Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Robert Barry Lionel Chalmers

Santa Maria couldn't believe his eyes. The imposing Real Madrid centre-half, one of the world's most famous soccer defenders, stood hands on hips and mouth agape as the ball rattled into the Madrid net and the 35 000 crowd at Johannesburg's Rand Stadium erupted with delight.

 Zimbabwe-born Bobby Chalmers had had the audacity to beat Santa Maria hands down and score one of the most brilliant opportunist goals seen in South Africa.

 The chunky blond Chalmers, just 5 ft 7 in. (170 cm) of soccer dynamite, was playing in a roving attacking role for the South African Knights that glorious evening of 8 September 1964. John Rugg, former Queen of the South player in Scotland, and later Zimbabwe's acting national coach, who was then playing for Durban City, was South Africa's captain.

 Although Real Madrid won 5-2 it was Chalmers who scored both home team goals to record one of his proudest games. It was also in 1964 that Chalmers thrilled his fans with a hat-trick for Durban City against Jewish Guild in the Castle Cup Final, all his goals coming in the second half. This was the only hat-trick scored in a final and his greatest year was climaxed by being named Footballer of the Year.

 Although his record-breaking soccer career was forged in South Africa, Chalmers did return to his homeland to captain the then Rhodesia into their first World Cup challenge in 1969. His fluent knowledge of both Shona and Ndebele, coupled with his vast experience and legendary stature in South Africa, made him a popular leader who brought out the best qualities in his men.

 Rhodesian soccer truly came of age with this entry for the 1970 World Cup. Few gave them even a remote chance of winning their qualifying section, let alone reaching the final sixteen in Mexico, but two years of intensive coaching by Scotsman Danny McLennan produced a proud and motivated team that twice held the might of Australia to draws before losing the third game 3-1.

 The full eighteen-man squad was: Robin Jordan, William Sibanda, Peter Haddon, James Chibaya, Isaac Chieza, Shepherd Murape, Topsy Robertson, George Shaya, Hylton Grainger, Nelson Mapara, Alex Mwanza, Gibson Homela, Itayi Chieza, Philemon Tigere, Adolf Mutuma, Stewart Gilbert Stewart Knowles and Bobby Chalmers.

 For the 1969 qualifying rounds, Rhodesia were placed in Group 15 — the Asian-Oceanic Group. Despite being in the heart of Africa, Rhodesia were not included in a section from this continent, the FIFA Organising Committee noting that none of the African countries which had entered, maintained diplomatic relations with Rhodesia. Indeed, at this time only a few countries in the world recognised Rhodesia following the Unilateral Declaration of Independence.

 But political rumblings also threatened to split Group 15 after it had been decided to form two sub-groups by lots, and Rhodesia found herself with Japan, the Korean Republic and Australia. The venue for this Group 15/1 was fixed as South Korea, but a month before kick-off the Government of the Republic of Korea warned that it would not issue visas to the Rhodesians.

 After a hurriedly arranged compromise, the tournament did take place in Korea with only Korea, Japan and Australia participating and the winner was instructed to play Rhodesia on a home and away basis. The Australians emerged victorious with two wins and two draws and had to play two matches against Rhodesia to decide the qualifier for Mexico. The vast distance between the two countries and the shortage of time made the home and away ruling impossible and eventually Lourenco Marques in Mozambique was chosen as the venue.

 The historic date for the first match was 23 November 1969 when the teams drew 1-1 after no score at half-time. The second clash ended in a no-score draw and it was necessary to go to a play-off, which the Aussies eventually won 3-1. Only 7 000 people saw the three games — a great pity, for had they been played in Salisbury 100 000 or more would almost certainly have been attracted. But it was a thrilling series and the Rhodesian team was hailed on its return and the nation's football received a notable boost.

 Robert Barry Lionel Chalmers was born at Bulawayo on 19 February 1941 and attended Raylton Junior and Milton High Schools. At Milton he showed promise as a rugby player and was 1st XV full back, but he had been bred on soccer, playing in the junior ranks for Queens, where he came under the influence of Bobby Styles.

 Although his eldest brother, Des, represented Rhodesia at both rugby and cricket, it was the soccer path which was to lead Bobby to glory and in 1961 he played for Rhodesia against Leicester City (lost 4-3) and West Ham (lost 3-0 and 5-0).

 In 1962 Chalmers married Salisbury girl, Audrey Linden, and later that year they headed south in a beat-up Volkswagen. He was given a soccer trial by Durban City and was quickly signed on by the astute Norman Elliott — at R40 a month plus bonuses. So was launched the brilliant career of a real 'Bobby Dazzler'. He went on to win numerous awards and accolades while scoring hundreds of memorable goals and taking over the mantle of the famed Les Salton as the most marked man in South African soccer.

 It was Alf Boyd, the Durban City manager, who, in 1964, decided to move Chalmers permanently from wing to centre-forward. The move paid handsome dividends — he scored 58 goals that season, just two short of Salton's record. However, it was in June 1963 that Chalmers played in the middle for the first time as an experiment in a first-round Castle Cup match against Kimberley United. Bobby netted seven goals in an overwhelming 14-1 victory and the next week scored a hat-trick before his delighted home spectators against West Rand United. Nevertheless when the 1964 season opened he was on the flank again for the first seven matches before switching back permanently to the middle. This marked the turning-point of his career.

 During the off season he had worked tirelessly to iron out the flaws in his game and he was no longer just a chaser of balls down the middle. He became a polished all-round player, whose subtle touches kept his strikers moving fluently. He had developed a powerful shot with either foot and his headwork had improved out of all recognition. He had lost none of his dash or zest and in 1964 became by far the most valuable piece of footballing merchandise in South Africa, while losing none of his natural charm and modesty.

 Chalmers played for Natal against Arsenal, the famous English club, in a disastrous 8-2 defeat but later in that 1964 season when Real Madrid toured, his moment of destiny had arrived as the South African Castle Knights earned the greatest honour in a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the magical Spaniards. It was a wonderful soccer spectacle and for Bobby a night of glory. Real cantered to a 3-0 half-time lead, then in the second half, Chalmers set the terraces alight with a rasping shot after beating two defenders. Then, with Real leading 5-1, he hit another great shot for his second goal.

 Amongst his most prized goals was one scored before his home supporters against Durban United in the Castle Cup quarter-finals at Durban's new Kingsmead. United, with goals by Ronnie Mann and Les Salton, had run into a 2-0 lead within thirteen minutes, with City poaching one back a minute from the interval. It was a cracking pace in the second half, when Chalmers picked up a pass and raced along the edge of the penalty area with three defenders in hot pursuit. suddenly he stopped, almost dead in his tracks, and as his pursuers skidded to ahalt he slashed a shot into the net.

 Also in 1964 he stunned spectators and the Arcadia Shepherds by scoring three goals in four minutes for Durban City ... and Shepherds had Springbok goalkeeper Trevor Gething! Little wonder Bobby Chalmers was Footballer of the Year.

 City dropped a bombshell when they transferred Chalmers to Durban United in 1966 for a South African record of R20 000. From there, he moved on to Maritzburg in 1968. With Chalmers spearheading their attack, Maritzburg's fortunes immediately soared and they won the national cup, took part in the champion of champions tourney and were beaten finalists in the bowl.

 In 1969 he grabbed the winning goal for Maritzburg in the Castle Cup Final against Cape Town City at the Rand Stadium, unleashing a typical thunderbolt in extra time after the teams had been deadlocked at 1-1. It was in this year that Chalmers responded to a call from his home country, Rhodesia, to lead them into World Cup qualifying combat. In a warm-up match against Malawi at Salisbury's
 Gwanzura Stadium, Rhodesia won 4-0 and Chalmers — who scored a goal — was man of the match.

 It was early in 1974 — when he was plagued by knee trouble and at the end of his brilliant career — that Chalmers finally broke Salton's long-standing South African National League record of 294 goals. He went on to score over 300, though a succession of leg injuries eventually sidelined him for good. He now lives in Durban where he is a public relations officer for a group of hotels.

 To demonstrate the power of his shot, Chalmers was once put to the test in Maritzburg, when a bare-foot shot was timed at 78,4 mph with an accurate electronic device. This was claimed as a world record. England's Peter Lorimer had won a similar competition in England, timed below 80 mph with his boots on.

 A graceful stylist, with a supple swerve and cannon-ball shot, Chalmers was always the perfect gentleman and sportsman. He deserved the accolade as Southern Africa's Crown Prince of Soccer.


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