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Doctor Khumalo believes to have lived every player’s dream

Legendary midfielder played in 1996 Africa Cup of Nations and 1998 World Cup

Doctor Khumalo of Kaizer Chiefs in action
Doctor Khumalo of Kaizer Chiefs in action
Image: Gallo Images/Mark Gleeson

Having played for one of the biggest clubs in the Premier Soccer League and represented SA in the most crucial international tournaments, Doctor Khumalo believes he has lived every player’s dream.  

The legendary midfielder played for Kaizer Chiefs for nearly two decades, participated in the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations and the 1998 World Cup during the peak of his career. 

Khumalo scored in SAs first international game after Bafana Bafana’s re-admission by Fifa in 1992.

They played against Cameroon and Khumalo says he was unaware how significant the goal he scored was. 

I didn’t understand or know the importance of that goal to be honest. I thought it was just a goal because we were not really familiar with international football standards. We didn’t understand what was happening in football outside of our country because of apartheid.   

“When we played Cameroon in the first game, it was just one of those games for us. I only realised when I was making headlines and receiving calls from journalists from the BBC, Sky Sports, asking how it feels to be the first player to ever score [in an international match] for my country,” said Khumalo.   

“Apartheid denied us these kinds of opportunities. It made headlines that we were able to play against other countries. Cameroon had just done very well in the World Cup, so it was a victory for us as SA.”

Doctor Khumalo representing Bafana Bafana
Doctor Khumalo representing Bafana Bafana
Image: Gallo Images/Duif Du Toit

Khumalo followed in his father Eliakim’s footsteps. Eliakim was nicknamed Professor for his intelligence on the pitch and played for the Glamour Boys for 14 years. 

As he joined Chiefs at a tender age of 10 years, playing in the junior team and later advancing to the senior team, Khumalo only knows a voice of one chairman, Kaizer Motaung, who advised him to dedicate 10 years to build his brand as a player.  

“The chairman told me to give him 10 years of my life so he can build my brand of being a star. I decided to give 10 years and more. I needed to focus. I had just come back from the United States to play for Argentina, I won the Africa Cup of Nations and played in the World Cup. That is a dream of a player I feel like I have lived as a footballer. I have been asked, 'do you know you were the first player to score in an international friendly?,” he said. 

Growing up in Soweto, Khumalo started in the school sports programme where he would make the team and represent his school.

He [Khumalo] would also go with his father to training, gathering all the motivation he needed to succeed.  

“Even though I have played for Swallows reserve side, I was more exposed at Chiefs because my father was there. It was every player’s dream in Soweto to play for a professional team. 90% of the greatest of players came from the school programme that was taking place in Soweto and across the country.  

“Before I could even play for Chiefs, there used to be buses collecting boys to go play for the division teams at Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows and Chiefs. We worshipped these guys. Every Wednesdays at 5pm, they would be fetched for training. I would watch in awe, imagining that one day, it would be me. You can imagine what school soccer did for us, eliminating negative things that could have happened in our lives,” Khumalo said and he walked down memory lane.

Jerry Sikhosana and Doctor Khumalo in action during the Kaiser Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates in the Rothmans Cup semi-final match at FNB Stadium.
Jerry Sikhosana and Doctor Khumalo in action during the Kaiser Chiefs vs Orlando Pirates in the Rothmans Cup semi-final match at FNB Stadium.
Image: Paul Velasco

When his time came to represent his school, Khumalo said football was the cheapest sport, where the scouts unearthed new players, that is why it was so popular. 

“Whenever my school played in a tournament, people would abscond at work around 2pm to book their space because if you come late, you would not be able to get in and see the game.  

“The field we used to play in was in a primary school, some spectators would go as far as climbing step ladders so they could sit on the roof and watch from there. It was always packed; school soccer was a big deal back then,” said Khumalo. 

Heading into the 1990s, his career found him in the Chiefs’ first team, with affectionate fans nicknaming him 16V for his ability to tackle and run as strong as a VW engine. 

“When I was unveiled at Chiefs, a couple of months down the line, VW introduced the Golf 16V, I think it was because I was dribbling past centres and they said my feet are the same as that car,” he said.

After deciding to hang up his boots in the 2003/2004 season, Khumalo has been focused on his career as an analyst at the public broadcaster and run his founded football academy, Doctor Khumalo Sports Academy and his own tournament. 

Though things are not going smoothly, Khumalo aims at bringing back sports school programmes and using his skills as a veteran footballer and player-coach.  

With the reputation he created around the number 15 jersey at Chiefs, Khumalo’s son has told him he should be given his three years before he takes over the famous number.  

“I think the person who will wear it is yet to be born. Kaizer decided to retire it because there was no one like me, my son also promises to wear it in the near future. Even when he plays for his school’s soccer team, he wears number 15 so we will see how it goes,” said Khumalo. 

He is currently facing a challenge of finding space at Riverside to start empowering boys from Diepsloot, Alexandra and Soweto. He was forced to halt his academy and is still looking for solutions after Curro decided to close its doors.

He recently entered singing competition The Masked Singer SA, where he wore a football-inspired costume.

Known at the Soccerball, Khumalo became the third contestant to be unmasked on the show.


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