All Together Now Africa part 6 - Zambia
This year's Africa Cup of Nations was hastily rearranged from Morrocco to Equitorial Guinea following the threat of an Ebola Outbreak in West Africa, but there have been many greater difficulties to have been overcome in African Football, and some terrible tragedies.
What is inspiring is that in so many of these is that the teams decided to play on whatever their fears, loss or suffering for the love of the game and the togetherness it brings.
At the Seoul Olympic Games, the Zambia national team thrashed Italy 4–0. Nicknamed ‘The Chipolopolos' (The Bullets), they had their eyes on the 1993 Africa Cup of Nations trophy and a place at their first World Cup. On the 28th of April 1993 a flight took off for a qualifier in Senegal carrying the greatest ever Zambian football team. The plane crashed and everyone on board perished. All 30 passengers and crew, including 18 players, as well as the national team coach and support staff, died in the accident.
The Chipolopolo's captain, Kalusha Bwalya was in the Netherlands playing for PSV and due to travel to Dakar separately. He was later to become national team coach and president of the Football Association of Zambia.
After the plane had refuelled successfully in Gabon it took off. It was a military aircraft, so there was no black-box on board and no way to find out the reason for the crash. A witness reported a huge explosion before seeing the plane go down. The version that is most popular today is that one engine caught fire, the pilot made a mistake in shutting down the good engine instead and the plane crashed. But we still do not know exactly what happened.
What we do know is that players, coaches, administrators, and journalists were all on board. Their remains were brought home and buried outside of the national stadium. The monument there, and the graves of the fallen, are a shrine called Heroes’ Acre. The Zambians still mourn the loss of those heroes. They still come to pay respect to the dead, and they still sing songs about those players at every home match in Independence Stadium.
Immediately after the disaster, a new side was quickly assembled led by Kalusha Bwalya and faced up to the unimaginably difficult task of having to complete Zambia's World Cup qualifiers and then prepare for the upcoming African Nations Cup. The resurrected team defied the odds, reaching the final against Nigeria. In spite of the loss, the Zambian side returned home as national heroes.
In 2012, the Africa Cup of Nations was in Libreville, only a few hundred metres inland from the crash site. The game ended 0–0 after normal and added time and penalties followed. Zambia won beating Ivory Coast 8–7 in the shoot out. The victory was dedicated to the ones who lost their lives in the tragedy.