Retro Corner… A tribute to Tando

When Tando Velaphi announced his retirement from professional football last month, he did so with the same class and humility he displayed throughout his 17-year career.

Referring to himself as a “skinny 17-year-old” when he moved from Perth to the Australian Institute of Sport, he went on to reflect upon the highs and lows, unforgettable memories and life lessons and most importantly, the people he met and friendships he formed along the way.

He may not quite have reached Liam Reddy levels in terms of A-League clubs played for, but he represented six in total, was capped by Australia at Under-20 and Under-23 level and fulfilled a lifelong ambition to play in Japan where he turned out for Shonan Bellmare and Kochi United.

Of his 111 career A-League appearances, more than 80 came with Glory and although he was largely a number two to Reddy during his second spell in purple, between 2008 and 2011 he was very much first choice and made over 60 starts.

Comfortable with the ball at his feet and an agile shot-stopper, he kept nine clean sheets in the 2009/10 campaign and had injury not intervened, may well have kicked on in his career when he moved to Melbourne Victory a year later.

That stress fracture of the tibia was one of a number of injuries which hampered Velaphi’s attempts to establish himself as a regular starter over the years, with perhaps the most alarming of them coming during Glory’s pre-season trip to Sarawak in 2018.

In attempting to reach the ball in a one-on-one situation, an opposition striker went studs up into the Glory keeper’s face, leaving him motionless on the ground.

He was immediately stretchered off and rushed to hospital where doctors confirmed that he had been millimetres away from losing the sight in his left eye.

As it was, question marks remained about whether his full peripheral vision would return, but Velaphi bravely battled his way back and having provided back-up for Reddy throughout the 2018/19 season, ended up with a Premiership-winner’s medal.

He would go on to taste AFC Champions League action for Glory in the Qatar hub in 2020 and after departing the club in 2021, enjoyed another spell in Japan, this time with Kochi United.

Now back in Perth working as an account specialist with a medical equipment manufacturer, Velaphi barely seems to have aged since donning the Glory gloves for the first time in 2007.

Fresh-faced and fit, he still looks every inch the elite athlete and his famously thin calves remain as slender as ever.

His was a football career that certainly contained more than its fair share of lows and tough times, but his character always shone through and few players have ever been more universally liked and respected by teammates, coaches and staff.

So thanks for the memories, Tando and all the very best for what comes next.