By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 6th 20223)
The late great Godfrey Chitalu is enjoying a renaissance of sorts and this is vitally important not on for Zambia and its football, but for Africa too. As FIFA and others prepared to crown Lionel Messi for ‘breaking’ the late great West German icon, Gerd (Gerhard) Müller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year, Chitalu’s achievements were highlighted again, including by the then Chairman of Kabwe Warriors, Andrew Kamanga, now the President of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ).
Unfortunately, an error made by FAZ many years earlier detracted from Chitalu’s achievement. He had been even more prolific than Zambians had claimed. 107 was not his total for 1972, the same year that Müller netted his 85. While Müller’s total beat the previous record of 81 – also set by Chitalu in 1968 – it was not even the record for 1972.
Meticulous and Methodical
The claims of Chitalu’s detractors do not stand up (see the series Africa’s Goal King). For example, Zambian football was not a ‘Farmer’s League.’ Not only was it was actually far more competitive than it was credited, the 2011-2012 season in Spain was incredibly uncompetitive. Messi’s team, the second placed Barçelona were an incredible 30 points clear of 3rd placed Valencia and their goal difference was a mind-boggling +70 better than Valencia’s. And as for record keeping – often the bane of African football – talk to Jerry Muchimba, author of a definitive book on Chitalu, as Muchimba meticulously researched Chitalu’s Wonder Year. He provides detailed information on every goal that Chitalu scored in 1972, the date, opposition, competition and venue too. It was supported by ploughing through newspaper reports throughout the year.
For once, the records of his feats were there. Now, record-keeping throughout the world is much better – unarguable even, But in Chitalu’s day, not every match was televised or even covered by radio, and some that were have been taped over. That’s a great pity, but it should not be used against Chitalu. What about European, South American, or even the USA before the era of television or even radio?
Have Chitalu’s detractors treated those record holders the same way? Do the claims to the record in the early 20th Century, or even before Wold War II get subjected to the same demands for verification of their records, or is this limited to the achievements of the African icon alone?
A case in point is that Chitalu’s tally for 1972 is actually higher than Zambians originally claimed. It has been claimed that the claim to the record of Godfrey Chitalu has been considered in depth. It has not. They haven’t even got his total right. During the Zambian season, Chitalu scored 107 goals, but that started in late February 1972. There were two matches in the African Cup of Champions Clubs in 1972 before the Zambian season began. This was the most important tournament for African clubs at the time. Chitalu’s team won 11-2 on aggregate against Lesotho’s then champions, Majantja. He scored 9 goals in the tie, which was a record for a tie in the competition at the time. His tally of seven goals in the second leg remains a record for any Champions Clubs football match in Africa over 50 years later. Newspaper reports in Zambia of the matches confirm the details.
These matches were under the auspices of the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Their reports clearly existed – referees and other officials had to provide them to CAF, so what happened to those records? A lot of records were lost after a disaster at CAF’s headquarters in the 1980s, which was located in Egypt. Despite that, the proof that Chitalu scored those goals is clear.
Newspaper reports confirm the matches and Chitalu’s performances in that tie. Strangely, CAF acknowledges that Kabwe Warriors set the African Cup of Champions Clubs record for a match with the 9-0 victory. Through its website, Kabwe Warriors’ 9-0 drubbing of Majanta in the second leg was acknowledged by CAF as a record. (https://www.cafonline.com/news-center/news/sundowns-break-the-record-biggest-victories-in-caf-champions-league-history).
However, Chitalu’s contribution is yet to be acknowledged. How could CAF acknowledge that without also recognising the two records set by Chitalu in that tie?
Chitalu’s tally for 1972 isn’t 16 better than Messi’s 2012, it’s a full 25 ahead of Argentina’s talisman and 31 ahead of Müller. Chitalu’s 107 were scored in an incredible 309 days. Incredibly, his 9 missing goals are a continental record that has yet to be acknowledged by CAF despite the records proving that Chitalu is their record holder in those categories.
Among those demanding recognition for Africa’s Goal King is an unlikely champion, Lebohang Nteko, the man who conceded all nine goals to him. In half a century nobody bothered to ask him about that tie – nobody but me.
“They are his records,” Nteko told me. “He should be credited with them.” He is not alone in calling on CAF to recognise Africa’s Goal King’s record as the 50th anniversary of Chitalu’s Wonder Year – perhaps the best year any top striker had – ended, but the anniversary of those matches looms large.