I FIRST knew George Chigova in October 2006 when the Zimbabwe Under-17 team was in camp preparing for an African Youth Championship qualifier against South Africa.
George was joining from How Mine, near Bulawayo, where his late father lived and worked. His dad sent him over to Harare in the care of coach Rodwell Dhlakama, pleading: “please, coach, look after my son in Harare. I want him to go far in his football career. Please do everything possible for him to succeed.”
So Dhlakama came with George to the Zifa Village in Mt Hampden, where we were camping.
Unfortunately he didn’t make the grade in that Young Warriors squad as we already had other goalkeepers, Francis Nico and Tinashe Dzambara. Francis had already got a taste of club football with Sprouting FC and Motor Action.
Then George went to Aces Youth Academy after Dhlakama spoke with the people there, the likes of (co-founders) Nigel Munyati and Marc Duvillard. George was then enrolled at Lord Malvern High School in 2007 for his form four.
Lord Malvern’s star-studded team had a good season that year, leading to George being called up by Dhlakama into a national age-group side that went to Namibia for a Cosafa youth tournament, which they won.
Then Aces started playing in division one. He was our first-choice goalkeeper and we had two other keepers.
Aces had a very competitive squad. Our main rivals were Simba Bhora and Douglas Warriors, owned by mudhara Douglas Tanyanyiwa.
To confirm how really good Aces was at unearthing raw talent, Knowledge Musona was signed by Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa without playing top-level football in Zimbabwe.
Some of the players were me of course, then Jealous Mutelo, Alfred Gwala, Willard Kapumbu, Bright Chayambuka, Brian Mapfumo, Darren Nyandoro, Norest Mukwezaramba, Elvis Maziwise, Lincoln Zvasiya, Wesley Zaranyika, Stephen Matsangaise, Caleb Kusemwa, Erick Chipeta, Luckson Kaisa, Andrew Konde, Christopher Kunaka, Terrence Gonzo, Silas Songani, Qadr Amin, Khama Billiat, Takunda Sadiki. It was one big family.
Those days, Aces was now guaranteed at least five to 10 players in Zimbabwe’s Under-17 and Under-20 squads.
From there, George was spotted by Gunners in the Zimbabwean PSL. I went to Black Mambas and Khama went to CAPS United where he played just a few games before going to Ajax Cape Town in South Africa. Lincoln Zvasiya went to Monomotapa before he moved to FC Platinum. Brian Mapfumo and Darren Nyandoro also went to Monoz.
When we assembled for Cosafa youth tournaments we then started meeting with players from the other clubs – the likes of Archieford Gutu and Denver Mukamba. Guys like Marvelous Nakamba, Teenage Hadebe and Kuda Mahachi came from Bantu Rovers Academy. I remember the Bantu owner Methembe Ndlovu coming all the way from Bulawayo with a Sprinter minibus packed with Bantu players only!
George, who had become our first-choice keeper in those Zimbabwe youth sides, became a very good penalty saver, which didn’t surprise the Aces boys. During training at the Academy, it was our culture to practice penalties daily. If you scored, you were allowed to go home. If you didn’t, you stayed behind and run.
So George was given a challenge of saves by Marc Duvillard. In matches, we all needed to convert our penalties and we were guaranteed that George would do the rest.
At Gunners, they had all the good players – Ali Sadiki, Hardlife Zvirekwi, people like that. It was a really good side. Then George went to Dynamos and became the first choice in 2012 after Washington Arubi left for South Africa.
We would meet again in the Zimbabwe Under-23s. The other keepers were Ariel Sibanda and Francis Nico again. He didn’t play much in that side because he had stiff competition from Ariel. The team had the likes of Lincoln Zvasiya, Obey Mwerahari, Erick Chipeta, Timire Mamvura, Devon Chafa, Archie Gutu, Victor Kamhuka, Matthew Rusike, Qadr Amin, and others. Roddie Mutuma was slightly over aged so didn’t play. William Manondo was on the bench.
Then I went to Kaizer Chief when George was winning titles with Dynamos in Zimbabwe. We were both called up to the national team in 2012 by Rahman Gumbo, who tragically also passed on in the week.
One of my best memories of him was in the national team that went to the 2014 Chan tournament in South Africa under Ian Gorowa and reached the semi-finals. It was an entertaining side with George, Zvirekwi, Chipeta, Partson Jaure, Kuda Mahachi, Milton Ncube, Peter “Rio” Moyo, Simba Nhivi, and others. 90 percent of that team were signed outside the country after that tournament, mostly in South Africa. That’s when George joined SuperSport United. His penalty-saving abilities in that Chan tournament, in the shoot-outs, stood out and people took notice. SuperSport didn’t hesitate to bring him over.
George had the height and the frame of a goalkeeper, I don’t think any ‘keeper in the (Southern African) region came close. The way I see it, he should have played in Europe. His abilities and confidence came from the Aces Academy, because there was stiff competition among the three goalies. At the training ground, the keepers would dare us out-field players to say “you can’t score past me”. Then us guys would be like “haubati bhora rangu (you won’t stop my effort)”. We used to joke, if somebody scored a lousy goal in training, that “harisi remu TV iro, pano tinogohwesa emu TV (that goal isn’t the kind of stuff see on TV, here we score spectacular goals)”. And we would just laugh, but we were serious inside. We were well-coached.
George was improving all the time as a keeper. People used to point out his weaknesses, saying he can’t cut corner-kicks and crosses. But he corrected it. When we played for the Zimbabwe Under-23s, he had good chemistry with the other Aces players. When he fielded the ball, his distribution was brilliant, just natural. The ball would always find an Aces player. All you had to do was run and meet the ball. I won’t lie, when George first arrived at Aces, people were saying “he’s just one of the keepers uyo (that one), just a tall keeper, keeper akareba, just a tall kid.”
Credit to coaches Blah Eki (Expense Chitukutuku) and Blah Ribhe (Gift Kagogoda). Especially Blah Ribhe, he worked with that guy from scratch. As a coach, he’ll be so proud of the results he produced and he’ll say “thank you Lord for what I produced.”
At SuperSport George had competition from Ronwen Williams when he first arrived there. Then he was loaned to Polokwane City, before the move was made permanent. Polokwane was relegated, after which SuperSport brought him back. Then we met again in Zambia in 2018 for a four-nation tournament involving us, South Africa, Zambia and Angola. We did well. He saved penalties again. He was a dominant keeper in Cosafa tournaments, winning man-of-the-match and player-of-the-tournament awards.
Off the field, what a guy Jojola was! A happy person. I remember after I gave him a jersey I had used in a match in Egypt for the Warriors. You know he was a big guy so he said “thanks bro, handikwani (It won’t fit) though, but I keep it”. I will forever cherish the times we spent together in football and away from the game. Till we meet again, Jojola!
*This obituary by former Zimbabwe international Abbas Amidu is printed verbatim from a conversation with NewsHawks contributor Alwyn Mabehla.