In the SA Combined Schools U19 semi-final penalty shootout against Cape North A at Bedfordview the KZN A goalkeeper Thandolwethu “Ollie” Zondi saved 3 spot-kicks for his province to win 3-2 on penalties.
In the KZN A vs KZN B final, at 4-4 in the penalty shootout, Ollie Zondi saved KZN B’s 5th penalty before bouncing back up to score the winning penalty himself! For KZN A to win the SA Combined Schools soccer title 5-4 on penalties.
Feature image: Ollie Zondi before his goalkeeping heroics in the heart-stopping penalty shoot on Goldstones when Maritzburg College regained the Raw Cup from DHS.
That eye-catching penalty-stopping ability, particularly in a penalty shootout, the most critical stage of a match which has gone that route, with the outcome resting on the (goal)line (if you’ll pardon the pun), plus Ollie’s goalkeeping prowess and imperious “ownership” of “his” piece of real estate, the big box, in regulation play, were key factors in the selectors’ decision to pick Ollie for the SA Combined Schools U19 team as well as naming him Goalkeeper of the Tournament.
‘Whilst others dream of scoring goals, I am that different guy, who dreams of saving them’
Ollie, the Maritzburg College first soccer team goalkeeper was also superb in the penalty shootouts that clinched the PMB High Schools Football Association second term MTN League final – and he did it again on Goldstones for the Red, Black and White to take the Raw Cup, the oldest KZN inter-school sports trophy, away from arch-rivals and Cowie Cup winners DHS, arguably the best first team outfit in the province.
So, he’s “not too shabby” hey Nige…?! So, Maritzburg College director of soccer and #RedBlackWhite first team head coach Daniel Haswell, what’s your assessment of Ollie the goalkeeper?
“My opinion of Ollie the goalkeeper? That’s easy, Jono. A lot of players say they want to play professionally and so on but what sets Ollie apart is that he focused first on training and improving. I’ve never seen a goalkeeper so dedicated to training, he trains like an absolute beast!
“And, Jono, we never made it easy for him; in fact we purposely make it tough because that is the way to test the boys – to see if they have what it takes. Their attitude to training is so important.
“Here I must credit Maritzburg College specialist goalkeeper coach Caniggia Garaba for his training regimen. Sometimes I would look at our GK’s diving at practice on the unforgiving AB Jackson field and shake my head. I got the goalkeepers gym mats and said, ‘Please guys, use these to land on!’.
“An important factor is that Ollie had Luyanda Mawela, also a fine Maritzburg College goalkeeper, constantly pushing him to perform.
“We called Ollie and Luyanda the ‘Goalkeepers’ Union’ because they always supported each other, whichever one was playing, and they would back each other when we [the first team squad and coaching staff] would banter them with comments like, ‘Oh, the goalkeepers are training in the shade again’ or hiding when we were doing conditioning testing.
“The truth of the matter is that no-one trained harder than Ollie – and his performances as well as his impressive physique are proof of that.
“Jono, I also want to add that Ollie saved an incredible 17 out of 50 penalties. It is an incredible penalty-save percentage. If a school first team’s goalkeeper – given the format of many of the competitions we play in at this level – is stopping 1 out of every 3 penalties taken, this gives that team a massive advantage.
“As mentioned, penalty shootouts are an important part of football – especially at schools level with all our cup competitions. They cannot simply be regarded as a ‘lottery’ or ‘pure luck’.
“So we looked at how we could get an advantage out of them. Ollie and (fellow keeper) Luyanda Mawela worked hard at agility and the mental aspect of it and also watching other teams, to see where and how they preferred to take penalties.”
Ok coach Dan, you’ve certainly established Ollie’s credentials as a goalkeeper and a person, so let’s hear Ollie’s story up close and personal.
“Hi Ollie, do you feel this Player of the Tournament award is recognition for the hard work you have put into your goalkeeping this year?”
“Yes, sir. I feel that a lot of hard work at training, on and off the field, plus a lot of help from my coaches and teammates has led me to winning this award.”
“Ollie, so what is it about football that attracted you to the game?
“Sir, I grew up in a family that always loved the sport. The 2010 FIFA World Cup being hosted in South Africa made me realise how big the sport of football was, and I instantly wanted to be part of it. How people from across the world came together to watch the World Cup really attracted me.”
And like the sure-footed shot-stopper he is, Ollie’s response was immediate when asked who have had the biggest influence on his soccer career so far.
“Mr Justin Tocknell was my first-ever coach; he introduced me to goalkeeping and also built my foundation in terms of establishing and setting personal goals. Mr Mba Mlotshwa, a Pelham Senior Primary School teacher and soccer coach, also made a big impression on me.
“At high school Mr Dan Haswell, our Maritzburg College first team head coach, trusted in me and my talent – even after me first playing rugby!
“Mr Haswell took me in and personally got me a goalkeeper coach, Mr Caniggia Garaba, who really started from basics and helped me up my game. Mr Haswell exposed me to a soccer-friendly environment and helped me understand many elements of the game.
“Putting all these parts together has enabled me to play for the Maritzburg College first team for 2 years and to play in 60 first team games. This has taught me that the whole team has put their trust in me to be their last man, so I should also trust each of them in their particular roles.”
Ollie is clear as to what his personal goals in football are, both in the short- and long-term
“My goal is to see myself playing for clubs that are recognised on a national level, to play for teams I grew up watching and supporting, and also to move on to represent my country if possible.”
Ollie, the Maritzburg College first team season this year, what have been the highlights and your disappointments?
“The first team this year was not only a team but a brotherhood. The respect and support the boys gave one another was simply outstanding, so it’s no coincidence that we won 3 trophies. On a personal level, I feel good that I kept 12 clean sheets and saved 17 penalties.
“A major disappointment was not being able to earn my 50th cap for the first team on Maritzburg College Reunion Day, due to unforeseen circumstances.”
Ollie is also chuffed that Maritzburg College has started awarding soccer scholarships. “This will definitely enhance the quality of football at the school.”
After attending Pelham Senior Primary School, Ollie was again sure-footed in taking the next step.
“I chose Maritzburg College due to me seeing how the boys of the school carried themselves. And the school’s name. The great academics and sports were also very influential in my decision.
“Maritzburg College as a school, I would say, is the best in the world. As I said, the academia is one of the best in the country and the sport produces some of our country’s greatest sportsmen.
So Ollie, what has football and goalkeeping taught you about yourself and about life?
“Football as a sport showed me that in order to achieve a certain goal, you need to put in loads of work, be patient, be committed and you also need the help of others to achieve it.
“Goalkeeping showed me that people trust you, and sometimes more than you trust yourself! Your team-mates and coaching staff believe in you, put their beliefs in you, so you need to believe in yourself, too, and also believe in them.”
Ollie’s favourite player is Atletico Madrid and Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
“For me, Jan Oblak is the best goalkeeper in the world, yet at the same time he is so humble. He is so down-to-earth, but when it’s game time he lets his talent do the talking. His ability in goals really amazes me.
“Jan Oblak is from a country like mine, that doesn’t have the greatest soccer side compared to the other great footballing countries, but he didn’t let that get in the way of him playing for one of the great teams in Spain and the world.”
To see Ollie Zondi on a soccer pitch, it always struck me that it was akin to watching a great performer on stage. By his engaging persona and sheer presence, Ollie “owns” his team’s penalty area, making it crystal clear to opposition strikers that he’s the boss-man and they’d better be very aware of the statement he’s making.
So I should have known the answer as to what would he like to do or be outside of football!
“I would like to be in the entertainment industry. To be a presenter or an actor. I really love this industry.”
I think we’ve established by now that goalkeeping is Ollie’s preferred position on a soccer pitch.
“I love goalkeeping because whilst others dream of scoring goals, I am that different guy, who dreams of saving them. I feel that a keeper not only keeps his team from conceding a lot of goals, but also keeps his team’s hopes up. If your team trusts you in goals, that’s half of their worries gone and allows them to focus more on scoring.”
So how much time does Ollie put in to improving his football?
“I work whenever I get time to. Most of the time it’s at least 4 times a week. Soccer is the only sport I participate in. In the off-season I will rest more and work at most twice a week.”
Ollie, is there anything else you’d like to add?
“I really would like to add my appreciation and gratitude to my God Almighty, who I believe is at the centre of everything in my life and football. “
Ollie, thank you so much for your patience and time, it’s been an absolute pleasure getting to know you.
“Thank you too sir for showing such an interest in me and coming to watch our games when you could.”
Ok, let’s a last word from Ollie Zondi’s coach, Dan Haswell: – So Dan, does the Ollie Zondi persona change into something else off the field?
“Definitely not, Jono. Off the field, Ollie is an absolute gem as well. He is a great team unifier with the way he talks, and he is always leading the team in songs before and after games.
“Ollie’s got a great future ahead of him, either as a goalkeeper or whatever he chooses to do, because he is a fine young man with a great heart – and the type of boy that we are proud of at Maritzburg College.