Comfy Sofa: Simba Mafundikwa

Welcome to the second ever Comfy Sofa! The best interview spot in the world of football. It is with great pride that I introduce our guest: Senior at SUNY Delhi majoring in Architecture and my little brother, Simba Mafundikwa:

I would like to talk to you about your experience playing collegiate football/soccer at SUNY Delhi. You started as a staff member correct?

Yes that is correct. My first year at SUNY Delhi I was on the swimming team, but always knew I wanted to join the soccer team. I used to go watch their games every weekend and I had a few friends that were already on the team. I used to play with them for fun.

At the end of their season in freshman year which was 2013, the coach organizes practice games in winter, that’s where he asked me to join his team. Unfortunately I did my high school in Zimbabwe and wasn’t allowed to play because SUNY Delhi was still a two year college in sports.

So my coach allowed me to join the coaching team instead, which was good because I was still able to train, in the hope that, the next two years of my college career I would be able to play.

So how did you become eligible to play?

Delhi became a four year college after switching divisions from the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) to the USCAA (United States Collegiate Athletic Association). So we were facing other four year colleges, while also competing in the nationals tournament that was held in my junior year in North Carolina and my senior year this past semester in Virginia Beach.

Do you remember your first training session?

It was a big difference because this time I spent the summer before my junior year, getting in shape for the season. Knowing this would be my first season actually playing. I had already been to a lot of the games and knew the guys on the team very well.

So the first day I arrived before training which is a week before school starts in August, I received a warm welcome which made me very happy. I was very comfortable from the beginning and the coach put me in the left-back position. I have very fond memories of my first training session.

Was it a major difference practicing as a player instead of a staff member?

The big difference being that I was training for a purpose with playing games in mind. As opposed to training to just stay fit and impress.

The first game. How did that go?

Right before school started we played a preseason game against SUNY Polytechnic in a scrimmage (exhibition game) as they call it in America and I came on at halftime. Looking back, I was plagued with inexperience and youthfulness if you may.

But my first official game was against Penn State Hazleton. I started that game and we eventually won 7-1. Unfortunately I picked up a minor injury in the second-half which didn’t allow me to finish that game. But I was very happy to play in front of my home fans and friends.

Yes the transition from playing socially in Zimbabwe to collegiate level must have been hard. What type of things did you have to overcome?

I have to say that playing socially in Zimbabwe actually prepared me in many ways. But something that I had to overcome was practice sessions everyday. In college you’re in school, your main focus is school. But you still have to practice everyday and you have matches every other day.

So that means you’re going to miss a lot of time that you could’ve been doing work. Also, the style in America is different to Zimbabwe, but Zimbabwe is a lot more physical which gave me an advantage. I already knew how to use my body to gain an advantage, since my position is defense. That is a vital skill to have.

Also the traveling. We had to stay in hotels and different states. Wake up early and play games. That was also an adjustment in America.

There was also a time the coach wouldn’t put you on. What was the reason?

To this day I still don’t know the exact reason. I suspect it was the small injury I acquired during my first game, which meant that I wasn’t able to play the next few games. The coach put somebody else in the left-back position and they did well, so it was much harder for me to get back into contention.

But you did and stayed in the starting eleven till the end of your playing days.

Yes. Towards the end of my junior year season I was back in the starting lineup. The majority of my senior year, I was in the starting eleven except for about two games due to injury.

Let’s talk about your teammates. How was the camaraderie in the dressing room? Did you make new friends?

The majority of my teammates are from upstate New York, with a few of us being from other countries like: Ecuador, Portugal and Equatorial-Guinea. We’re very close, we spend a lot of time together. In team situations there are always going to be cliques between older and younger players, but in my team there were very little. Everyone helped each other for the common goal of achieving success.

Our dressing room was very relaxed with a few team clowns, that would always joke around or play music to psyche us up or calm the nerves. There was always laughter in my team. This came down from the coach. He has a big sense of humor, always joking around. But when it’s time to get serious he gets very serious. It was a good balance between having a good time and knowing when to get to work.

On the field of play, how good was your team? Did you win trophies?

My team was one of the more successful teams in my division, making it to the national championships two years in a row for the first time ever in our history. We definitely played to our potential in a lot of games. In terms of winning trophies, we didn’t win any during my time at Delhi.

Yes it’s a shame when you cant translate good form into trophies. But individually you were a winner: experiencing college football, playing loads of games and being appointed vice-captain.

Yes individually I do feel like a winner. I would definitely say my best experience was being named one of the captains. I will never forget my first game as captain in senior year. Before every game we sing the national anthem and the captains lead the teams out. It was a very emotional situation, but it also made me play differently and with more assertiveness. It made me take care of my teammates especially the younger and newer ones.

Indeed. With your experiences playing, do you have more of an appreciation towards top level footballers, like the ones at your favorite club Manchester United?

Definitely, I appreciate the time that they take to practice, that’s their life to practice everyday, they sacrifice a lot. Also the dedication to improve, get better, be a good communicator. Another thing that I found tough is the traveling, cause you have to travel long distances, be away from home, family, so I definitely appreciate what professional footballers go through. It made me realize what it would take, if I were to go down that route one day.

To wrap up, I want to ask you some quickfire questions. Best performance.

My final game at the national tournament at Virginia Beach against Albany Pharmacy.

Worst performance.

It was against a school called St. Joseph’s. I don’t know if I was low on confidence but nothing was really going my way and I was substituted early.

Best goal.*

I didn’t score any goals in my college career, though I did have some very close chances. Barely skimming the bar with a long range shot and having a half volley blocked on the line.

Best assist.

It came in one of our final games in Boston. I received the ball from Joffre, the play-maker of the team, in the top tier of the opposition half. I passed the ball to one of my defensive midfielders, he ran through on goal and scored. We won that game 1-0. Very vital goal and assist.

Favorite away ground.

Albany Pharmacy. I say that because, I have good memories from the last game we played there last season where we won 4-0. That was our first time winning in Albany as SUNY Delhi and they have great facilities over there, good support, so that’s my favorite away ground.

Away ground you hated visiting.

I don’t recall the name of the school but it was up in the Adirondack area. Honestly, it felt like we were playing a team of brute men, like lumberjacks and that’s exactly the way they played. The pitch was very small and the fans were right up next to the pitch, very hostile.

Thank you for giving us an insight into your football experience. All the best with your graduation in May!

Thank you for having me on your Comfy Sofa! I enjoyed sharing my experience of playing football/soccer in America.


*Tongue in cheek 🙂