Kalusha Bwalya: Man of the hood

Torn Apart: BOYD PHIRI
FOOTBALL has its fair share of disappointments, but news that Kalusha Bwalya, the 1988 African footballer of the year, has been banned from football activities for two years by FIFA makes sad reading.Most of us in the hood are now thinking of stopping to watch football for two years in solidarity with the man, whose goals once made us momentarily be friends with neighbours after being on one another’s nerves over the use of a pit-latrine.
If you watched people in the hood after Kalusha’s exploits, you would see them hugging, smiling and analysing his contribution, forgetting that just an hour ago, they were trying to knock one another’s teeth out over the use of a communal toilet.
Kalu’s achievements on the pitch gave everyone a good feeling. Hugging one’s enemy because of excitement after Kalusha’s goal didn’t feel like running into an angry fan of another team.
“Mwaiona free-kick ya Kalusha?” a man would say to his once sworn enemy, meaning “Did you see Kalusha’s free-kick?”
Of course, football unites people, and if there was anyone people in the hood wanted to unite them, Kalusha was one.
Each time Kalusha led the Zambia national team to victory during an international game, everyone in the hood wanted to bask in the team’s soccer achievements and forget about their pet annoyances.
Actually, that was the only period some soccer fans thought they were part of the team.
You would hear some of them using expressions like “Ife ba Zambia ndife bakali,” meaning, “We are a better team.”
Of course, now that the team is losing, some soccer fans say, “Ba Zambia nima kula,” meaning, “Zambia national team players don’t know how to play football.”
“Football has gone down. I miss Kalusha’s time when scoring among national team players was not a problem,” a soccer fan would say.
In fact, this was the only time that a wife would choose not to yell at her husband over the remote control when the national team was playing an away game.
Needless to say, not all women hated football. Some soccer-loving wives would make sure that they accompanied their husbands to a football match when Kalusha and the team were playing at home.
This was not to prevent side chicks from coming between them and their husbands, but just the experience of watching the game from the stands each time Kalusha and the team were playing was exciting.
A live-in or resident landlord would hug his tenant’s wife under the guise of celebrating Kalusha’s goal, even when he had earlier interrupted their conjugal rights at 04:00 hours while chasing payment for rentals.
Yes, great Kalu, as he is fondly called, made us stop thinking about those things that drive us crazy and make us question the landlord’s sanity.
Forget about his missing a penalty in a Cosafa Castle Cup match against Angola at Independence Stadium in 2004 when he was a player-coach for the Chipolopolo, the great Kalu pacified our pet peeves. For instance, earlier in the same year, he made some police officers providing security inside the stadium join in the celebrations after he had come off the bench to score for Zambia against Liberia in a World Cup qualifier watched by then President Levy Mwanawasa.
Who said some police officers on duty would not let their emotions come out to express their joy at Kalusha’s prowess even when his soccer career was coming to an end?
If you didn’t see any cop jumping up in excitement after Kalusha scored, you must have been very excited, too, to observe. But I remember seeing one, if not two.
This explains the extent to which Kalusha captured the hearts of soccer freaks when it mattered the most.
One has to imagine what this ban will do to the name Kalu had created for himself and the country.
Some said if you travelled outside the country, the two names people would ask you about Zambia were Kalusha and former President Kenneth Kaunda.
Truth is, they will all feel a little sad, just like most people in the hood who remember him for many good things, including the penalty he missed at the end of his soccer career.
The story is that FIFA’s ethics committee has banned the soccer icon from all football activities after an investigation on benefits he received from a Qatari official Mohammed Bin Hammam.
Kalusha is alleged to have pocketed US$48,000 in 2011 from Bin Hammam, the Qatari football official who was vying for the position of FIFA president.
It’s not that Kalusha was thin on cash, the truth is, as the footballer once said, the money was sourced to run Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) business when he was the association’s president.
Kalu has since indicated intentions to appeal the ban.
Certainly, the news is not good for us soccer freaks in the hood. We can only wish him the best as he fights to clear his name.

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