THE ALEX CHOLA FACT-FILE
Written by Millennium on January 28, 2019
Chola’s last appearance for Zambia came during the 1985 Zimbabwe-held CECAFA tournament.
Put in Group Two, Zambia drew 2-2 with Malawi in the first match and would be trounced 3-0 by Uganda in the second game on October 10 in Bulawayo to ultimately bow out of the tournament. Chola played in both matches and was substituted on both occasions, presumably to the effects of wear and tear. He was 39, very much in the late afternoon of his career.
Zimbabwe went on to win the tournament, thrashing Kenya 2-0 in the final with Shaky Tauro and Gift Mpariwa’s late second half goals.
Elsewhere, despite being part of the elite 1976 Montreal Olympics final team to which he contributed 6 goals in qualification stages, Zambia, unfortunately withdrew – having actually travelled and landed on Canadian soil.
The presence of New Zealand at the Olympics which had sporting links with apartheid South Africa at the time, was the very reason the Zambian top political brass led by President Kenneth Kaunda ordered the Yuyi Lishomwa contingent of sportsmen of various disciplines, not to go ahead, but to make a u-turn forthwith. The order, like in the military, was heeded to the hilt.
After the Montreal Olympics disappointment, consolation came in a different form. Zambia, despite failing to qualify for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, she took the place of Egypt who suddenly withdrew in protest following the invasion of Palestine by Israel. Zambia had been booted out 6-2 on aggregate by Egypt themselves in the qualifiers.
At the Moscow Olympics, Chola played two matches before Zambia would be ejected in the first round.
Chola’s coaching career at club level started at Arthur Davies stadium in late 1985 following the resignation of head-coach Freddie Mwila Sr.
Dynamos had finished 5th on the 12-team log with 27 points, three adrift of champions Nkana Red Devils, as Nkana FC were called at the time, while runners-up Mufulira Wanderers were on 28. Third-placed Red Arrows and fourth-finishers Nchanga Rangers, just like Dynamos, finished on 27 points each as well as the difference being goal difference.
To rub salt into their wounds, Chola’s team, holders of the Champion of Champions tournament, failed to defend the trophy. Wanderers, the championship’s most winning team, emerged the winners that year. The short script to the episode is the fact that Dynamos finished the year 1985, Chola’s first year in-charge, virtually trophy-less. What a bad start it turned out to be for the human computer.
Armed with an Advanced Coaching Diploma obtained from Germany, the dramatic return of Mwila to the technical bench in 1990 meant that Chola had to revert to assistant coach following the departure of Jim Bone.
And despite Dynamos finishing 5th on the Premier League table that season, Chola, for guiding his team to a respectable finish in the highly-competitive elite league, was voted the National Coach-of-the-Year following the suspension of almost the entire first team, save for veteran goalkeeper Martin Mwamba, defence pillar Webby Chilufya and ever- green midfielder-cum-left-back maestro Aggrey Chiyangi.
And following Zambia’s shock 2-1 defeat to Islanders Madagascar away in Antananarivo in December 1992 in a USA 1994 World Cup qualifier, head-coach Samuel “Zoom” Ndhlovu and his entire technical bench were sacked by the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ). In came Godfrey Chitalu and Chola as chief-trainer and assistant coach respectively.
The Chitalu-Chola drilled team had a superb run of results prior to their horrific death in the April 28, 1993 Gabon Air Disaster en-route to fulfilling a USA 1994 World Cup match against Senegal.
The team had not lost a single game in both the 1994 World Cup as well as the African Cup qualifiers – an indication of perhaps a new wand of magic that Chitalu-Chola had seemingly added to the crème de la crème team they had inherited from Ndhlovu and company.
In the world cup qualifiers, Zambia beat Mauritius 2-0 away before slaughtering Namibia 4-0 in their own backyard and would equally smash Madagascar 2-0 in Antananarivo.
Elsewhere, Zambia thrashed Tanzania 3-1 away and would murder Namibia 4-0 in the return fixture, a replica of the first encounter.
In Zambia’s last fixture on home soil before the team perished off the Gabonese coast of Libreville, they destroyed Madagascar 3-1 in Lusaka.
In the 1994 Tunisia AfCON qualifiers, Zambia beat Mauritius 2-1 in Lusaka and narrowly saw off South Africa 1-0 in in an away fixture.
Next, Zambia drew 0-0 with Zimbabwe at home before posting a healthy 3-0 beating of Mauritius in Curepipe with Kelvin Mutale delivering all three goals.
Collectively, under the tutelage of Chitalu and Chola in both the World Cup and AfCON qualifiers, Zambia played ten matches – winning 9 and drawing once, scored 24 goals and conceded a mere three.
Chola’s legacy is deeply embedded in the fact that to the present day, he remains the only Mufulira Blackpool player to have ever won the coveted Zambia Footballer-of-the-Year award, the crowning glory which, as already referred to under the club career sub-title, came in 1976. For the record, the legend was aged 21.
Elsewhere, he is hailed as one of the best, if not the best technically-gifted forwards Zambian football as ever seen.
To his memory, a road in Lusaka’s Nyumba Yanga residential area, about 500 metres to the east of Woodlands Stadium, is named after him.
Alex “Computer” Chola, at the time of his death in the Gabon Air Disaster, was outlived by his wife Monica and five children, all of whom are alive and kicking – 25 years after the losing a dear husband and father.