People walking along the dusty streets of Harare, Salisbury, in the late 1950s might have noticed a group of young boys eagerly kicking a home-made football. None would have believed that one of the boys was later to become a household name, respected by young and old alike.
The soccer career of George Shaya began in those Harare streets, where he played from dawn to dusk with a ball moulded out of paper and plastic bags. In 1980, after seventeen seasons of top football in Rhodesia, the diminutive Shaya was unquestionably the greatest locally produced player the country has known.
As a child, Shaya lived for football. By the time he moved into organised soccer at St. Paul's School at Mrewa, the street sessions with his friends in Harare paid dividends — his footwork, playing with makeshift balls, had developed to an amazingly high degree.
At St. Paul's he played for the school in the super league and his control and ball skills were of such a standard that he represented the Salisbury 'glamour' club. Dynamos, in senior soccer at the age of sixteen. This was the start of a glorious career with Dynamos, which team he eventually joined and later managed.
Shaya gave immaculate service to the club and was rewarded with a benefit match during the 1980 season. With them, Shaya earned the nickname 'Mastermind' which accurately summed up his role as a midfield general and creator of scoring movements.
In his own mind, his most exhilarating moment in soccer was scoring the goal that gave Dynamos the Castle Cup in the 1976 final against Zimbabwe Saints — his skill enabled him to swerve a direct free kick around the wall of defenders for a remarkable goal. But there have been many occasions when Shaya has put Dynamos on the winning trail.
The Herald soccer writer, Alan Hlatywayo, who was a former national player, wrote of Shaya in 1976: "When Shaya is out of the game. Dynamos are reduced to an ordinary team. When he is playing, all of the team's magic is woven around him." Others have called Shaya Rhodesia's Pele. Whatever the accolades, there was never any doubt about Shaya's outstanding ability, which, combined with his
power to create openings, made him stand out from other very good players.
Shaya was born at Salisbury on Christmas Eve in 1948, the second of eleven children. Although not the eldest, he always seemed to be leading the 'Shaya team' as the first-born son. Life was hard but his determination never faltered. It has never let him down on the soccer field.
One of the notable milestones in Shaya's career was his selection, at the age of twenty-one, for the Rhodesian World Cup team which played three qualifying round matches against Australia in the neutral venue of Mozambique in 1969. After two drawn games, Rhodesia lost the third and that was the last chance Shaya really had of furthering an international soccer career. Like the other sports,
Rhodesian soccer also suffered from political isolation.
But he did have a spell with one of the top South African professional clubs, Moroka Swallows, in 1975, and he gained another two international caps for Rhodesia in a series against South Africa in 1977.
After losing the first Test in South Africa 7-0, another honour came Shaya's way for the second Test at Salisbury — he was asked to captain the Rhodesian team. Always calm and collected it took him two months to accept the offer of leadership. "There was no reason. I just wanted to think about it, that's all," he said. His team improved dramatically and drew the second Test 1-1.
John Rugg (acting national soccer coach), had every confidence in Shaya: "He is an experienced player who commands great respect from the others and on the field he leads by example."
Although small in stature, Shaya always seemed to have vast reserves of energy and more than that, he was a true sportsman.
Shaya holds one record which may never be eclipsed. He was named Rhodesian Soccer Star of the Year on five occasions. He won the award for the first time in 1969 when his efforts for the national team against Australia were taken very much into account. He won it again in 1972,1974,1975 and 1977 to give the soccer players of the future a really difficult target to aim for — one that proved beyond doubt his consistently high standard over the years. Another honour was his selection as a finalist for the 1976 Rhodesian Sportsman of the Year award.
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