Lusaka – Twenty-eight years have passed since a plane crash stole the lives of the entire Chipolopolo, side along with their legendary coach Godfrey “Ucar” Chitalu.
Chitalu was 45-years-old and on the verge of guiding the Zambia senior men’s soccer team to the Africa Cup of Nations when disaster struck in 1993.
But in death as in life, Chitalu is a colossus in matters of African football, and his own goal-scoring record in his playing days is yet to be eclipsed.
Such was his precision in front of goal that his former club, Kabwe Warriors, named their home stadium Godfrey “Ucar” Chitalu 107 in honour of the 107 goals the striker netted in the 1972 league season.
In addition, Chitalu is still the only African player to have scored 79 goals for his national team, a feat he achieved in just 111 appearances for Chipolopolo. That translates to a return of 0.71 goals per match.
His incredible achievements are not restricted to the mother continent, as he is also in the all-time top five scorers in history in national team colours. Only Iranian legend Ali Daei (109), Portuguese goal machine Cristiano Ronaldo (99), and Hungarian great Ferenc Puskás (84), have found the back of the net for their countries more times than the Zambian maestro.
The closest Africans to Chitalu’s national team record are Malawi’s Kinnah Phiri (71) and Egypt’s Hossam Hassan (70). Didier Drogba of Cote d’Ivoire scored 65, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’s bagged 56, and Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan netted 51.
In an interview with The Southern Times Sport, Football Association of Zambia communications manager Sydney Mungala said, “As Zambia we are proud of Godfrey Chitalu, who also served as national team coach before he died in the Gabon disaster. He set a world record of league goals.
“Sadly there has been reluctance to acknowledge his record. This is a player who scored goals in important matches like the Olympics, AFCON tournaments and World Cup qualifiers.”
As there has been reluctance to recognise Chitalu as the numero uno in terms of goal scoring in a single calendar year, Mungala said more needs to be done for Southern African athletes’ statistics to be recognised.
Zimbabwe legend Moses Chunga, who officially scored 46 league goals in 1986, also said there was need to capture data. Chunga has long contended that he scored more than 46 in 1986.
He said, “Statistics are very important and we need to capture them so that we recognise those who are outstanding and give them what they deserve.”