Friday, May 24, 2024

Why I’m rooting for Rainford’s quick recovery

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By Chimwemwe Mwanza
It’s indisputable, Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndlovu and Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu rank as two of the best soccer stars to have emerged from Zambia. However, choosing as to who between the two is the greatest to have donned the famous copper jersey is a difficult ask. Confession, I never watched either play for Zambia – I was born three years after Mobutu’s boys – the then ‘Leopards’ of Zaire trounced Zambia in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations played in the land of the Pharaohs.

Fast forward and thanks to my grandmother, Rosemary ‘Mbuya Rose’ Mvula who was living in Mufulira’s section 5 then, she rewarded my improved performance in my third primary grade with a ticket to watch a Mighty Mufulira Wanderers VS Kabwe Warriors match at the famed Shinde stadium. With uncle John Mvula in tow and first time in a soccer stadium, this proved an electrifying
experience for yours truly. While chants of ‘Mighty iwine chungulo’ were reverberating outside the stadium, fans inside, were dancing to a different anthem – ‘Mpakafye litente isumbo,’ loosely translated as it’s never over in Shinde until the net bulges – this was and is still Mighty’s war cry.

I’m privileged to have watched King Kalu torment the Warriors defence on that day and the net bulged twice without response from Warriors courtesy of Kalu’s goals – this was shortly before Belgian soccer club Cercle Brugge snapped him for a career in the Jupiler league. The reason for this background is simple – I belong to Kalusha’s era of football and fan base, which is why for me, he remains Zambia’s greatest of all time. Thanks to his exploits on that day, I grew to love soccer. In this context, few would disagree that soccer is Zambia’s staple sport – the only one which transcends all barriers including politics.

Back to the Zoom and Ucar debate – admittedly, I never watched either play yet I’m conflicted for an honesty opinion. The reason being, I’m a die-hard Magnificent Kabwe Warriors fan, therefore the guy who plundered 107 goals in one soccer season is sort-of my second choice after Kalu. Yet great as Zoom, Ucar and Kalu were and have been to the history and development of Zambian soccer,none ever hoisted the AFCON trophy.

Why I respect Rainford

Enter Herve Reinhard as Zambia’s coach, I drove to Rand Stadium east of Johannesburg, South Africa in early Jan 2012 at the invitation of a friend Dickson Malama to watch a soccer practice between Zambia and a select South African side. Playing under the tutelage of Reinhard – and with King Kalu who by then was in charge of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) in attendance, one could see the hunger and passion in the boys. Although Nathan Sinkala’s ball marshalling skills in the middle of the pack were a revelation, one skinny player whose heels barely touched the ground prowled Zambia’s right wing with mesmerising skills. He caught my attention.

Every time this player touched the ball, Collins Mbesuma and Christopher Katongo would run into space shouting, ‘Master, pantashi, bika pantashi iwe’ and this lad would then string a diagonal but pin-pointed pass, landing straight onto Mbesuma’s foot. The net bulged ceaselessly on that day courtesy of Mbesuma’s thunderous left foot. After the practise session, I rushed to the team bus hoping to catch a glimpse of the players and with specific intent of shaking the so called ‘Master’ ‘s
hand.

Drawing closer to this player, Lusekelo Kamwambi, a giant of a man and whom I later came to learn was the team manager shoved me in my neck almost choking me to the ground. ‘Ta mumwene ati nabanaka aba, balekeni baye batushe’ translated as can’t you see that these people are tired, give them a chance to rest. On realising that his actions were barbaric, Kamwambi who has since become a good friend immediately reached out for an apology – the price for his behaviour prompted him to summon the ‘Master’ Rainford Kalaba with whom we quickly shook hands.

Rainford is naturally shy – a person of few words. He could barely focus on our chat, actually he was aloof, couldn’t care less about my handshake. If it were up to him, he wanted this conversation concluded within seconds. With the burly Kamwambi lurking in the background, I quickly expressed my admiration for his skills and wished him and the rest of the team success at the AFCON tournament which was due to kick-off in a few days. To which he replied. ‘Tukabadabwisha, mukese tutambako bigge,’ translated as we will shock them, come watch us, was all he muttered before bouncing into the protective company of Kamwambi – and off they boarded the bus.

Say what you may, Rainford is talent personified – a gifted footballer with a football brain. His twinkle feet possess a blend of Kalu’s dribbling skills yet he lacks the King’s sprinting abilities. What he lacked in speed though, he compensated with his incisive passing abilities only comparable to Charles Musonda’s astuteness. How prophetic that Zambia won the AFCON cup in Libreville Gabon – the same country in which 22 of its soccer players, including coaches, Ucar Chitalu, Alex Chola, then
FAZ chairman Micheal Mwape and the entire Airforce crew commandeering that fateful Buffalo plane, all perished.

Rainford was one of the standout performers of the 2012 AFCON tournament. The fact that he missed a penalty that should have ended the spot kick contest with Corte D’Ivoire was off little consequence – Stopilla Sunzu stepped up to slot the winning kick sending the fans back home and the entire country into a frenzy. Who can forget the sight of a disconsolate Didier Drogba, Kolo
Touré and Gervinho watching Chris Katongo hoisting the continent’s most prized golden trophy?

In that moment of disbelief, one would have been forgiven for believing God was Zambian. Thanks to this team, the country finally etched its name among pantheons of African football – in the process nudged us closer to finding closure on the death of our soccer team. The fact that this lad is more loved and appreciated in the DRC – despite retiring from active soccer is largely due to his exploits at the Moise Katumbi owned TP Mazembe football club. In addition to the AFCON medal,Rainford is the only Zambian player to boast 3 Africa Club Champion league medals in his drawer -his near equal Bubble Malitoli only has one which he won while playing for Tunisian giants Esperance. Enough respect.

Off course, it’s tragic that a life was lost in the accident that led to his near-death experience but who on earth is without wrong or sin? Truth remains, Master has done this country proud. His behaviour on the field always reflected that of a patriot that was always prepared to die for their country. As such, I rather remember Rainford for his on-field than outside the pitch antics.

Best wishes in your recovery, son of the soil.

Mwanza is an ardent soccer fan. He supports Kabwe Warriors and Liverpool. He also enjoys reading history and philosophy. For feedback, contact, [email protected]

17 COMMENTS

  1. Very good analysis, but l would tell you that the players you have mentioned cannot be compared against each other, Different eras and times.If you watched ZOOM, you would say something else, equally is,if you watched UCAR, yr
    thought would have been different.Having said this is part of our soccer history.
    On the lad l wish him quickly recovery.
    Bish DTL
    USA.

  2. Zoom played in the same era as Ucar. Zoom’s dribbling skills were second to none but Chitalu’s scoring prowess was second to none too. If you watch Kalusha’s foot movement when he normally sent a defender one direction while he went with the ball in another direction, this was a replica of one of Zoom’s mesmerising ball tricks that fans loved to watch. When he became coach of Mighty he taught Lusha his own dribbling skills. The only other player I saw with those silky dribbling skills was Alex Chola with perhaps Peter Kaumba a close third

    12
    • You mention fabulous players, Gibby Mbasela, our own Jay-Jay Okocha, is a pear. He should have stayed longer at Shinde to hone his skills before leaving for Europe. Like Timothy Mwiitwa he did not peak.
      Willie Phiri is an orange. Like Ucar and Kaumba he liked to chase the ball but Ucar’s hunger for goals can only be compared to the Brazillian Ronaldo. Every time Ucar had the ball in the 18 you counted a goal.

    • Kalu is an apple. He could orchestrate like a Jani Simulambo, dribble, assist, and score. He was also a deadball master unlike any other in Africa.
      Watch Zambia’s 4-1 victory against Italy and you see a strategy effectively played around one player. For memorable assists, watch how he sets up ball juggling master Charles Musonda in a last minute AFCON qualifier win against Angola in Lusaka.
      By now you can see Iam using fruit analogies for these players. Yeah, they are apples and oranges-very difficult to compare but all appreciated.

  3. For once, so grateful to read something interesting and away from politics. Your article is spot on. I lived with Kalaba in Ndola when he plated for Zesco, indeed very shy person. But i also agree that he was super talented. I wonder how he couldn’t get a chance to play in one of those leagues. No one should judge him on what has transpired. What he gave us brought joy to the entire nation. Let his private life be private and it is him to work on that. Love you Master

  4. It hurts me to know that Ucar was robbed of a Guinness record on those 102 goals he scored. On grounds that the games were NOT played on international recognised dates.. I was a teenager during his playing career in the 60s -70s .. The 2 band radio was shaking.

  5. Zoom was simply the greatest football player. His dribble skills were margin. His love for Zambia was incomparerable. The only problem we had as kids at Shinde Stadiom was that the man called BACHAWA used to whip us with what seemed to be the tail to the cow if we tried to enter the stadium illegally. Later, there came DOBA. He had red eyes due to Marijuana drugs abuse. This manured to beat us. But there is nothing we could. Our parents were just too poor to afford tickets for us.

  6. Kikikikikiki I think I know you Samuel. You were from Section 6. Ati Bachawa. He was known as Kachawa although we called people of his tribe as the Bachawa. Their real identity is Yao.
    The Yao are from Malawi but there was a visibly large population of them in Mufulira. Their muslim attire made them very noticeable. Remember he always wore that white cap even as he whipped us.

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