend: Mxolisi “Cules” Mfundisi
Mxolisi Mfundisi joined Xhalanga Blues while he was still a learner at Arthur Tsengiswe “Dutch” School. Players, like Leader Mazaleni, who were at Cala High at the time, were the first to spot his talent. Mxolisi lived in the village called Tiwani and played at the school and not for a local club. He was approached by players like Leader Mazaleni to join Xhalanga Blues, but he had his reservations about playing for a team at a higher level. Instead he opted to join Swallows, a team that was started by the local Anglican Church Pastor and his sons.
“Shortly after joining Swallows, I pushed for a match against Xhalanga Blues. My intention was for them to see me play in opposition to them so that they could see if they still wanted me to play for their team.”
It was a very tough match, and Xhalanga Blues players could not get past Mxolisi. “I was playing the left-back position number 3, and straight after the match, they approached me again to ask me to join their team, saying they needed me.”
When Mxolisi joined Xhalanga Blues, he took over the left-back position number 3. “I was a versatile player who could kick effortlessly with both my right and left feet. Naturally, I am right-footed but I had injured my right foot as a child while playing, and because I loved sport, I continued to play but started using my left foot more. It became stronger than the right foot and I could later play with both.”
Xhalanga Blues consisted of talented players. Mxolisi recalls how his fellow team-mate and brother KK Mfundisi, who played attacking-midfielder position number 8, played with speed and control as if the ball was somehow tied to his feet. He was right-footed but scored most of his goals using his left foot. Such was the calibre of Xhalanga Blues players.
“I was not good at dribbling. I was good at running. I was big and strong. They called me “Cules”, which was short for Hercules. Clubs like Mthatha Bush Bucks had guys like Tshidiso Letlaka, Kena Phoswa, and Richard Herman, who were all brilliant runners but they had nothing on me.”
“Sport was well-loved and supported by the people in Cala back then. People from the surrounding villages would flock in to come watch matches. Businesses and shops would be closed and the stadium would be filled to capacity with spectators.”
There were many good teams from Mthatha at that time that Xhalanga Blues played against, including Blackburn, Mthatha Bush Bucks, Thembu Royals, Liverpool, and Mthatha City. But the sports environment at the time was also dangerous.
“Mthatha Bush Bucks did not want to lose and they were not that strong. They had good runners and players who could score goals. But when things were not going their way, they played dirty. If your team had a brilliant player, Bush Bucks would come by night and steal the player. Come morning, the player was gone.”
Xhalanga Blues lost a number of players to these tactics. Zero Mbi from Kimberly stands out in Mxolisi’s mind as a charismatic and charming player on the field, and a dribbling master with great skill when it came to footwork. “When he got the ball on the field, he would ask for his sunglasses from the spectators, dribble the ball and ask for his duster coat, dribble the ball and sit on it. Someone from the opposition team would come mark Zero and would end up being outsmarted by his incredible footwork with the ball. Sadly, he ended up being taken away by Mthatha Bush Bucks.”
In the late 80’s, there came a time in the Transkei when a club needed to be sent up to play in the then NPSL league (National Professional Soccer League). Elimination was to be between Mthatha Bush Bucks and Xhalanga Blues. The winner between the two would play in the NPSL league.
“We were very prepared for that match, so much so that Mr Gobodo offered to house us at La Gilda Hotel for free the night before the match, but the coach said no. Instead, we camped out in the village where the coach slaughtered a sheep for us.”
The match day finally arrived. The referee was a white man from East London who was neutral. “The score was 5-1 to Xhalanga Blues. The match ended and we were sure we were going through to the NPSL. We went to celebrate at a place called Dizz, which was owned by Dr Mafikeng where we had chips and drinks and just enjoyed our victory.”
The following day, the news spread quickly on the radio that the match was stopped before its end-time due to unruly spectators who supposedly entered the field of play and disrupted the match. This came as a surprise to Xhalanga Blues players and the many supporters who were at the match.
“It turns out that on their way home, Mthatha Bush Bucks got to Ngcobo village and convinced the referee that he would get home far too late if he started in Mthatha first. They then offered to drive him to East London and said they would take the report of the results back to the office on his behalf. They forged the report to state that the match was ended 18 minutes early because of unruly supporters from Cala who disrupted the match.”
Daddy Khondlo, Mr LM Slingela, Mr Msengana and others went to Mthatha to investigate this matter. They suggested that the referee from East London be called and asked about the result of the match. That request was denied and they were told that the written report was sufficient. Xhalanga Blues were once again at the receiving end of dirty play, on top of having had players stolen from them.
It was decided that the match would be replayed in Cala. And because the report had stated that Cala supporters were unruly, the police were mobilised and came out in their numbers for this match. This time, the referee was a man named Rob Mackillop. He was a soldier in the defence force based in Mthatha. The match kicked off and it was immediately evident that something was not right.
“Mackillop called a corner when in fact it wasn’t, and our captain who was our goalkeeper asked him why he made that call. Up went the yellow! He explained that he is the captain and has the right to ask. Up went the red card!”
The spectators didn’t take that lightly and stormed the field. Rob Mackillop had to be escorted out by the police. The match was ended. The score this time around was 3-1 to Xhalanga Blues.
A third match was organised and this match was played in Mthatha.
“It was raining heavily there. An Mthatha Bush Bucks official was the referee. We lost that match 5-3 to Mthatha Bush Bucks. The more we scored, the more the referee would call offside and showed favour to Mthatha Bush Bucks.”
The team returned feeling defeated and ready to give up on the sport altogether. They no longer felt that there was anything else to play for and stopped playing soccer. Sadly, this caused them to neglect the sport and they saw no point in even encouraging the younger players to continue playing sport. It is also one of the reasons they stopped going to watch matches. A sad result of how dirty tactics on the field can affect generation after generation.