By Mwizenge S. Tembo
From Jimbe Bridge north of Mwinilunga to Chililabombwe, to Mpulungu, to Kalabo, to Chama, to Sinazongwe, to Lusaka, to Kasumbalesa to Shangombo. From Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt in the North, to Beijing in China, to Tokyo in Japan, to America, to Moscow in Russia, to London Ku MaNgalande, this is a day for Zambians everywhere to celebrate with great pride. We are alone at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro as football Kings of the whole African continent that has 54 countries. What a great achievement. It was very fitting that Zambians paid tribute at the site where our national team died in a plane crash in 1993 before the Cup Final.
Winning the African Cup of Nations is testimony to our quiet resilience, confidence, dedication, unity, and determination as a nation. After so many decades of being second best and always almost winning it all, we are finally at the top of the African soccer world as a nation. Many past national team players who have left this earth, and past leaders who have died, and our now deceased 2 past Presidents must be jumping with joy in heaven celebrating with angels. All of us as Zambians share incredible stories of great triumphs and shocking defeats which create the memorable highs and lows of our national past football teams and some of our past greatest players.
I first heard of the spectacular play of Zoom Ndlovu in the late 1960s in rural Chipata as a young boy playing chifwayo in the village football made of cloth rugs tied together with string fiber. Although we had never heard him play, we all wanted to be Zoom. My great moment came to see Zoom Ndlovu when I came to visit my uncle in Lusaka in August 1969 as a 15 year old boy. My uncle and I drove to a game between City of Lusaka and Mufulira Wanderers at Woodlands Stadium. When I saw Zoom Ndlovu run to the field with his team I thought I had died and had gone to heaven. I was so happy. The most spectacular play I saw him make that afternoon is when Zoom had the ball, instead of passing to a teammate, he left the ball sitting there and he suddenly sprinted away very fast taking his surprised defender with him. His fellow team mate then took the ball and passed it to Zoom again. How did he do that? I wondered. I was simply mesmerized for a village kid.
I am certain millions of Zambians have many such memories of our soccer history that makes being alive as a Zambian such a joy. In the 1970s, Zambian soccer reached its zenith such that our national team was so good that Independence Stadium became a graveyard for teams that underestimated us. Nigeria’s Eagles were a top team when they were beaten 5-1 and the Monday sports page headline in Times of Zambia read: “Zambia Grounds Nigeria’s Eagles”. They were among many teams that met their demise there.
The player that perhaps stands alone at the top of Zambia’s soccer history is the late “Ucar” Godfrey Chitalu who also died. I am lucky and blessed enough to have seen him play when he was at the top of his game. I was there one rainy day at Independence Stadium during the early 1970s when Chitalu with Kabwe Warriors was playing a football club season opener wearing a jersey that had 107 on his back; this was the number of goals Chitalu had scored during that previous soccer season.
Zambian soccer history cannot be complete without acknowledging the greatest soccer radio commentator ever; Dennis Liwewe. I remember hearing the voice of Dennis Liwewe fading in and out of the noisy transistor radio during late Sunday afternoons as out national team was battling playing away games in hostile stadiums in distant countries such as Morocco, Egypt and many West African countries.
The chipolopolo boys have done a spectacular job in winning the cup especially that we were underdogs. I told my family and friends that I did not want to watch the final because I did not want to die of a heart attack. The games were too thrilling. Congratulations and let’s enjoy and celebrate this great achievement of our great country.
The author Mwizenge S. Tembo is a Professor of Sociology at Bridgewater College in the United States of America