Thursday, May 30, 2024

ABSA Cup beckons for Kabwe Warriors

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By Chimwemwe Mwanza

A late afternoon call yesterday from the indefatigable Mutale Ng’andu warmed my Friday. The Kabwe Warriors strongman was in town visiting my adopted homeland – this on the eve of the Kabwe-based soccer outfit’s most important game in almost 2 decades.

Ever generous the person he is, he sent a courteous invitation my way. ‘Yama, ndipa Mandela square mu Sandton, can you please join me for a meal,’ he quipped. Truth is, very rarely do I turn down the opportunity for good company. Unfortunately, this time around he caught me off guard. I had already committed to a date at the famed Busy Corner, a top-rated hangout joint in Tembisa – a sprawling township located east of Johannesburg.

For those who don’t drink alcohol, Busy Corner is where you find nice things – whatever that means, only Jason Mulaisho and Evans Kapinda or even better Scotch Hamoonga can explain better. For easy explanation, this riddle about nice things, rhymes along the lines of Friday njikata, nkalondolola pa Saturday kind of thing. Back to more serious stuff, I’ve known Ng’andu, the Warrior’s Chairman for several years. Like yours truly, he traces his genealogy to Highridge in Kabwe. Yet for all his worth and friendship, I just couldn’t cancel my plans for the evening to join him.

Before I dropped the call, we reminisced a bit about yesteryears in the town formerly known as Broken Hill. Of all the memories we shared, one experience stood out. The year, 1988. Venue, Railway Ground. As usual, Kabwe Warriors players clad in their white and blue kit, trooped out of their dressing room to greet their supporters in their traditional lap of honor. The objective of this practice was always to invigorate their supporters for some raucous noises – pretty much like New Zealand’s All Black’s use of the Haka choreography to intimidate opponents.

On this day, Warriors was up against a formidable Mighty Mufulira Wanderers side captained by Ashos Melu. I must confess that I have a passionate dislike for Wanderers – despite having lived in Mufulira for close to three years. The reason for this attitude is simple. Mighty and Kalampa used to give Warrior’s hell on the pitch. Admittedly, these two clubs played the best shoe-shine football – at least in my era. So, you can imagine the emotions on this day.

Fresh from winning the Zambian premier league, Warrior’s performance was on the wane. They had just lost their league-winning coach Bizwell Phiri who deserted them for the now-defunct South African Premier League Soccer club Umtata Bucks. Surprisingly, Warriors showed up on this day. They were able to match Mighty, pound for pound. With the game seemingly heading for a stalemate, up-stepped Timothy Mwitwa – Warrior’s newly found protégé.

Timo or ‘Teacher’ as Mwitwa was fondly known by his peers (MHSRIP) was a talented soccer player. He had an uncanny ability to massage a soccer ball with his feet. His ball-passing skills were purely wardrobe stuff. In this match, Teacher taught Melu and his defense partner George Lwandamina a thing or two about soccer. He kept dribbling them at will and with such ease. Super Ash as he was nicknamed, Melu who by then was Zambia’s national soccer team captain would literally flee from the sight of a marauding Teacher. The game ended 1-0 courtesy of Teacher’s superbly taken goal.

It’s thus not a strange coincidence that Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu chose to rebuild Warriors with Teacher at the center of his pivot. Rightly so, the bar that the dribbling wizard set is telling of the talent that Chitalu later brought to Warriors. In came the combative Moses ‘Saddam’ Masuwa, followed by Godfrey ‘Dunga’ Kangwa and John ‘Spiderman’ Lungu to complete a fearsome attacking midfield trio. The versatile Whiteson Changwe, Joe Bwalya, Manfred Chabinga, and big Sam Chomba provided a rock-solid defense for Richard Mwanza in goal. This was Magnificent Warriors then. And now?

Can Warriors finally end a 17-year trophy drought?

Agreed, privatization of the mines has greatly impacted both the standard and quality of Zambian soccer. Gone are the days when soccer clubs owned by Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) would plow millions into soccer academies from where the likes of Mighty, Kalampa, and Power Dynamos used to unearth some of the best soccer gems.

Even more concerning, parastatals such as Zambia Railways which sponsor Warriors are limping and terribly so. It’s unthinkable that a club like Warriors which has produced some of the best players in the history of Zambian soccer has not won a single trophy in almost two decades. Therefore, could Sunday, the 12th of May 2024, be the day that Warriors eventually break a 17-year trophy jinx? ‘Much as I’m certain that we shall prevail, this is a game that could go either way,’ is the Warrior’s chairman’s viewpoint to which yours truly concurs.

The ABSA cup is Zambia’s most prized soccer trophy. As such the current crop of players in the Warriors camp have to die a little. In fact, they owe it to the history of this club and its badge to bring glory and honor to Kabwe and its long-suffering residents. It shouldn’t matter that the club is 6th on the premier log table and that their opponent Red Arrows is leading the pack. Ultimately it will boil down to how they show up on the day. For those fervent followers of the club, you will be heartened to learn that the Warriors team that competed in the 1972 Premier League campaign and consisting of the likes of Fumanchu Simutowe, Jani Simulambo, and Ucar Chitalu among others swept all silverware in that season including the league.

This achievement is what should be inspiring, Prince Mumba, Killian Kanguluma, Ocean Mushure, Kabaso Chongo Matthews Tolopa, and the upcoming Munda Phiri in their quest for glory. The fact that Red Arrows is favorites to lift the trophy should play in Warrior’s favor. To the coach, Mumamba Numba, be reminded that you are carrying the hopes of many Warriors supporters some of whom are miles away and won’t make the numbers at Heroes stadium on Sunday. Our best wishes. Go Warriors Go. Walya Nganga Niye Walya Nkuku.

Mwanza enjoys reading politics, history, and philosophy. He is an ardent Kabwe Warriors and Liverpool supporter. For feedback, contact [email protected]

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