The Ted Dumitru I knew
The first time I met Master Ted Dumitru was at the then King’s Park Rugby Stadium in 1985.
He was in his initial days at Kaizer Chiefs, having joined them from across the border in Swaziland.
I was a freelance journalist and we met under difficult circumstances.
His charges had just been embarrassed 5-0 by a then red-hot AmaZulu in a league match.
However, Dumitru took all comers and had one-onone interviews with all journalists who requested them, including yours truly, who was then just an urchin trying to carve out a niche for himself in this industry.
I remember vividly the article in Ilanga newspaper under a screaming headline, “Ukhale ezimathonsi uDumitru ebhaxabulwa uSuthu. [Dumitru shed tears after being walloped by uSuthu.]”
That brief encounter was the beginning of a long association.
It actually culminated in me making a call to him when I came to Johannesburg on a two-pronged mission, for an interview with Drum Magazine on a Friday and to watch the same Chiefs vs AmaZulu fixture.
I ended up visiting him at his flat, where we sat for hours discussing football.
After our social pow-wow, he took me over to a flat shared by two Swazi internationals, striker Absolom “Scara” Thindwa and goalkeeper William “Black Cat” Shongwe.
I watched in fascination as the humble pair alternated on the stove, preparing a meal before I was treated to a delicious dish of pap and stew.
Just to digress, the following day, a Monday, I went to see Jomo Sono at his downtown offices.
The Troublemaker, one of the greatest football players this country has produced, took me to a KFC outlet on the ground floor of his building after our interview.
And there, yet another long-lasting relationship was born. Back to Ted. From when I joined Drum magazine, moved to Sowetan, had brief on-and-off stints at the SABC, returned to Drum and arrived at City Press, we never lost contact. There was only one subject during our conversations ... football, football and more football.
To borrow from an old cliche, Ted lived, breathed and ate football.
There have been a number of “abelungu abasithandayo [whites who love us in my life]”, but Ted was a real African.
He might not qualify for Julius Nyerere’s description that “Africans are people who look like us”, but he fits snugly as a glove in the PAC’s assertion that “Africans are all the people who owe allegiance to Africa”.
Ted came here – well, he started in Zambia, then Swaziland and ended up here in Mzansi – never tried to change the African way of playing the game, but looked at ways of enhancing it.
Ted was one who would insist that players showcase their birth and God-given talent in the best way they can. One had many discussions and arguments with him. In all our conversations, he never missed an opportunity to voice his frustration at how “foreign” coaches tried to enforce their “foreign” philosophy on local players.
Ted was one of those white people who would say “we” when talking about Africans.
Being born in Romania didn’t matter to him, nor did it make him Eurocentric, and neither did it give him any false sense of superiority.
It was a marvel to watch him work with players at training, more especially young players. He knew how to get the best out of players. There are just so many players from whom he brought out the best.
For me, it was such a marvel to watch him work on David Mvula Radebe and make him one of the best marksmen in this country.
Prior to this, a number of coaches had failed to get Radebe to use his speed to his advantage. Many a time he would get caught in offside positions, that is, if he did not leave the ball behind.
But Master Ted got him to become one of the best at that time.
The only blot for which I criticised him heavily, and he took it on the chin, was the disastrous outing at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations.
However, the 18 major trophies, which include four league titles, he amassed in an illustrious career in this country, makes even that small blip pale.
Unless you are the type who only sees a small black dot on a squeaky clean white sheet.
To quote the Holy Koran: “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. [Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return.]”
He never missed an opportunity to voice his frustration at how ‘foreign’ coaches tried to enforce their ‘foreign’ philosophy on local players