Growing up on the streets of Makokoba in Bulawayo was no easy task, especially during the days of Rhodesia prior to Zimbabwe gaining independence in 1980. Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city is proud town, found in the heart of Matabeleland, the homeland of the isiNdebele people.
An industrial town, built with the specific purpose to produce, Bulawayo is known for producing some of Zimbabwe’s greatest exports, one of those being none other than Peter Ndlovu. A young Peter learnt his trade on the tough streets of Makokoba and, while attending Mzilikazi High School, a famous government high school set in the midst of Bulawayo’s notorious high-density areas, Ndlovu was plucked from anonymity by local club giants Highlanders.
It was here, in front of some of the most passionate fans in the world that Peter would acquire the nickname “The Bulawayo Bullet” as he set Barbour Fields (the local stadium) alight week in and week out with his pace and guile.
A lot to 💙 here from Coventry City FC's Peter Ndlovu ☄️#GoalOfTheDay
Posted by Premier League on Monday, May 15, 2017
Ndlovu was nothing short of a phenom, terrorising local defences with unerring consistency. For a lot of local boys, Peter was living the dream as the terraces bellowed his name, but it was about to get better. Unbeknown to him, Ndlovu had been spotted by a certain John Sillet, who delivered news of the Bulawayo Bullet to Terry Butcher, the manager of a football club called Coventry City all the way in the footballing mecca of England.
Now Barbour Fields was always the dream for most boys, simply because anything beyond that, especially England, just seemed so entirely unrealistic that it was almost laughable to dream of such things. It was Ndlovu however, who broke through that ceiling when Butcher came calling, signing him in July 1991.
At the tender age of 18, Ndlovu left the dusty streets of Bulawayo, his home, for something completely unknown, uncertainty wreaking havoc with his nerves while at the same time brimming with the same determination that had endeared him to his beloved Highlanders fans.
— African Football (@AfrFootball) August 24, 2017
Hailing from a country with very little footballing pedigree on the international stage, Ndlovu was a previously unheard of name, not to mention one that was pretty difficult to pronounce, (as commentators would later prove) leading many Coventry City fans to question the signing.
However, the Bulawayo Bullet was quick to allay fears amongst the Coventry faithful. He scored away at Arsenal before scoring an absolute worldie against Aston Villa to clinch a win at Highfield Road in November 1991.
He quickly acquired a new nickname, “Nuddy”, courtesy of the Sky Blues fans who struggled to pronounce his name correctly (End-lo-voo, for those of you struggling as you read this).
In stark contrast to the current Premier League, which is littered with some of Africa’s finest footballers, Nuddy became the first African to play in the new Premier League showing a level of class and grace that encouraged other clubs to look towards Africa’s rich harvest.
He opened the door for so many boys who had been dreaming of the likes of Barbour Fields and no further, to dream of Highbury and Anfield.
Under new manager Bobby Gould, Nuddy formed a formidable partnership with Mickey Quinn as Coventry roared out of the blocks in the inaugural Premier League season. The Sky Blues blistering start saw them lose just five times before Christmas and even briefly top the table.
The Sky Blues blistering start saw them lose just five times before Christmas and even briefly top the table. Unfortunately, Coventry did a bit of an Arsenal, fading away badly in the latter part of the season to finish in 15th.
On this day 1992 Peter Ndlovu scored that goal against Norwich,as seen on MOTD https://t.co/128PP4Zgci
— Dean Nelson (@deanocity3) September 26, 2017
Peter only scored seven times that season but was still the toast of Highfield Road, having well and truly cast all doubts aside. How far the Bulawayo Bullet had come from the barren playing fields of Mzilikazi High School.
Peter was a real nuisance for Premier League defenders who struggled to keep his speed and unique flair in check. His Zimbabwean style was unlike anything they had seen before and it showed as Nuddy regularly made some of the world’s best defenders look like real mugs.
He was a real tease who loved isolating defenders in one on ones, often turning them in circles before unleashing a powerful shot that would often leave the goalkeeper helpless.
Ndlovu would go on to become a regular headline maker in the Premier League, scoring some absolute screamers during his incredible English journey. Who can forget the Zimbabwean cutting onto his left before pinging an absolute missile into the top corner against Wimbledon in 1995, or clinching a hat-trick in front of the world-famous Kop as he single-handedly dragged the Sky Blues to a remarkable win at Anfield.
Nuddy would go on to make 176 appearances for Coventry, scoring 39 goals between 1991 and 1997. He was sadly plagued by inconsistency and eventually dropped out of the Premier League moving to second-tier side Birmingham City.
Nuddy would go on to enjoy a lengthy career in the Championship, but unfortunately never made it back to the heady heights of the Premier League where he had made such an impact as a courageous, starry-eyed young man – he is still remembered fondly at Birmingham where he scored 23 times in 105 appearances.
Ndlovu was known as Nuddy wherever he went in England, finishing his English days at Sheffield, netting 25 times before moving back to Africa to play in the South African league with Pretoria giants Mamelodi Sundowns.
Despite the difficulties in pronouncing his name, Nuddy is fondly remembered in many Premier League circles. While his name is one that may be starting to drift deeper into the dusty pages of footballing history, his journey from the thankless Makokoba streets, to scoring winners at Anfield is one that almost seems too crazy to even believe.
Ndlovu’s mythical status in his home country is also starting to diminish somewhat with new generations that never had the opportunity to watch him play coming through.
Happily, though, the tale of the Makokoba boy, who made some of Europe’s greatest quiver in their boots, will always be told by the older folk who watched him turn on the style at Barbour Fields and beyond. Simply put, the name the Bulawayo Bullet will always be remembered with a smile.