From Zimbabwe to Hanover: a tale of a love for soccer
For most of his life, Methembe Ndlovu '97 ran around in bare feet kicking a soccer ball made out of plastic bags in his native Zimbabwe. Now, sporting shiny soccer shoes, he drills a state-of-the-art leather ball for the Dartmouth varsity soccer team.
The soft-spoken, wiry Ndlovu, who is now the soccer team's play-maker, says he is adapting both to Hanover and a new style of soccer.
"Hanover is entirely different from where I grew up -- here it is a small town, there I lived in a township," he said. "I stayed in rural areas when I was young where there was no electricity."
Ndlovu said he first heard of Dartmouth when he met Andrew Shue '89, Tommy Clark '92 and Andrew Wiese '91, who went to Zimbabwe to play league soccer for a few years.
"They were talking to me about the College and it seemed really interesting," Ndlovu said. "I became really interested in it and decided to apply."
A few Dartmouth alumni have played soccer in Zimbabwe, soccer coach Bobby Clark said, but Ndlovu is the first to come from Zimbabwe to Dartmouth.
"I love the crowd when they come out," Ndlovu said,"... but no matter what, I play my hardest. I just take it a game at a time -- you can't look that far ahead."
Teammates have nothing but praise for the young star.
"He's always smiling, always looking at the bright side of things," co-Captain Blaine Legere '95 said. "He said after we lost a couple of games something like, 'Fishing wouldn't be fun if you caught fish everyday.'"
Teammate Bill Cronin '95, who plays mid-field along with Ndlovu, said Ndlovu is used to playing in front of crowds of 30,000 to 40,000 back in Zimbabwe.
Ndlovu said soccer in the United States is more physical than in Zimbabwe and that he likes it that way. Coach Clark said Ndlovu is adapting well to the new style and has brought a new dimension of touch passing to the team.
Ndlovu said he is still adjusting to the formality of playing on a team, as opposed to the pickup games at home.
"In pickup games you could do whatever you wanted, now I have to know my position on the team and work towards the goal of teamwork. You have to be in-line with everyone else," he said.
"He is one of the most selfless players on the soccer field," Cronin said. "If you make a run, he'll find a way to get you the ball."
Cronin said Ndlovu is one of the best passers on the soccer field, making him an invaluable asset to the entire team.
"Our boys were amazed that Methembe hadn't played in soccer shoes until he was 16," Coach Clark said. "And our guys sometimes complain about this shoe and that shoe. He's so unspoiled."
Ndlovu said he regretted leaving his big brother, big sister, two little brothers and mother in Africa, but said he would like to return home to see them.
"My mom knew it was a great opportunity for a great education," Ndlovu said as he shifted uneasily in his chair. "Although I am far away I think she knew it was worth it."
His family lives in the suburbs of Bulawayo, a city of about half a million people.
He said he would play soccer for an hour each day and eventually played in the junior league of the Highlanders team.
It was there that Ndlovu met the Dartmouth graduates who encouraged him to apply.
"I had an idea of what it was like from the brochures and stuff and the stories the students told me," Ndlovu said with a smile. "It is a little different from what I pictured, but I love it here."
Ndlovu said he would like to play professional soccer in the U.S. later in life.
"But you know," he said smiling. "Home is always home, no matter what."