Out of five black players to represent Zimbabwe at the Rugby World Cup in the country’s only two tournament appearances to date, three have lived to share their experience.
Bedford Chimbima — real first name Elimon — alongside Honeywell Nguruve and Ian Noble, are all based overseas. Sadly, Richard Tsimba and Milton Nyala are late, both killed in tragic road accidents two years apart in 2000 and 2002.
This week, former Sables ace Chimbima, the multiple-capped winger who was part of Zimbabwe’s 26-man squad to the 1991 World Cup in Britain and France, has relived an international career spanning more than a decade in a chat with IndependentSport from the United Kingdom.
“My first full game for Zimbabwe was against Ivory Coast in 1990 in the World Cup qualifiers, most people ask how it was and to be frank I can only describe it as ‘buzzing’, it really was,” Chimbima, who is now 51, says.
“It was at the old home of ZimRugby, the Police Grounds at Morris Depot, with quite a huge crowd having come to enjoy the tournament. The atmosphere was electric. And as you know, we went on to win all games and qualified for the World Cup. Playing at the World Cup was the pinnacle.
“As a player, all you want is just to represent your country, so being able to play in the biggest tournament in the game, that feeling eclipses every goal in any sport.”
A try-machine who was equally capable at fullback, Chimbima’s lengthy international career was due to the fact that he played with different generations of Zimbabwean players, excelling in both periods.
“I was fortunate to play in two different eras, with the early years being the apprentice and looking up to the more experienced players like your Andy Ferreira, Richard Tsimba, Alex Nichols, Mike Martin, to name a few,” he says. “Then in the following era I was there to help and being a mentor to the younger players coming into the side.”
Chimbima, who had grown up playing football in Harare’s Dzivaresekwa township, his home area, first came into contact with rugby at Ellis Robins Boys High School in the 1980s.
He spent the full six years at Ellis Robins and became one of the school’s finest all-round sportsmen in its history.
“I was introduced to rugby as a 13-year-old in form one by my athletics teacher, Mr Wright, who was also the rugby coach for that age group,” Chimbima says. “I did enjoy my time there and had good friends, some of them are still part of my life to this day.”
Chimbima’s rugby career blossomed in the 1990s after joining the star-studded Old Hararians, for many years the country’s best club side.
“There, it was a huge experience, and away from playing rugby, we were friends,” Chimbima says. “OH (Old Hararians) became more than just a rugby club for me. The experience made me what I am today.”
Black players were in the minority in the teams that Chimbima initially played for at club and international level in Zimbabwe, with the racial structure becoming quite the opposite in the last chapter of his playing days.
But throughout this, Shurugwi-born Chimbima — who played more than 50 international matches for his country with 19 being official Tests — testifies that he never faced any form of discrimination despite some racially-motivated rows in the game mid-to-late ’90s.
“In all the teams I played for, there was never any incidents pertaining to race or religious beliefs,” Chimbima says. “We were a group of friends and everyone got along well.”
From Old Hararians, Chimbima’s talents would then take him to the UK, first to sign for National Three outfit Clifton RFC in Bristol, then a short stint with Coventry RFC in the same competition, before finishing his playing career at Basingstoke RFC in the second division.
Whilst at Basingstoke, Chimbima earned Level Three coaching badges, which came in handy back home in Zimbabwe in 2000 and 2001 when he coached a hugely talented Prince Edward School team that included Springbok record-holder Tonderai Chavhanga.
“As Tigers (Prince Edward first XV) coach my best memories were having to work with a group of very keen and skilled boys like captain Harold Hawadi, Tonderai Chavhanga, Tonderai Mapunde, Gordon Pangeti, to name a few,” Chimbima says.
“The rugby production line at PE was second to none as in my second season we had to rebuild as most of the previous team were Upper-Six and had left. The process was seamless as we had another fantastic team.”
A solidly-built player, it seems quite obvious that the nickname Bedford was given to him on account of his robustness, just like the car brand of the same name. To many others, Bedford was in fact his first name, as often throughout his career it was the one prefixed to his surname.
None of these are correct.
“Interesting you know Bedford is a nickname! Because many people don’t,” laughs Chimbima.
“And again I can tell you the name is not after the Bedford truck as most people think. It was from school at Ellis Robins when a friend I played sport with, Field Mushaninga, thought I had a playing style similar to another senior player whose surname was Bedford, and that’s how it started. However, in the later years, the behaviour on the pitch made people think it was from the Bedford truck.”