Hereford Hero #6 – Tamika Mkandawire

Hereford Hero

TAMIKA MKANDAWIRE

Tamika was born in Mzuzu, Malawi on 28 May 1983 but came to this country when he was only a year old with his mother and father, settling down in Rugby, Warwickshire. Even as a nine year old his talent was spotted whilst playing in a local Sunday league team, gradually gaining experience with Harris High school and club sides across the county. His preferred position was central midfield, but because of his height he was frequently played in defence, something he eventually specialised in.

At the age of 15 ‘Tam’ wrote letters to seven professional clubs across the West Midlands, with West Bromwich Albion the first to show interest. Within weeks he was training with their Under-16s, and a three-year apprenticeship followed.

At the end of his apprenticeship he was delighted to sign a two-year professional contract at the Hawthorns, and even had the option of a third year. The defender often trained and travelled with the first team during this time, but he felt he was not afforded a chance to breakthrough into the main squad.

During this period Tamika appeared at Edgar Street for the first time, lining up as centre-half for West Bromwich Albion in a pre-season friendly on 21 July 2003. Hereford cruised to a comprehensive 5-0 win with Mkandawire conceding a penalty. It was obvious he was fully committed from the start and this effort was typified when, at full stretch, he saved a Danny Williams shot on the goal line. The incident was memorable because the Albion defender was substituted immediately after the spot-kick at the request of the referee, rather than being red-carded.

His performance was noted by Graham Turner and it was not surprising therefore when, in October 2003, Tamika linked up with the Bulls on a three-month loan spell. His debut arose away at Woking when covering for the injured Andy Tretton and he impressed many with his athleticism and timing. That season he made eighteen appearances for Hereford, scoring against Shrewsbury Town at Gay Meadow.

Released by West Bromwich Albion at the end of the campaign he was quickly snapped up by Hereford on one-year contract, despite interest from New England Revolution in the United States. Tamika thrived on regular first team football and his pace at the back ensured he became an integral part of a promotion seeking Bulls team. During the 2004/5 campaign Tamika made 41 appearances for the club, winning many man-of-the-match awards, and also featured for England ‘C’ in the European Championships in Brussels. The Bulls reached the Conference play-off semi-finals for the second year running, but the breakthrough was to come the following season.

His consistency continued throughout the 2005/06 campaign and, when Tony James was injured, Mkandawire took over the captain’s armband leading Hereford into the play-off final, powering home a header in the semi-final second leg against Morecambe in front of a 6,278 crowd at Edgar Street.

In the Conference Final at the Walkers Stadium in Leicester, Mkandawire was imperious in an epic 3-2 victory. Hereford gained promotion back to the Football League and in one of his proudest moments ‘Tam’ lifted the trophy aloft beginning some amazing scenes of celebration amongst supporters and players alike.

He was named team captain for Hereford’s first season back in the Football League, helping the Bulls consolidate, but turned down a new contract at Edgar Street in the summer of 2007 linking up with Leyton Orient on a three-year deal.

Mkandawire made 114 appearances for Orient during the next three seasons before linking up with Millwall at the end of his contract term at Brisbane Road. In a surprising positional change he was utilised as a holding midfielder by the Lions, but continued to excel, and in 2011 was named Player-of-the-Year. However, several injuries marred his time at the New Den and he was loaned out to Southend to gain match fitness.

Graham Turner then swooped to recapture Tamika on a two-year deal whilst in charge of Shrewsbury, but after their relegation from League One Mkandawire was released on 2 June 2014, having come to an agreement to end his contract early.

Tamika, 32, emigrated to Florida in the United States that summer and now plays for Tampa Bay Rowdies in the North American Soccer League. He has been a regular since the move, and signed a new contract to remain at Tampa Bay in January 2018.

Keith Hall

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.