Saturday, October 30, 2010

African football was represented by Zaire. Unfortunately, the sport cannot be easily separated from politics: by 1974 Africa was on the wrong side of exotic. The ‘developed’ world was already disenchanted with the dark continent – independence, revolutions, and charismatic leaders from the 1950s-early 1960s were gradually replaced by civil wars, corruption, crooks, and dictatorial freaks. Poverty was the only stable feature… and the only one that ‘developed’, that is – increased. The continent quite literally became ‘the heart of darkness’, which to European mind was quick return to old racists set up – nothing good was to come out of the bush. To a point, it was not even racist… Zaire was a prime example: the country, formerly known as Kongo Kinshasa (distinct from its neighbour Kongo Brazaville), was ruled by a man named Mobutu. He attached other names to himself (see earlier posting), but he was reffered most often as ‘cleptocrat’ by the rest of the world. In my oppinion, a mellow label, but never mind. The glorious ruler had to play important role in football.
African football was undeveloped surely, yet, there were prophets returning from the continent preaching that it will be the next big thing in football. The Brazil of the near future… any minute now. The majority of specialists in Europe and South America were more than sceptical and envisioned nothing of the kind. Africa was seen as better than Asia and Oceania, yet lower than North America (thanks to Mexico really) and unmeasurably bellow the two leading continents. It was also largely unknown football – Europe simply was not interested. Only France covered African football more or less regularly and practically obly in France there were African professional players. Some came to be big stars in France, but their success did not improve the level of Africafootball. Point in case: Salif Keita was probably the bets known African player in Europe and certainly a major star in French football in the early 1970s. But he was alone at home: no matter how good he was, Mali did not play stronger because of him. Nor any other great players followed his steps. More or less, typical for any African nation. Only Northern – Arab – Africa was considered better.
But those were the best years of football of Zaire. TP Mazembe (Lubumbashi) – then known as Englebert – won the African Champions Cup in 1967 and 1968. The club was also finalist in 1969 and 1970. In 1973 another Zaireian club won the Chamions Cup – AS Vita Club from the capital Kinshasa. The national team distinguished itself too – winning the African Cup of Nations in 1968 and 1974. And finally – reaching World Cup finals in 1974, the first team from ‘black’ Africa to play at the finals. Not bad at all, but the omnipresent and omniscient Mobutu imagined more and what he imagined – he thought to be the truth itself. To transport truth from his lunatic mind to unenlightened population, he ordered… Mobutu was hardly exceptional in transforming sporting results into political goals, and the national team became his pet project: ‘TheLeopards’ represented and displayed general success of Zaire’s society, state, and patriotism. They were the heroes at home and to be shown to the sceptical outside world. Mobutu pampered the players, giving them money, houses, and cars. And here wild imagination overtook reality: he dreamed his team really good. Zaire was to take the take the world by storm at the World Cup. World champions? Well, no – but they were to surprize many a team and go at least to the second round. Glory to Zaire, glory to Africa, and – mostly – glory to Mobutu! The dream was communicated to the team as a order.
The rest of the world remained largely ignorant of the power of ‘the Leopards’… Zaire was seen as exotic outsider and that was that. The players were entirely unknown – nobody played in Europe, meaning, there was no one even slightly good. The most famous member of Zaireian team was their coach – Blagoje Vidinic, a former goalkeepr, was Olympic champion in 1960 and Olympic vice-champion in 1956 with his native Yugoslavia. He also played professionally in Switzerland and USA (pre-NASL years). As a coach, he led Morocco at the 1970 World Cup and 1974 was his second. Whatever good or bad Zaire was, Vidinic made them African champions in 1974. But even with him the team was seen as literally coming out of the jungle and Mobutu’s efforts to impress the world ammounted to dress: the team was fashionably dressed for the West German epic, sporting Adidas and bell bottoms.
Here they are, with Blagoje Vidinic at the left. Their fashion may appear weird now, but it was not so in 1974.
Head coach: Blagoja Vidinić
No. Pos. Player DoB/Age Caps Club
1 GK Mwamba Kazadi 6 March 1947 (aged 27) Mazembe Lubumbashi
2 DF Ilunga Mwepu 22 August 1949 (aged 24) Mazembe Lubumbashi
3 DF Mwanza Mukombo 17 December 1945 (aged 28) Mazembe Lubumbashi
4 DF Tshimen Bwanga 4 January 1949 (aged 25) Mazembe Lubumbashi
5 DF Boba Lobilo 10 April 1950 (aged 24) AS Vita Kinshasa
6 MF Massamba Kilasu 22 December 1950 (aged 23) FC Bilima
7 MF Kamunda Tshinabu 8 May 1946 (aged 28) Mazembe Lubumbashi
8 MF Mambwene Mana 10 October 1947 (aged 26) Imana Kinshasa
9 MF Uba Kembo Kembo 27 December 1947 (aged 26) AS Vita Kinshasa
10 MF Mantantu Kidumu 17 November 1946 (aged 27) Imana Kinshasa
11 DF Babo Kabasu 4 March 1950 (aged 24) FC Bilima
12 GK Dimbi Tubilandu 15 March 1948 (aged 26) AS Vita Kinshasa
13 MF Mulamba Ndaye 4 November 1948 (aged 25) AS Vita Kinshasa
14 FW Adelard Mayanga Maku 31 October 1948 (aged 25) AS Vita Kinshasa
15 MF Mafu Kibonge 12 February 1945 (aged 29) AS Vita Kinshasa
16 DF Mialo Mwape 30 December 1951 (aged 22) Nyiki Lubumbashi
17 MF Kafula Ngoie 11 November 1945 (aged 28) Mazembe Lubumbashi
18 FW Mafuila Mavuba 15 December 1949 (aged 24) AS Vita Kinshasa
19 FW Ekofa Mbungu 24 November 1948 (aged 25) Imana Kinshasa
20 FW Kalala Ntumba 7 January 1949 (aged 25) AS Vita Kinshasa
21 FW Etepe Kakoko 22 November 1950 (aged 23) Imana Kinshasa
22 GK Otepa Kalambay 12 November 1948 (aged 25) Mazembe Lubumbashi Just before getting Adidas, yet with signs ‘Leopards’ in front. Stangely enough, FIFA permited them to display the nickname, suspiciously looking like addvertisement, at the finals.
Top, left to right: Kalambay, Kibonge, Bwanga, Mwepu, Tshinabu, Kilasu, Ngoie, Kazadi.
Bottom: Lobilo, Mayanga Maku, Kidumu, Mana, Mbungu, Mukombo, Ndaye, Etepe Kakoko.