Last season was one in which Zambian international Bernard Simakwenzi might have had a wish for the earth to swallow him. His former team, BDF XI, had a strained relationship with Township Rollers and he was the cause. Whenever BDF XI locked horns with Township Rollers, Simakwenzi underwent a tirade of abuse from Rollers supporters every time he touched the ball. Rollers supporters’ booed and hurled terrible abuse at him.
It all started last year during the semifinals of the Coca Cola Cup between the two teams and Simakwenzi did not feature because he was alleged to be a defaulter. Rollers won the match 3-0 and BDF protested and a replay was ordered but Rollers did not honour the match and BDF XI was given the go ahead to the finals. After that a legal wrangle ensued between the two teams and the relationship became messier.
The animosity intensified in the teams’ last game of the Mascom Premier League. In that game, Simakwenzi was given his marching orders much to the delight of Rollers supporters who ululated and chanted songs praising the referee for the decision.
To the surprise of many people, Simakwenzi has since joined his once erstwhile “enemies.” What astonished many soccer followers the most was that BDF XI were always there for Simakwenzi during those difficult times with Rollers. The matter even nearly put an end to Simakwenzi’s seemingly flourishing career. Simakwenzi, on the other hand, told The Sunday Standard that several factors made him leave BDF XI. He said BDF XI was always there for him but he just decided to join Rollers. He also admits that it was not an easy decision to make, but one well thought over.
“It is not like I left BDF XI because Rollers gave me a good offer. There is not much difference from what BDF XI gave me compared to Rollers offer. I felt like I needed to change the environment. I am not taking anything from BDF XI but I was not in a good frame of mind to stay long there,” he said.
Simakwenzi also said back in his native Zambia and in Malaysia where he plied his trade before coming to BDF XI, he was used to playing for largely followed teams that always filled stadiums to the brim. He says while at BDF XI he missed the atmosphere.
“Before I moved to Malaysia, I was playing for Zanaco which is popular in Zambia. Even the team I played for in Malaysia was largely followed in almost all parts of the country. I joined BDF XI at the time when I was a free agent because I did not want to renew my contract in Malaysia and I did not know anything about Botswana. But I just told myself to experience things for my self in Botswana,” he said.
In regard to the animosity that existed between his former and current teams, Simakwenzi said it affected him dearly, “but God was always there to help me during those troubled times.” The game he singles out was the first round one in which BDF XI won 1-0, courtesy of his powerful header.
“In that game, things were really difficult because every time I touched the ball, Rollers supporters booed me. I lost concentration in the first fifteen minutes and I kept on praying and my prayers were eventually answered. By the time I recovered, God helped me to score a beautiful goal. Just imagine a player scoring under those terrible conditions, God really helped me,” he said.
The towering player also stressed that by the time when reports that he was a defaulter were at boiling point, many people were not hostile to him in the streets but admired his striking prowess. He adds that he also did not experience any hostility from Rollers supporters.
The 23-year-old emphasised that Rollers have welcomed him with open and warm hands, but does not want to make promises to the team that he might not be able to deliver once in blue colours. He, however, said he will do all what he can to help the team win as many titles as possible. Simakwenzi said Rollers is a big team that needs to always win trophies.
Like any other ambitious player, Simakwenzi will one day like to play in a professional and money spinning league. But he rubbishes reports that he is using Rollers as a stepping stone towards that. He said regardless of the team a player plays for; he could still make a move for an overseas team.
Simakwenzi became an instant hit at BDF XI by scoring regularly for the team, especially in games that were considered tough. No matter how tight the surveillance he was under he always found space to score. He might be a solution to the Rollers striking force that has left a lot to be desired for the past eleven years since the departure of another Zambian striker, Joseph Chikoti. Since Chikoti left Rollers in 1996 to join South African side, Wits University, he created a void that has been difficult to fill. Chikoti was very skillful and easily eluded the best defenders. Simakwenzi, on the other hand, is very strong in the air and can shoot from any angle.