The Spectator: Watching the new Peter Mponda

Clifford Chimulambe

Malawians who support the country’s football teams have become so accustomed to its dismal perfomances, they have been lowering their expectations for a while now.

A loss is to be expected. Do not get yourself too worked up about it.

In fact, if you tell someone the Flames lost; they’ll just be like okay, by what margin?

A draw is generally the norm while a win is actually, surprising, more like a miracle.

“What happened?” “The ref gave us a penalty.” “Okay…ndimadabwatu [I was wondering how]!”

Last Saturday, many could not believe their eyes and ears as news trickled in that Malawi Under-17 had beaten South Africa 3-0 in their opening Cosafa Under-17 championship game played at Mpira stadium in Chiwembe, Blantyre, Malawi.

Whether this crop of South African players and their technical panel know it or not, theirs was supposed to be a better side. I mean they are well resourced and have a considerably large population from which to select a national team.

Somehow, they have ended up the whipping boys of the tournament because on Monday they were also beaten 7-0 by the sharp shooting Zambia who whacked Eswatini 6-0 in their opening match.

Back to Malawi.

Following the win over South Africa, the pleasantly surprised Flames supporters along with the players probably thought…'If we managed to beat South Africa, ka Eswatini nka chani [who is Eswatini after all]?' 

So, the spectators including yours truly went in droves to root for Malawi the hosts.

Flames Under 17
The future of Malawi football? Photos by Kimpho Loka

The boys looked unperturbed by their opponents. Okay they missed a number of chances, but I thought they approached the game lightly and King Mswati’s boys pounced on them to secure a 2-1 win.

Aside from the loss there we a lot of moments that offered glimpses of a bright individual and hopefully national footballing future.

I thought Malawians should look out for midfielders/forwards Henry Sakala,  Dave Tobias, Chikumbutso Salima and Festus Duwe.

My attention was also drawn to defender Clifford Chimulambe, the tallish young man wearing the captain’s arm band and Jersey number 15 on the day.

He reminded me a lot of Malawi’s retired captain and defender Peter Mponda.

In his hey day, Mponda was a solid rock marshalling Malawi’s central defence, he was also a picture of skill and confidence, such that while some of his friends would be caught star-gazing in matches against such teams as Ivory Coast or Nigeria, Mponda seemed to view them as any other player to be marked! Fullstop.

The country has been searching for his replacement for a while now. Those who have tried to step into his boots have not brought the full package.

But I think we have found Mponda’s successor in the young Chimulambe. The boy was simply too composed for a lad of less than 17 (his records show that he was born on 2 November, 2003).

The Form 3 student who was born in Mwanza but now plays for Namiwawa FC gave strikers a tough time because aside from skill and pace he was rock solid in defending the pride of his country; an impenetrable wall really.

He forced Eswatini’s forwards who had quickly noticed that any attempts to go past Chimulambe were a mission in futility, to find solace in the wings.

Obviously, he has room to improve and grow, perhaps in the areas of leadership on the field etc but what we witnessed is worth commending.

His talent, character and nature must truly be nurtured by those around him, because in Clifford Chimulambe we have the new Peter Mponda.

P.S (POST SCRIPT)

Other than the loss to Eswatini, the other disappointing part of the game was how we the spectators were unloading our frustrations with the senior Flames on the young lads. After they conceded the first goal we stopped our vocal support and I think we contributed to demoralising the teens. Kuwakalipira chonchija ana oti ali ndi zaka 14, 15, 16! Pilizi