One of my earliest memories is Zambia’s Chipolopolo beating South Africa’s national team. People flooded the streets to sing the Chipolopolo song. My grandfather gave me a whistle and led me outside. I sat in his arms while blowing my whistle. He cheered the supporters running through the streets. Almost twenty years later, I wept as I watched the Zambian Captain Christopher Katongo brandish the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy. The next day, Zambians of all ages and social classes occupied the Great East Road to show our national team a heroic welcome. A great time to be Zambian because for those moments we shared in a win.
At the peak of the South End flyover bridge into town, a mammoth billboard reading “Zambia drives Toyota” greeted motorists. Boasting? Not in the slightest. The brand is so ubiquitous that one would forgive the assumption that Toyota originated in Zambia. Similarly, it would not be grandstanding to claim that Zambia plays football. Despite a lack of institutional memory, Zambia has collectively held football close to her chest. Maybe it’s these heartstrings that Chivas wanted to pull on in their second experiential campaign. A press conference with Manchester United Global Ambassador Dwight Yorke.
Our AFCON victory was almost a decade ago. Like the Bond-Girl curse, our success did not beget more. Our performance declined and our forays into the Premier League proved futile. Any football fan can dismiss my cynicism because I balance my investment in football on the national team’s performance. However, the questions by more knowledgeable colleagues addressed the elephant in the room.
Does Zambia have a shot at representation in the Premier League? Of course we do. Dwight Yorke came from ordinary beginnings in a country that had limited representation in the Premier League. Scouted in the late 80s, he enjoyed the record for the most goals scored by a non-European in the Premier League. Dwight admitted it was hard then, notably with a more racially biased climate. He suggested one of the hardest tasks he did was leaving his home. He had to adjust quickly to a new culture while cultivating a rigorous career as a professional player. Dwight acknowledges that the world especially football has come far in combatting racism. However, he also believes that lots of work remains for increased integration of ethnic minorities in football. We can understand why Dwight believes a passion for the game is paramount in achieving success. Focusing on obstacles brings down the strongest of us.
Dwight thinks that seismic changes in football have made it easier for Africans to join the Premier League. For example, the 1992 / 1993 Premier League Season had only three African players in the Premier League. By the 2004 / 2005 season, the number increased to 42 players. An average of 50 African players currently takes part in the Premier League. Zambians have talent. We have witnessed sheer will and skill playing on our TV screens. Dwight feels to establish the dream into a reality, young talent needs to practise four things:
- Believe in your dream
- Set a high standard
- Practice hard
- Try until you succeed
While sipping on Chivas, a drink that associates with diverse forms of success, I drew once more on the contradiction of our place in football vis-à-vis the aspirational image of Chivas. We could find a way into the Premier League, but not by reliving past glories. Instead, we have to learn lessons from the old, aspire to a higher place and evolve.