Godfrey “UCAR” Chitalu (October 22, 1947 – April 27, 1993) was a Zambian footballer who is regarded as the greatest Zambian player ever and holds the national team goal-scoring record. Nicknamed ‘Ucar’, Chitalu was a forceful and often temperamental target man who was Zambian footballer of the year a record five times and in 1972 rewrote the record books by scoring 107 goals in all competitions in a single season. Upon retirement, Chitalu took to coaching and was in charge of the Zambia national team when the entire squad perished in a plane crash off the coast of Gabon on April 27, 1993.
Chitalu was born in the North Rhodesian 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.Playing career
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 yethis talent could not be ignored for long as he won the inaugural ‘Footballer of the Year’ award in 1968. However, his disciplinary problems were still very much around as 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. Chitalu was also rewarded with a third Footballer of the Year award. 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 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.
In 2006, he was selected by CAF as one of the best 200 African football players of the last 50 years.
After his retirement, Chitalu went into private life for a while until he resurfaced in the mid-80s as Kabwe Warriors coach. In 1984 he received a life ban after allegedly punching referee Kabalamula Chayu during an abandoned league game which was later scrapped after an appeal. He led the team to the 1987 Zambian league championship and was appointed assistant to coach Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndhlovu for the national team in the same year and was on the technical bench during Zambia’s 1988 Seoul Olympic Games exploits.
Disaster struck Kabwe Warriors when they were demoted from the top league in 1990 but Chitalu made sure that none of his established team members including Zambian internationals left the club, leading to a swift return to the Super League and he was subsequently crowned 1991 Coach of the Year.
Following Zambia’s surprise defeat to Madagascar in a World Cup Qualifier in Antananarivo in December 1992, coach Ndhlovu was sacked and Chitalu became national team coach with Alex Chola as his assistant. The two put together an exciting team which was tipped to make it all the way to the 1994 World Cup but as fate would have it, Zambia’s incredible goal king perished along with the rest of the team off the Gabonese coast in the horrific air disaster. Chitalu had a record of 5 wins and 1 draw with 14 goals scored and 3 conceded.
Record Goal Scorer
Chitalu is Zambia’s record goal scorer with 76 goals. This includes 4 goals scored in the 1980 Olympics Qualiyfing and final tournament matches, where Zambia featured its main team.
Some of his goal scoring exploits include:
- 81 goals in all competitions in 1968 (including 11 for Zambia)
- 45 goals in all competitions in 1969, 4th behind top goal scorer Robertson Zulu who had 64 goals
- 51 goals in all competitions in 1971
- 107 goals in all competitions in 1972
- 11 goals at CECAFA ’78 which is a CECAFA record
No other Zambian player has come close when it comes to goal scoring for the national team.
Chitalu’s record number of 107 goals in 1972 is taken with a pinch of salt in other football circles. It is however not as far-fetched as it appears, considering that many strikers in Zambia during the period would score in excess of 50, as evidenced by Zulu’s 64 in 1969 and Chitalu himself with 81 goals in 1968.
Chitalu is also one of Zambia’s most capped players.
Godrey Chitalu’s grave in Lusaka.
On 28 February 1993, Zambia national football team needing a win to qualify to the group stages in the World Cup Qualifying campaign swept aside Madagascar 3-1 in Lusaka with Chitalu as coach. The Zambians were then drawn in the same group as Morocco and Senegal and many felt the time had come for Zambia to qualify to the World Cup as they had a formidable team which had been together for a while, with coaching staff who seemed to inspire the players. On 10 April 1993, Zambia played out a goalless draw at home to Zimbabwe in an African Nations Cup qualifier. Two weeks later, the Zambians whacked Mauritius 3-0 in Port Louis.
From there, the team made its way to Senegal for the first of their World Cup qualifying games in the group stage. The team’s mode of transportation was a Zambia Airforce (ZAF) Buffalo plane and after refuelling in Libreville, the plane developed problems and plunged into the sea on 27 April 1993, killing all 30 people on board including FAZ president Michael Mwape and ZAF crew members. The entire nation was in shock and the scale of the tragedy only really sank in when 30 coffins carrying the remains of their beloved team were flown in for a state burial. The plane crash brought an untimely end to the career of not only Chitalu but a whole team of talented Zambian players and coaches.
Godfrey Chitalu Road in Lusaka was named after Chitalu in his honour
Source – Wikipedia