Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

Covid-19 takes London volleyball legend

Best Nkhoma : 4th September 1965 – 9th April 2020

We are sad to publish the news of the first recorded death of a London player in the current coronavirus pandemic.

The name Best Nkhoma will be known to all playing volleyball in London in the 90s but he was already a Zambian player who at the peak of his powers displayed volleyball skills that have echoed through volleyball generations in Zambia and the UK. He was born in a small mining town of Mufulira in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia in September 1965 and took up volleyball at the age of 12. He ascended through the volleyball ranks extremely fast resulting in his selection and captaining the Mufulira District Volleyball team. After moving to secondary school at Matero Boys Secondary School in the capital Lusaka, his volleyball blossomed; he was selected to play for Green Eagles Volleyball Club. During the 1984 Zambia Schools Volleyball Championships he captained his team to the final after which he was awarded best player of the tournament even though his team lost. Best then moved schools to Kalomo Secondary School in Southern Province of Zambia where he continued to dominate the game at secondary, club and national levels.

At the age of 16, Best was selected to the Zambian National Volleyball Team making him one of the youngest players ever to play for the national team. After leaving his secondary school, he went on to join Indeni Volleyball club based in the Copperbelt Province town of Ndola. From 1988 to 1991, Indeni Volleyball Club won the majority of local tournaments leading to the team representing the country at various international tournaments including Zone VI national championships and Africa Club Championships but, notably, the All Africa games of 1987 in Kenya and 1991 in Egypt. Best was then captain of both club and national teams. The awards he was decorated with include the best volleyball Club player of the year in 1988,1989,1990 & 1991; best player – Bonite Volleyball Club Championship in Tanzania 1989. Both the national team and Indeni Volleyball Club won various tournaments during the spell Best played in Zambia.

He left Zambia for the UK in 1992 and in London joined Tooting Aquila Volleyball Club and played for them until retiring in 2002. He made an immediate impression on the team at his first session during the warm-up showing the great control of hard hit balls which made him such a great backcourt player and then amazing everyone (he was not the tallest!) with his explosive jump and hitting power. Aquila had been promoted to the top league in England a couple of seasons before and his arrival was well timed in helping the team push for the championship that had just eluded them previously.

Although the club came close a number of times in the next few years, it was not until 1997 that Aquila were crowned champions of England. A large reason for this was the incredible team spirit shown by the squad and this was an area that Best excelled in.
Even the players that were battling with Best for the outside hitting position talk about his absolute professionalism towards the team: for him, it was the team first and if that meant he could help a team mate in his position improve then that was absolutely what he would do.

Best excelled in all forms of volleyball, playing in many indoor and outdoor tournaments across the UK in the off season as well as playing regularly in the UK Beach Tour in the summer. Bear Davies, England International and Aquila Coach writes, “I coached Best for the period 1992–1998. An absolute pleasure to coach, a rock star of a player who set the bar high for everyone in the gym. Privileged to have as a friend and I met with Best on each occasion I returned from Canada over the past 20 years. Whoever was lucky enough to have been impacted by Best will have felt the intense Human emotion he emoted.”

Terence Chibula, a fellow Zambian and Aquila teammate added, “Best was a pioneer of Zambian volleyball and I personally looked to him when I came to the UK in 2002. He was the reason I joined Aquila Volleyball Club. He remained close to me and my family up until his passing. RIP my friend, we will meet again.”

Another Aquila teammate, Manny Amadi turned to the classics to say, “Aristotle is credited with saying: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” In his passing, as in life, my friend Best who was a very special AND very ordinary guy is reminding me yet again to try to be the best of myself in every single act. It’s much harder than it sounds, but I hear you Bestie – and I’ll keep trying.”

While Steve Williams, fellow Aquila player and Beach partner reflected, “I had the pleasure of knowing Best from when he first arrived in the UK almost 30 years ago. He had many challenges in those early days, but I know that volleyball and particularly Aquila really helped him through those times. He was fantastic player with an amazing heart and attitude that you could simply not be carried along with. He and I played beach together for a number of years and I could not have asked for a better partner: so many great memories!
“But most of all he was a superb human being who demonstrated integrity and compassion to all who knew him, and I am grateful and honoured to be able to call him my friend.”

“Best was a blessed spirit who’s purpose in life was to reach and touch people’s life’s to show compassion and leadership and others to follow in his examples Bestie will live on in his family and our AQUILA (and extended volleyball family) hearts. Rest in Eternal peace Brother Best,” was the tribute from Joe Viera, Aquila manager.

Stepan Ruzicka, another Aquila teammate provided a lengthy tribute well summed up in its conclusion: “He was a great team-mate, dear friend and buddy. I miss him greatly and will never forget”,
They had first met in 1993 during his first training session with Aquila Volleyball Club, a meeting that is still a lasting memory. Best stood out among the many big characters in the club. His energy, enthusiasm, skill and spontaneity that he oozed during were infectious, and engendered a truly exciting and competitive session. He was hooked.
Stepan thought Best an exceptional volleyball player: not the tallest and perhaps not the most skilled but he more than compensated with his energy, natural athleticism and leadership. He never gave up, no ball was lost to him. When he was on top of his game, no team in England could stop him, when things were tough he would take responsibility for the key side-out. He was a true on-court warrior and you would always want him on your side of the net.
Off court Best was extremely modest, friendly and empathetic, a man with huge heart. Stepan warmly remembers many chats about sport, family and greater things in life and after he retired from the game they stayed in touch, meeting from time to time and playing the odd game of football in Hyde Park.

Joe Mildred, an Aquila teammate who went on to be an England and Great Britain International knew Best from a young age revealing that as a junior, Best was a huge part of his development. “He always wanted me to improve,” he said, “And invested a lot of time to bring me in as a player as well as build my confidence which has helped me throughout my life. He taught me respect, positivity and respect for those close to me and I will always remember and appreciate his impact on both me and everyone he met.”

“For Best, being Humble means recognising that we are not put on this earth to see how great we can become but to see how much difference we can make in the lives of others. A most unselfish and loving man who taught me more than just the game. A gift from god taken to soon. I will never forget you my team mate my brother,” was the tribute form Danny Croydon another Aquila teammate, one that sums up his greatness.

Aquila’s rivals Malory recognised his contribution to London and England volleyball too. Jefferson Williams, England National Team as well as Malory Coach wrote, “Fans of English Volleyball will know that in the late 80s and early 90s, Aquila and Malory were big rivals in South London and across British volleyball. The matches between them were fierce physical battles that drew hundreds of fans when the teams played one another.
“International players new to London tended to end up at Malory or Aquila. We missed out on Bestie when he arrived in London from Zambia. As a player he contributed to the dynamics of the Aquila team and we will all remember the energy and emotion that he brought to the court. He helped Aquila’s cause and was such an instrumental player for them that our tactics revolved around neutralizing his effectiveness. He and Danny Wol were a formidable outside hitter pairing.
“Off court Besty was a gentleman and we all got on well. He was polite and respectful and pleasant to be around. He will be remembered for his contribution to his club and volleyball in London.

London volleyball extends its condolences to Best’s team mates and friends but, above all, to his family: his wife Meriah, his eldest son Juniour Best Nkhoma, his twin girls Lusungu and Kondwani and to his twin sons Joshua and Emmanuel.

A fundraising page … f-the-late-mr-best-nkhoma has been set up to help the family and generous support is invited.

Contributor, Douglas Barr-Hamilton
Source, Jefferson Williams
Photograph, (c) Barbara Totterdell