By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.Emeritus Professor of Sociology
It was cloudy and a light sprinkling of misty rain. I was sitting in the open stands at the Lusaka Independence Stadium with my late Uncle Mr. J. J. Mayovu. The year was February 1973 at the beginning of Zambia’s new football or soccer season. The players of the top team the Kabwe Warriors Football Club were kicking the ball and running around warming up before the season opening match. That’s when I spotted the great legendary tall striker Ucar Godfrey Chitalu strutting around with his Warriors team mates. He was wearing a blue football or soccer tracksuit with the number 107 on his back. That was the number of goals the prolific scorer had scored just in 1972 alone. The next eight years of the 1970s, I was to be blessed to see some of Chitalu’s most spectacular goals after breaking through some of the toughest defenses in the penalty box of the opposing team. Just thinking about this gives me goose bumps. The legendary radio commentator the late Dennis Liwewe often vividly described those defenses against Chitalu in what he used to call the “danger zone.”
Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup
The 2022 FIFA World Cup starts Sunday 20th of November during which 32 teams from the whole world will be vying for the World Cup. This is not the time for national teams that did not qualify to lament and wish they were there in Qatar. I have always been disappointed that Zambia men’s teams have not qualified for the world cup yet during the last 50 years. Kudos to Zambia’s women’s team that has qualified for the Women’s World Cup. This is the time to enjoy and pick teams that you want to back. It is appropriate to reflect on which country’s world cup team was the best ever if you consider the last 21 world cup winners. Each country which is a member of FIFA has its own national history of soccer heroes. Who are Zambia’s soccer legends and heroes?
Zambia’s Soccer Heroes
Mizyawo Mkandawire and Ginger Pensulo were two of Zambia’s earliest soccer legends from the 1950s when Zambia was a British colony of Northern Rhodesia. These men were said to be physically tough, best athletes, were the best dribblers, scorers and sometimes defenders. Toughest of all they played football or soccer barefoot. Can you imagine playing football or soccer barefoot today?
The 1974 Zambia’s national team that played in the African Cup final was loaded with some of the best players Zambia has produced. Godfrey Chitalu, Dick Chama, Boniface Simutowe, Brighton Sinyangwe just to mention a few. I watched the game when the Zambia National Team beat Morocco 4 – 0 at Independence Stadium in 1974. It was one of the greatest games I have seen because everything clicked in the best way for the team for those 90 minutes.
I saw the Great Kalusha Bwalya when he was may be 18 years old playing for Mufulira Wanderers in a Cup Final match on a sunny afternoon at Independence stadium. I remember him being this young kid who had speed. He is now a Zambian soccer legend after a spectacular soccer career.
“The World on its Feet.”
Pele is perhaps the greatest player in the world. He had scored a record one thousand goals by 1969. During the 1970 world cup, I was a student in Form 1V at Chizongwe Secondary School in Chipata. I could not have watched it on TV or even listened to the game on radio because I was a student and of course Zambia was not in the world cup. The story of the spectacular team of the Brazilian 1970 world cup spread to the remotest parts of the world even including rural Chipata in Zambia. What made the team spectacular?
I was a freshman at University of Zambia in 1972. One Saturday night, I was among the more than five hundred students who gathered in the historic UNZA Lecture Theater One to watch a movie. I did not know what movie we were going to watch. You could tell those days the length of the movie you are about to watch by how many large reels were piled up next to the projector operator. As I settled down in my seat, I was happy to see two humongous reels. The sweet continuous purring sound of the projector started. The large screen image was new and rectangular called technicolor. The title of the movie was: “The World on its Feet”. It was about the 1970 world cup. Right there in the Lecture Theater as I watched, I thought I had died and gone to soccer or football heaven just to see the world’s best football players at the time.
Brazil 1970 Best Team Ever
Fast forward from 1972 to fifty years later while I am living in the United States waiting to watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup matches. I am telling my adult sons who are 33 and 42 years old about all these soccer legends. I tell them that there is a movie that I will never see again that I had watched in 1972. I said it was so long time ago that I would never see: “The World on its Feet” again. Through the wonders of the internet my son miraculously found the movie. I was very emotional as I watched the movie triggering buried memories from that UNZA lecture theater 50 years ago.
The plot of the movie is a young ten-year-old poor village boy in rural Mexico badly wants to see the World Cup in distant Mexico City. He has no money. He sneaks away from his parents and hitch hikes all the way to the stadium in Mexico City. He sneaks over stadium high walls and tight security gates and gets into the stadium. The village boy watches many world cup matches including the final between Brazil and Italy.
The most thrilling part of the movie is seeing all the groups and knock out games that Brazil easily sailed through. They were beating teams 2-0, 3-1, 5-0. Brazil beat Italy 4 -1 in the final game. What is mesmerizing about the 1970 Brazilian world cup team is the trio of perhaps the best strikers any nation’s world cup team has ever assembled; Pele, Jairzinho and Tostao. Their striking force was breathtaking. Once the fast-dribbling and passing trio crossed mid-field, defenders had no chance. This is perhaps why the 1970 Brazil World Cup team will remain the best ever. Can you imagine if the Zambian World Cup National team had the legendary Ucar Godfrey Chitalu, the great Kalusha Bwalya, and the prolific scorer Alex Chola in the front line?!!! Then the bombastic the late Dennnis Liwewe as the commentator!