Thursday, 1 April 2010

History Part 1 Chitalu Zambia Greatest Player or Not?

Chitalu was born in the Zambian Copperbelt town of Luanshya in a rough neighbourhood called Mikomfwa where youths got involved in various vices besides playing barefoot football. It is believed that these early experiences helped shape his character.
He first tried his luck with local team Roan United in the mid-1960s but was ignored by the coaches and only got as far as the reserves. Frustrated, he packed his bags and headed for the neighbouring town of Kitwe where he joined Kitwe United in 1967 and soon started playing regularly for the team, quickly became a crowd favourite at Buchi stadium. As much as he was an exciting striker with an eye for goal, Chitalu’s temperament and disciplinary record left much to be desired. The young striker did all sorts of appalling things on the pitch – arguing with referees, punching and head-butting opponents (and at times erring teammates), as well as spitting and hurling insults at them. As a result, he was often in bad books with football authorities, earning himself a reputation as ‘the bad boy of Zambian football.’ In one particular incident, he was shown a red card by the late referee Arthur Davies for giving him a false name during a booking. The name? Former Manchester United and Scotland striker Denis Law’s.
Chitalu earned a call-up to the national team although the coaches did not make him their preferred striker as he was regarded as being too individualistic though his talent could not be ignored for long as he won the inaugural ‘Footballer of the Year’ award in 1968 though his disciplinary problems were still very much around for he was banned for about half of the season in 1969 and for a while, he considered quitting football. He instead overcame his demons and in 1970 moved to Kabwe Warriors for a then record fee in Zambian football where his discipline improved as did his style of play and at the end of the year he scooped his second ‘Footballer of the Year’ award.
In 1972 Warriors swept all the silverware on offer and Chitalu scored an outrageous 107 goals in all competitions – a record that still stands to this day. At the time, Union Carbide, the manufacturer of UCAR batteries was sponsoring football commentaries on radio and renowned Zambian football commentator Dennis Liwewe would go “…Godfrey Chitalu, super charged like a UCAR battery…” and the nickname of Ucar was born.
At his peak many defenders confessed that he was a difficult customer to handle as he not only used his skills but also had a way of psyching out his markers by verbal attacks and bragging. Despite his goal-scoring reputation, he was still not the first choice striker for Zambia, falling behind Bernard ‘Bomber’ Chanda and Simon ‘Kaodi’ Kaushi in the pecking order when Ante Buselic was in charge of the national team from 1971 to 1976.
Chitalu featured for Zambia at the 1974 Africa Cup of Nations and scored a goal in Zambia’s 3-1 loss to Egypt. Zambia reached the final with Chanda and Kaushi grabbing the headlines where they lost to Zaire after a replay. After the Nations Cup, Chitalu was dropped from the national team but he made a comeback a year and a half later after Lieutenant Colonel Brightwell Banda took charge of the team, recalling the goal king for a crucial World Cup tie against Uganda on February 27, 1977 in Ndola. Chitalu, who was turning 30 that year returned the favour by firing a 2 goal salvo to eliminate Uganda from the World Cup race.
5 months later Chitalu repeated the feat on June 26, 1977 in a Nations Cup Qualifier against Algeria with Zambia trailing 2-0 from the first leg in Algiers. He scored a brilliant brace to force a 2-2 draw and Zambia prevailed 5-4 on spot kicks. In the month when he turned 30, Chitalu scored 5 goals in the East & Central Africa Challenge Cup which Zambia lost in the final to Uganda on penalties. His efforts were rewarded at the end of the year with the Sportsman of the Year award although he narrowly missed out on the Footballer of the Year award.
The following year, Chitalu graced his second Nations Cup but Zambia lost him in the first game to injury and were eliminated in the 1st round of the tournament. Later in the year, he made another impression in the East and Central Africa Challenge Cup in Malawi where he finished top scorer with 11 goals, including 4 in a 9-0 thrashing of Kenya. Zambia unfortunately lost to Malawi 3-2 in the final.
Chitalu became the first player to win the Footballer of the Year award in two consecutive seasons in 1978-79 and the following year, he represented Zambia at the Moscow Olympic games after Egypt withdrew for political reasons and Zambia were nominated to take their place. He was the oldest member of the team and he scored a goal against the mighty Soviet Union in a 3-1 defeat.
In 1981, Chitalu was bestowed with the Order of Distinguished Service (ODS) Second Division by Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda and that same year, commentator Dennis Liwewe released an LP entitled Godfrey Chitalu in his honour, featuring tribute songs and commentary excerpts of Chitalu’s goals which sold like hot cakes.
Chitalu’s image was also reproduced on boxes of Match Corporation matches and in 1982 the former ‘bad boy of Zambian soccer’ retired from active football but not before FIFA had awarded him with an ‘Achievement Recognition Award’ for the 107 goals he had scored in 1972.

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