Freddie Mwila bellowed out yet another instruction from the touchline as Zambia battled against Atlas FC of Mexico in the 1988 President Cup in South Korea. He was lined up alongside Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndlovu as Zambia’s 1988 Olympic preparations got underway through the well planned and competitive tournament. Though Ndlovu was the head coach, most of the instructions came from Mwila, the tough-talking and confident coach who had been behind the rise of Power Dynamos FC from obscurity to becoming one of Zambian football’s most dominant teams.

Mwila began his coaching career as early as 1969 when, while playing for Aston Villa and later Atlanta Chiefs, he was involved with the coaching bench at Rokana United, now Nkana, due to his immense exposure from playing in England and the United States of America. When he returned to Zambia, he took up a coaching job at Ndola United as player-coach in 1973. Three years later, in 1976, he joined Nkwazi.

He left Nkwazi to begin his stint at Power Dynamos FC, alongside the great administrator Arthur Davies, creating out of nothing the team that would soar high above their opponents on the national and continental stages, reaching the final of the 1982 Africa Cup Winners Cup. They went on to win their first league title in 1984 and later lifted the African Cup Winners Cup trophy in 1991, becoming the first and only Zambian club to win an African title.

Mwila’s experience overseas gave him a distinct edge over the local coaches, having learnt from his English coaches when he was a player. He was alongside Colonel Brightwell Banda at the 1977 East and Central Africa Challenge Cup in Zanzibar when Zambia, distinct favourites to lift the cup, stuttered at the end, losing 5-3 to Uganda after a penalty shoot-out.

His success at Power Dynamos made him a frequent technical presence on the Zambian bench. While he was perfectly capable of leading the team as head coach, often, he was paired with others by officials who feared his uncompromising streak when it came to team matters. Urban legend has it that at Arthur Davies Stadium, a telephone installed in the dugout for instructions to the coach from management was pulled out and cast aside by Mwila when it rang at an inopportune time during a tense match.

After the President’s Cup, which served as a preparatory tournament for the 1988 Olympic Games, Mwila was unfairly removed from the technical bench for the Olympics itself, a seemingly unsound decision as he could have made a significant difference to a side that crumbled at the quarter-final stage 4-0 to a rampant West Germany after its earlier heroics in the 4-0 defeat of Italy.

After the air crash off the coast of Gabon in 1993, which killed the Zambian national team enroute to Dakar, Senegal for a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Senegal, Mwila was recalled from a coaching stint in Botswana. He played a pivotal role in rebuilding the team that came within 15 minutes of qualifying to the 1994 World Cup in the USA and reached the final of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, losing narrowly 2-1 to Nigeria. With Samuel “Zoom” Ndhlovu, he returned in 1997 to rescue Zambian football. The two battled resolutely but resigned after Zambia were held to a 2-2 draw by Zaire as their World Cup campaign stalled. In truth, it was beyond their control with the players at their disposal who simply couldn’t match the prowess of their predecessors.

Their departure was followed by the dramatic 3-0 loss to South Africa that signed the end of an era for the Zambian team as an aging team bereft of new talent started an inexorable decline in the country’s football fortunes that would see the once-powerful Zambian team sink into obscurity for over a decade.

After the Mwila reign at Power Dynamos came to an end with his departure to Botswana, in stepped the wily Alex Chola. As player-coach, Chola continued to weave his magic on the pitch, while holding the fort as coach. He eventually hang up his boots to focus on the technical side of the game. His outstanding achievements at Power Dynamos saw him roped into the coaching talent at the national team. The departure of Samuel “Zoom” Ndlovu in 1992 resulted in two of Zambia’s greatest players, Chola and Godfrey Chitalu, appointed joint coaches of the national team. They immediately made changes, opening the door for a host of young players. The Power Dynamos duo of Winter Mumba and Kenan Simambe, the Nkana pair of Moses Chikwalakwala and Numba Mumamba, Profund Warriors’ Patrick Banda and the prolific Kelvin Mutale all signaled the beginning of a new era of the national team. The Gabon air crash horrifically ended the lives of so many young and talented players and the two coaches, whose careers on the national team bench were only taking off in spectacular fashion. Their loss is still felt to this day.

Ben Bamfuchile arrived at Power Dynamos from Nkana during an age when coaches from opposing teams rarely went to work at another. Bamfuchile broke the mold and after a hesitant start, eventually won the hearts of the Power Dynamos fans. He went on to coach the national team, also working closely with Kalusha Bwalya during his stint as Technical Director and coach of the national team. Such was the influence of Bamfuchile during his time as coach that he was later recruited by the Namibia Football Association where he made a significant contribution, turning Namibia into a competitive outfit. His passing was deeply mourned by the Namibian football fraternity.

More recently, Aggrey Chiyangi was drafted into the national team when Sven Vandenbroek’s contract was not renewed. He stepped into the void for Zambia’s Africa Cup campaign with two difficult matches against Algeria and Zimbabwe. The team faltered, losing 5-1 and 1-2 at home as they struggled to find their form. It was no reflection on Chiyangi’s ability because away from the national team, he had taken a nondescript Green Eagles team to continental football for the first time in their history.

The legendary Peter Kaumba’s impact at national level was more with the U-23. Zambia came close to qualifying to the Olympic Games in 2004, again stuttering in a haze of administrative blunders as his team, which packed Christopher and Felix Katongo, Collins Mbesuma, Chintu Kampamba and others, battled against the continent’s best and were not found wanting.

Beston Chambeshi and his trailblazing U-20 Zambia national team that became African Champions in 2017 and reached the quarter-final of the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup team also served time at Power Dynamos. He was another Nkana legend who crossed the divide to make an impact at the Arthur Davies Stadium. Others, including Fordson Kabole, Tenant Chilumba and Perry Mutapa have served at national level in different age categories.

Power Dynamos continues to be a flagbearer for Zambian football at all levels of the game.

Ponga Liwewe – article written on 19 July