A transition to a totally new profession can be a real struggle, but the most arduous changeover might be that of the actor-turned-footballer.
Obviously, the ability to speak two lines of consecutive dialogue in theatre without messing up will not translate to success on the football pitch. But when your name is Esrom Nyandoro you defy the odds.
Arguably one of the finest Zimbabwean exports ever to grace the South African football scene, the former Mamelodi Sundowns midfielder smoothly parlayed a charismatic teenage theatre actor into a successful football star.
His business manager Sihlangu Dlodlo, a renowned Zimbabwean playwright and director, says Nyandoro, a quiet lad by nature, would “turn into something else once he was on stage”.
“When you know the quiet, little lad from Mzilikazi (one of the oldest suburbs in Bulawayo) and the next thing he’s on stage taking the play by the scruff of its neck, it’s like you’re seeing him for the first time. He was completely a different person,” Dlodlo tells FARPost.
Nyandoro was an important member of the well-travelled Bulawayo group, Siyaya Arts. Those that knew him during his acting days describe him as an exceptional performer.
In fact, a story is told of how his last performance before swapping the stage for the soccer pitch left an entire audience sobbing.
The play was Victim – a story about a young girl Mantombi who is left in the care of a cruel stepmother and runs away from home to live in the streets. It was presented at the Lemon Tree Studio Theatre in Aberdeen, Scotland in August 1995. In the play, Nyandoro, who was 15 at the time, plays a sympathetic young boy Thuza, who gives the mistreated girl hope and love.
“I’d usually get characters where I had to cry probably because I’m very emotional and I could easily shed tears. When we did Victim in Aberdeen, I burst into tears during an emotional scene and it felt like real tears. Almost everyone in the audience broke into tears,” Nyandoro explains.
It had become a tour norm that they would start with Victim, an emotive play, before lifting spirits with Jive Sinjonjo.
But that day it didn’t matter people had paid to watch two plays. They just could not go on as a flood of emotions overwhelmed them. “Everyone was just emotional, so we got into the bus and went straight to our accommodation. No one said anything to anyone until the next morning,” he recalls avidly.
Thanks to his first love – the stage – his young feet trod far-flung nations like England as well as neighbouring Botswana and Zambia in the early 90s.
Siyaya Arts director Saimon Mambazo downright claims the former Zimbabwe international would have easily become one of the finest performers in his homeland had he continued the show business.
He admits that when the man they affectionately called ‘Quarter’ decided to venture into football, it looked like he was making a costly mistake.
“At the time, things were beginning to look good for the group and we thought the wisest thing for Nyandoro to do was to hang on and enjoy the success with us,” says Mambazo.
But, as fate would have it, his gutfeel led him the right direction. Nyandoro hung his boots in 2014, ending an illustrious 19-year professional career. Years after he called time on his diski career, Mambazo admits that switch was a necessary one.
“He went into football at the right time when football was becoming commercial and went out at the right time with the right attitude. He was loyal to the few clubs he played for, which is why he will always have hero status in all of them,” says Mambazo.
According to the Siyaya boss, Nyandoro proved he had made a sensible decision when he hit the ground running at the Zimbabwe Saints’ development side where he only spent half a season. Before they knew it, he had signed his first professional contract with the now defunct AmaZulu (of Zimbabwe) at the age of 16.
“We could tell he was destined for greater things,” Mambazo cements.
The soft-spoken Nyandoro had his first taste of football success when he helped AmaZulu win the 2003 league title before moving to the Brazilians in 2004. In the PSL, he rose to become one of the most revered midfielders, also playing a key role in helping his country qualify for its maiden Afcon dance in 2004.
Many will remember his stunning pile drive against Cameroon at the 2004 Afcon that was unanimously voted the tournament’s best goal.
Add to that, he has three League titles won with the Tshwane outfit and countless individual accolades.
But, the transition was always going to be a challenge with his close allies attempting to cut out his newly found craze for football. Mambazo, however, claims he stood by him despite being skeptical about his decision.
“I think his family also played a big role in influencing him towards football. His brothers were active footballers and we knew we had stiff competition since the arts were not as prestigious as football was,” Mambazo says.
Nyandoro admits, at some point, he vainly attempted to juggle the two. But it took former Zimbabwe national team coach Charles Mhlauri to finally force him to abandon a line of work he had fallen deeply in love with.
“I had watched him play football during the Peter Ndlovu Tournament and I noticed his outstanding talent. But it was quite a challenge to convince him to give more attention to his football career because this was someone who really loved theatre,” says Mhlauri from his United States base.
Ironically, Mhlauri was the man at the helm the second time the Warriors won qualification to the AFCON, with Nyandoro a driving force in the middle of the park.
It has been 25 years since the switch but that old flame has not been blown off totally, as Nyandoro still follows plays with keen interest. “I still love theatre so much. Occasionally, I would drive to either Pretoria or Johannesburg to watch plays when free,” adds Nyandoro, who’s now a scout at Sundowns.
And as he looks back, he has no regrets about making that prolific switch.
It was a worthwhile jump!
By Mthokozisi Dube