The Ted Du­mitru I knew

CityPress - - Sport - S’Bu­siso Mse­leku sm­se­leku@city­ Follow me on Twit­ter @Sbu_Mse­leku

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

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