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Evergreen Kamnzere: Man of clean sheets

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WHEN Be Forward Wanderers’ first-choice goalkeeper Richard Chipuwa fell out of favour with the team’s supporters in the second-round of last season and went into hiding, it was obvious that there would be a goalkeeping crisis at Lali Lubani Road.

The fans bayed for the former Zomba United goalkeeper’s blood after faulting him for letting in ‘easy goals’ in games against Mafco and Kamuzu Barracks. Chipuwa found life unbearable as the fans reportedly hunted him down all over town and the shot-stopper was forced to abandon his Blantyre residence in fear of his life.

Appeals by club officials to give him a second chance fell on deaf ears, and the fans insisted that they had had enough of the goal-minder. The next question was who would take up his place between the sticks? Amid the doom and gloom, forgotten veteran goalkeeper Valence Kamnzere raised his hand, came out of retirement and took up the challenge ahead of youthful Nenani Juwaya.

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Some doubting Thomases had their reservations, wondering how someone who had called it time on his playing career in 2013 could be entrusted with the number one jersey. Kamnzere was then working as Wanderers goalkeepers’ trainer, a position he still holds up to now. Recalling his retirement from retirement, Kamnzere said he believed in his capabilities to, alongside Nyasa Big Bullets’ winger Fischer Kondowe, become the oldest players in the country’s top flight football.

Cutting teeth in junior leagues Kamnzere took an early interest in football while at St Pius FP School in Blantyre where he frequented dusty pitches just like any other kid in the early 1990s. At that time, his favoured position was goalkeeping though he also enjoyed playing in defence.

The school’s team selectors spotted his talent and recommended him to their under-15 side. He recalled teaming up with the likes of Phillip Nyasulu, another Wanderers and Flames legend, when he transferred to Chitawira Primary School.

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“Phillip was already an established player by then. He used to play in goals for the under-19 team, but he would sometimes join us in the under-15. I learnt quite a lot from him,” Kamnzere said. He said Nyasulu was a versatile player who would also feature as a striker, whose powerpacked shots were a nightmare to Evergreen Kamnzere goalkeepers at the time. This inspired him to try his luck as a defender.

Kamnzere excelled in this role and the school began to play him as a defender or a goalkeeper, depending on the intensity of a particular match. “Many people know me as a goalkeeper but I was a very good defender. Switching roles between the two was easy for me because both are about stopping strikers from scoring.

But my best performances were in goals and I chose to put all my efforts there,” Kamnzere said. Club football at Wanderers Playing with Nyasulu in the same school team gave Kamnzere the courage to try his luck at a Super League club. As his peer was already at Wanderers Youth, Kamnzere found it easy to have a go at Lali Lubani Road.

He recalled accompanying Nyasulu to the team’s training ground and getting introduced to late Willow Mihowa, who was then coach.

“The atmosphere at the training ground was intimidating. There were wellestablished goalkeepers who kept asking me if I was really serious about competing for a place in the team. But I kept my cool and depended on my talent to prove that I was good enough,” Kamnzere said.

His skillful performances in training convinced the hardto-please Mihowa to sign him. Kamnzere was given his debut within a month of signing and impressed right away. This swayed Mihowa to make him his first-choice goalkeeper ahead of other established stars at the team.

In Kamnzere’s second season, Wanderers Youth played their seniors in a cup match at BAT Ground where he stood his ground against reputable goal-poachers such as Bob Mpinganjira and Frank Mtawali.

“I remember late in the second-half, the senior team’s officials came behind our goal and warned me that if I continued frustrating the seniors, I would not be promoted. This unsettled me and eventually, I conceded. But without that, I was determined to shut them off completely,” Kamnzere explained with a laugh.

This was the performance that saw him earning promotion to the senior side in the 1994/95 season and he never looked back. But earning a place was never to be easy in the starting line-up as he faced stiff competition from the likes of Kenneth Kandulu (deceased), Tom Aidu, Bothwell Kuwanda (deceased) and Dave Kayira.

Eventually, the four competitors phased out and left Kamnzere as the only dependable goalkeeper for the Nomads. He established himself as one of the country’s top goal custodians and made several appearances for the Flames.

Towards the end of his career, Kamnzere earned a rare national team call-up in 2008 when Kinnah Phiri was in charge of the Flames. With first-choice goalkeeper Swadick Sanudi unavailable, Kinnah handed Kamnzere the nod between the sticks, featuring in the Flames’ 8-1 win over Djibouti in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at Kamuzu Stadium.

At his club, Kamnzere eventually phased out from the scene before taking up the goalkeeper coach’s role. He was born and bred in Blantyre. Heroic comeback Kamnzere said he never hesitated to take up the challenge of replacing Chipuwa when he went into hiding.

“I keep myself fit at all times. By then, Wanderers had employed me as a goalkeeper trainer because they believed I could not play after an eightyear retirement. But I did my best and kept clean sheets in 13 out of the 15 games that I played last season,” Kamnzere said with pride.

He also featured in Wanderers’ TNM Super League opening match against Kamuzu Barracks where he kept a clean sheet. Wanderers won the game 1-0. The other high profile match in which Kamnzere featured was the Airtel Top 8 Cup final against Silver Strikers where the Nomads lost on post-match penalties.

He said he is now pleased that Chipuwa is performing well for the team and attributes it to competition among goalkeepers at Lali Lubani Road. The 40-year-old Kamnzere is one of the four goalkeepers Wanderers registered for the ongoing season and he said will continue playing for as long as his body allows him to. Meanwhile, he continues playing the role of goalkeeper trainer at Wanderers.  Of course, do not be surprised to see Kamnzere being called to duty again in Wanderers’ goals.

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