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There is a close relationship between grassroots and glory……

Date: Jul 23 2012
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Most of the technique that put me in good stead going into my professional career I learnt on the street as a youngster. It is here that I honed my skills, because there was always tough competition and it was part of survival to keep up with your peers. It is here, that human values are instilled and true enjoyment of the game is experienced. I remember the laughter and the fun and the fierce competition in ball juggling skills, passing, shooting and all the other fancy footwork one can imagine.

My first memories are of watching football were from the minute I was able to walk and accompany my father, whether to meetings or football matches. My Father was a Football Association of Zambia executive committee member and Chairman of Mufulira Blackpool. He used to take my brother and I to training and matches almost every weekend.

Playing in the streets growing up in Kamuchanga Township in Mufulira on the copperbelt, we played football barefoot on the streets on gravel road each and everyday. The ball was made of brown rubber and we were either at school or playing football. There were’nt a lot of cars passing by in those days, so we would erect 2 little goalposts and play 4 against 4 or 5 against 5. We would play ‘3 change goals’ and ‘6 finish ball’ – meaning half time was when a team scored 3 goals and the victors were decided by the team that reached the first 6 goals. There were times when the game lasted 10 mins and there were times when the game lasts one hour. As kids, fatigue, escaped us as we continued to play non-stop until sunset.

At school, Perseverance Primary school in Ndola, my first leadership role was as captain of my U10 team.

At U14 I played for Buseko Community Centre Club. This was my first taste of a ‘club’ other than with school team. This was a fantastic team and most of us were also the ball boys for Mufulira Blackpool, an honour which we took very seriously and gave us the privilege to see our footballing heroes at close range.

Pre-match we watched in awe as our heroes got ready, warmed up and took to the field, with us leading them. The feeling was incredible as we emerged from the tunnel. I will never forget the roar of the crowds as we sprinted on to take our positions on the field. That was my first taste of an adrenaline rush; it felt like we were going to war. My favourite ball boy position was always as close to the goalposts as possible, I was fascinated by the skill involved in scoring and found myself engrossed in the magic of the game.

Growing up In Zambia school football was alive and extremely competitive. It was the ultimate extra mural activity. There was fierce competition amongst schools, I progressed through primary as a consistently good player, but I really started to make my mark in secondary school. There were no specific age groups in those times but rather one representative team per school.

At training I proved my skill even though I played without boots and was quite skinny and younger than the rest of the team. The coach always found a place for me to travel with them. Whether to carry the balls or just watch from the bench, I was always included and my hunger grew stronger.

In 1979 my brother Benjamin, who by that time was playing for Mufulira Blackpool, was called up to the Army.

At the age of 16 I attended trials at my brothers team and was selected and officially registered. I fondly remember how proud I was to have finally made the leap from a schoolboy to ‘serious’ player. It took me exactly 11 games in the reserve side before making my debut in the highest level of Zambian Football. The Reserve League in my career was much like playing on the streets where the competition was tough and only the best surfaced to the next level.

My 1st match in the 1st team – we won 0-1 away versus Lusaka Tigers in Matero Stadium in Lusaka and I scored the winning goal! I still remember this day like it was yesterday. The coach always came to training with two team lists – a reserve team list that played before the main game and a 1st team list. When the coach read out the reserve list and my name was not called out, I started to worry, wondering what I had done wrong to be left out. But as I was wondering my name was read out for the 1st team and I jumped for joy! It was the most exhilarating experience in my life. I remember informing my parents that I was going into camp with Mufulira Blackpool FC; they were both proud and bemused at my 16 year old nerve and tenacity.

The following year I made the switch from Blackpool to the much bigger, if not the biggest club in Zambia, Mufulira Wanderers, and ‘legendary Cup fighters’. This switch was due to my father being put under pressure by his employers, Mufulira Copper Mines, the then sponsors of Wanderers.

This is where I enjoyed some of my best times of my Zambian career. The roaring crowds, the packed Shinde stadium, the adoring fans…. I was in Form 5 by then and I would spend half of my small stipend on cold drinks and bread buns for my class mates and the other half went to my very proud mother. In the same year I made my debut in the Copperbelt School select as well as being called to the Zambia Schools National Team. These structures were highly successful in unearthing talent Nationwide as well as maintaining the continuity that made Zambia an African Football Powerhouse.

At the age of 19, after rigorous trials which involved selected 50-60 top players, I was selected to represent the Zambian National Team. This was in 1982 just after Zambia came back from the Africa Nations Cup in Libya with a bronze medal.

Looking back at my early football career in Zambia, it is clear to me that my ‘foundation’ phase in football was moulded and instilled in me at a very early age. Thus the importance of football development at grassroots levels. This development coupled with sustainability and continuity is the key to a strong footballing Nation.

Early footballing development puts the focus on playing the game, and the basic philosophy behind it is that there is no better teacher than sport itself. Fun and enjoyment of the game first and then the technical aspects later. There is definitely a close link between grassroots and glory.

As published in Forbes Africa – June 2012

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