A goal-scoring phenomenon

Whenever the debate about Zambia’s greatest footballer comes up, two names inevitably dominate: Kalusha Bwalya and Godfrey Chitalu.

In 2006, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) included both on a 200-strong list of the best African footballers of the past half century.

Having ended his career in the era of YouTube videos, where African stars are more visible than ever on the global stage, Kalusha has inevitably earned more rave reviews on the international scene, thanks partly to a career that saw him play his club soccer on four continents.

Yet Chitalu, the player who came to be known as “Ucar” to the streams of fans left agog by his scoring feats, was the superior goal scorer, despite playing for just two local clubs – Kitwe United and Kabwe Warriors. Indeed, Zambian soccer is unlikely to ever see a striker who can knock the balls in with the rat-a-tat rate of Ucar, the ultimate colossus. 

Granted, Kalusha could strike the ball sweetly, his curling free kicks a thing of lasting beauty. His sumptuously chipped goals in the 1996 Africa Cup tournament in South Africa, where his five goals won him the Golden Boot award, would probably make the most proficient of golfers weep with envy. But he was predominantly left-footed, while Chitalu packed a thunderbolt in both feet.

In 2012, when the elfin Argentine Lionel Messi beat German Gerd Müller's calendar-year goal record of 85 goals with his 91 goals for Barcelona, Zambian soccer archivists dusted off the history scrolls – and howled in protest.

For in 1972 Chitalu scored an incredible 116 goals in all competitions, a record officially documented as 107 goals because nine of the goals came before the year’s soccer season had kicked off. 

The 116 goals comprised 15 in CAF competitions, 91 in FAZ tournaments, five in friendlies, three in the NFL trophy, and two in the NFL Benevolent Fund Match.

Chitalu opened his goal glut by scoring two when his club Kabwe Warriors drew 2-2 with Lesotho’s Majantja FC in an African Cup of Club Champions match on January 23.  He followed this with seven goals, a ruthless demonstration of clinical finishing, in Warriors’ 9-0 win in the return leg at Ndola’s Dag Hammarskjöld Stadium on February 6. It was these nine goals against the Sotho side that came before the official start of the season. 

The prolific striker netted the winner when Warriors edged Kitwe United 1-0 in the Charity Shield – the 1972 season’s curtain raiser – and then struck twice when Warriors trounced Zambia Police 5-2 in their first league game of the season at Kabwe’s Railways Ground. 

Playing as one possessed, Ucar scored a hat-trick in Warrior’s 7-1 thrashing of Maseru United in an international home friendly in March and added another four goals in a 14-2 white wash of Norco Rangers in a Chibuku Cup first round match. He scored again in an international friendly against Sheffield United in May.

Chitalu continued his demolition job against players from Maseru by striking twice for Zambia in a 6-1 win over Lesotho in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in June. He was again on the score-sheet in a friendly against Union Española of Chile, then was on target twice when he captained the All Stars in a 4-3 victory over The Rest on August 14, taking his goals tally to 71.

Ucar registered another brace in Warriors’ 3-1 win over Ndola United in the Zambian Challenge Cup final and scored in his side’s 5-3 triumph against Rhokana United in the Chibuku Cup final a fortnight later, surpassing the 81 goals he had registered in winning the inaugural Top Scorer award in 1968. 

By the end of October, he had pulled away from the rest of the field by some distance, his 92 goals 57 more than his closest pursuers, Bernard Chanda of Mufulira Wanderers, and club mate Sandy Kaposa. He was far from done in a season where he was scoring for fun, hitting the back of the net in 17 consecutive matches for Warriors. These included two when Ghana’s Hearts of Oak eliminated Kabwe Warriors from the African Cup of Club Champions via a 9-3 aggregate rout, five against Buseko FC in a Chibuku Cup tie, another five against Roan United in a Castle Cup semi-final, and seven against Mufulira Wanderers in two league games (four of those seven came in a 5-1 thumping of Wanderers at Shinde Stadium).

When Warriors crushed his former club Kitwe United 6-1 in November to win the Castle Cup, he scored three goals. Another hat-trick followed in a 9-2 thrashing of City of Lusaka, and yet another three in a 4-2 win in a league game against Kalulushi Modern Stars. By then, the fans had stopped counting – and Chitalu’s tally had gone over the magical 100 goals.

In an illustrious career playing for Kitwe United and Kabwe Warriors, Chitalu was top scorer in a total of five seasons. In 1976, he was runner-up to Bernard Chanda, his relatively tame haul of 31 goals seven less than the player they called “the Bomber”.

The following season, he lost out to surprise winner, goalkeeper Vincent Chileshe in the 1977 Footballer of the Year award – but picked up the Sportsman of the Year award. In 1978 and 1979 (the first time this writer saw him in action in flesh in an Africa Nations Cup qualifier – a 1-0 loss to Tanzania’s Taifa Stars at Dar-es-Salaam’s National Stadium), Chitalu was footballer of the year, the first player to win the award in two consecutive seasons. 

Both Kalusha and Chitalu played at the Olympics and the Africa Cup of Nations; and each scored in both tournaments – with Kalusha playing more games and scoring more goals in both. In 1980, Chitalu was in the Zambia squad at the Summer Olympics in the Soviet Union and scored two goals in the national team’s 3-1 and 2-1 defeats to the host nation and Venezuela, respectively. 

Kalusha’s six goals at the 1988 Olympics in South Korea (a hat-trick against Italy in a 4-0 win that has gone into folklore, two goals in a similar 4-0 win over Guatemala and one strike in a 2-2 draw with Iraq) took his Olympics Games tally above Chitalu’s. 

Indeed, Kalusha featured in more Africa Cup of Nations tournaments than Chitalu (six against Chitalu’s two) and scored more goals – one in the 1986 edition, one in the 1990 edition, two in 1994 and five in the 1996 tournament. 

In comparison, Chitalu scored just one goal at the 1974 tournament in Egypt, a 3-1 loss to the host nation. He was to appear next in the 1978 edition won by hosts Ghana, an injury in Zambia’s first game ruling him out of a tournament in which Zambia was ejected in the preliminary round.

It was in the East and Central African Senior Challenge Cup (CECAFA) that Ucar produced his most prolific goal scoring form at national team level. Memorably, his tournament record of 11 goals to become top scorer of the 1978 edition at the age of 31 included a hat-trick in Zambia’s 9-0 thrashing of Kenya’s Harambee Stars and all four goals in a 4-0 thumping of the Uganda Cranes.

To put Chitalu’s CECAFA record in context, Mufulira Wanderers’ Philemon Mulala and Roan United’s Nicholas Bwalya were top scorers with four goals apiece in the 1984 and 1991 editions, respectively. 

All told, Godfrey “Ucar” Chitalu, the goal scoring phenomenon, is the only player to have won Zambia’s Footballer of the Year award five times, in 1968 and 1970 with Kitwe United and thrice in 1972, 1978 and 1979 with Warriors. He died as national soccer coach in the 1993 Gabon crash, leaving a legacy that will be hard to better.

 

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