RTID match day magazine caught up with Rovers’ South African World Cup star, Bongani Kumalo, ahead of his World Cup Qualifier in Durban this week.
Khumalo joined Rovers from Tottenham Hotspur, who he joined from South African Premier Soccer League side, SuperSport United, on a season long loan. Khumalo was born in Manzini, Swaziland, because his mother was studying there at the time. He grew up in Pretoria and was the third player born outside South Africa to play for Bafana Bafana.
Khumalo was named in the South African squad for the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup, both in South Africa. On 22 June 2010, Khumalo scored the first goal after 21 minutes against France as South Africa finished their World Cup campaign with a 2–1 win.
How did you get started as a footballer?
I grew up in Pretoria, which was where my career started. I was very fortunate to play my entire early career in that city from juniors to the University of Pretoria, then the first division and onto the Premier Soccer League with SuperSports United.
Football is one of those things that is easy to play; it’s simple and it’s free. It was the usual story of playing with friends at school and then when I was about 10/11 years old I got involved in Sunday league football and I just progressed with age groups.
What is the level of football like in the Premier Soccer League in South Africa?
I think in terms of English football, there is still a long way to go but it is improving and after the World Cup the infrastructure is there. I believe the federation and all the clubs have learnt a lot since then and there have been improvements.
You’re an international player for South Africa. What was it like playing the World Cup in your own country?
I made my debut at 20 under Brazilian, Carlos Alberto Parreira. I was very happy to make my debut in what was also my first professional season with SuperSports so that was an incredible feeling.
I progressed on to the World Cup and that was a very special time for me playing in my own country with all my family and friends watching who had seen me progress throughout my career. When I scored against France it was in the corner where all my friends and family were sitting so that was very special for me and something that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
That’s now in the past and you look forward and hope to make even more special memories.
You’ve also led your country as captain.
Yes I have; it was an incredible feeling. Obviously, it’s different as it’s a very different competition but I learnt a lot from it and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to lead the country through the stages.
Unfortunately, we got knocked out on penalties so if we’d gone through that game, who knows what could have happened. I think that as a country and a national team we can move forward and there are bigger things to play for.
Was it a big culture shock coming over to London from Pretoria to play for Spurs?
Yes it was. It was totally different; the culture, climate and the people. It was like everything was turned upside down. I’d just lived in one city all my life so everything was different in that respect and being so far away from home was a massive change.
It has taken time but I think I’ve adapted so now it’s just about playing football the right way, improving and doing well.
What attracted you to come to Rovers?
My fellow South African, Dean (Furman) was already here and he had incredible things to say about the club and the manager. We had played together in the national team so when the chance came to have a look, it was a great opportunity and one I’m very fortunate to have had.
I want to make the most of it and hopefully put in some top performances for the club and the rest of my team mates, who have helped me to settle in quickly.
It’s definitely helped having Dean here as he’s a familiar face but to be fair there were a couple of familiar faces here so that helped. However, they’re all great guys who have all taken their part in helping me to settle in and I’m very grateful to them.