African Greats who Deserved Better

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar December 21, 2018 20:25

African Greats who Deserved Better

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 10th 2018)

Pioneers

Still reeling from the death in September of Zambian pioneering footballer, Ken Banda, African football has been plunged into mourning once more. Salifu Fuseini, a winner of Ghana’s historic AFCON title in 1978 died suddenly at the end of last month.

One of Ghana, and Africa’s greatest players, Golden Boy, Abdul Razak Karim paid tribute to his Black Stars and Asante Kotoko team-mate in what is a sadly familiar story in Africa.

“Sorry to hear that our former goalkeeper Fuseini Salifu passed away,” Razak said.

“Fuseini represented his club, Asante Kotoko, and the Black Stars with distinction.

“Then, he needed help. Football should care for former players like him.

“No-one helped him.

“May he rest in perfect peace.”

Razak and George Kennedy presented the ailing Fuseini with a signed bib and message from Ghana’s number one keeper in 1978, Joseph Carr, earlier this year, which was arranged by British sports not for profit, Empower-Sport Limited.

The much-maligned Ghana Football Association (GFA) at least tried to do something to help players like Fuseini. They lobbied the former government, and helped persuade them to establish the Endowment Fund to help former sporting stars in need of help.

It didn’t get to Fuseini or his family in time, and became a casualty of Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ corruption exposé.
Somehow, Fuseini slipped through the cracks.

In 2016 he suffered a stroke. Feeling neglected and forgotten he was a shadow of the fit young man who gave his all for club and country. Razak told tales of his strength and how Fuseini was the last of his former team-mates that he expected would suffer like this.

Playing in an era before today’s riches in the game, Fuseini suffered in silence, as did his wife and daughter who cared for him.

After the stroke which affected his mobility and speech, Fuseini had to spend his $5000 – every Ghanaian AFCON winner was presented with that sum by the former government in 2016 – on his care. It had come too late.“He got diabetes,” Razak explained, “so they decided to cut off his leg, but he died the following day.

“He didn’t get the help he needed.”

Carr wanted to organise a benefit match for Fuseini, but it could not be organised in time. Fuseini was left largely to fend for himself, living in appalling conditions.

It could and should have been different. The 1978 AFCON involved a very short victory dividend. General Ignatius ‘Kutu’ Acheampong, then President of Ghana, promised houses to the winning squad. It didn’t happen.

Acheampong was overthrown weeks later, and was consequently executed.

Meanwhile, the AFCON winners were feted and then forgotten. The promises were ignored.

Great players such as the Dribbling Wizard, Mohammed Polo, who still possesses great skill in his 70s, struggles on, trying to pass on those skills without funds. Fuseini came from that era. Polo was unaware and shocked to hear what Fuseini was going through, and that he was not alone.

But Fuseini’s story sadly, is not unique. Fuseini’s achievements were acknowledged. Shamefully, the same cannot be said of Ken Banda, who died in his mid-70s a few weeks earlier. Like Fuseini, his fate shames his nation, continent and the football family.

Ken Banda had been largely forgotten in his country and even its football. He died with medical needs and poverty unaddressed. It could and should have been different. He was a Zambian football pioneer, but few outside the football fraternity remembered him.

“I’m really saddened to hear of the passing of a footballing and an African legend in Ken Banda,” Howard Gayle, the first black man to play for Liverpool, said.

“He was somebody who was inspirational to us Europeans watching African football, and it’s really, really sad to hear of the demise and sudden death of somebody who is an icon.”

Even inside football, many did not know who he was – I had to remind them, and I’m not Zambian. Banda deserved better – much better.

Playing For History

Together with John ‘Ginger’ Pensulo, the former Roan United stars paved the way for Zambian footballers to play in Europe. They had a six-week trial with Leeds United in 1963. They weren’t signed, but the fact that the then First Division (equivalent of a Premier League) side knew about Northern Rhodesians as they were then – it was a much larger world then – shows how talented they were.

Of the two, Pensulo’s achievements were the greater,  but despite struggling to express himself, Pensulo paid tribute to Banda in a touching manner for a man in his 80s, who is in need of appreciation and assistance himself.

Speaking in his native tongue, Bemba, Pensulo said: “I want to play football with Ken Banda again.”

Of course, the frail Pensulo cannot do that in this lifetime, but what better tribute could he pay to a man with whom he blazed a trail for future generations of Zambians?

The appreciation of Pensulo and Banda covered several thousand miles, and it wasn’t just about football.

“He’s the first one to break down barriers, so I could be where I am now,” former Liverpool and England forward, Emile Heskey said about Banda.

“If we didn’t have people like that, where would be? So yeah, people like that are great to have throughout the world, not just in football.”

Two years earlier Banda and Pensulo played a huge part in tackling racism – integrating football in their nation, which was then in the death throes of its anti-colonial struggle. Mufulira United was then an all-white (European) team. A combined team of Roan Antelope Callies – an all-white team, but one that wanted non-racist leagues – and Roan Mine FC, which was black and forced to play in racially separated leagues, challenged Mufulira United to a match. The United Roan team won 1-0 – Pensulo scored the only goal.

This match played a large part in the integration of football – Northern Rhodesia had practised Apartheid too, and football was not immune.

It coincided with the National Football League, launched in 1961 by liberal white businessmen, who challenged the racism and Apartheid in the country through a non-racial football league. One of the leading lights of this was the legendary black administrator Tom Mtine – the Chairman of a white-dominated league’s executive.

Football had played an important part in history – tackling and beating a less well-known Apartheid. Banda played an important part in that struggle through football.

Neither Banda nor Pensulo adapted to the conditions in England, and came home, but a year later the country was independent, and both were playing for the new national team – they were internationals before and after independence came on October 24th 1964, and Zambian football was open and integrated. The team became known as the KK11 – named after football enthusiast and first President of independent Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda.

Younger Generation’s Debt

“I had the pleasure and honour of meeting Ken Banda in the last year of his life,” former Chipolopolo goalkeeper Satchmo Chakawa said.

“He helped to pave the way for me. I will be grateful to him for the career he helped me to have. May he rest in eternal peace.”

Chakawa’s career was ended prematurely due to the effects of a terrible accident that paralysed the gifted young midfielder Changwe Kalale, and ultimately cost him his life aged just 23. It also ended the career of AFCON winner, Nyambe Mulenga

“The sacrifices of Ken Banda and his generation are too easily forgotten,” Chakawa said.

“He’s a Zambian icon and hero. Our football must cherish his memory.”

Zambian Icon who Deserved Better

This fight against racism, Apartheid, and football’s role in ending a lesser known crime against humanity – it wasn’t just South Africa – is important to remember. Banda, a talented young footballer at the time, played a part in achieving that, paving the way for others like the great Kalusha Bwalya to shine. His impact spread beyond Zambia’s borders.

“Ken Banda gave everything on the pitch for his club and country,” Razak said.

“The sacrifices his generation made for Africa paved the way for me and future generations.

“I’m emotional now, thinking of Ken.

“I never met him, but I know what he did for football, for his clubs and Africa.”

Razak saw what Fuseini went through, and recognised a similar pattern with Banda. “He gave everything on the pitch, but once his career ended, he was forgotten,” Razak said.

“It happens too often, especially to those who played before there was money in the game.

“It’s a tragedy that Ken Banda’s life ended as it did. He was a Zambian – African – legend, who deserved far better than he got.

“We should be cherishing Ken Bandas and Fuseini Salifus, and showing them how much we appreciated them and care for them while we can.

“May their souls rest in perfect peace.”

Legends

Former Liverpool attacker Howard Gayle agrees.

“It’s really a pity that Africa doesn’t look after its football legends and football greats, and I hope that this is the last time that you would hear or see something on this scale,” Gayle said.

“Ken was a true legend and a realistic and everyday inspiration to a lot of black footballers around the world who didn’t get the opportunities that were afforded by his skills and his commitment to football.”

It took the emergence of one of Zambia’s greats to displace Banda from the KK11. The former Roan United icon played with former captain and undoubted legend, Dickson Makwaza, who learned from and ultimately replaced Banda.

Those scars, suffered with dignity, played a part in Banda’s health issues in his last years. Football had given to Banda, and it had taken away.

Makwaza, softly spoken and caring, was among several former players that I met almost a year ago. They had been all but forgotten about. I took A Sporting Chance of After-care to Zambia. Its aims were to locate legends – to start with – including ones who felt neglected and forgotten, and show them that they were still remembered and cared about, and then to address the issues of their care, and in some cases, poverty.

There was no Footballers’ Association to take up the cudgels when they needed it.

“They are our legends,” former Chipolopolo coach Wedson Nyiernda, said. “We have to care about them and bring them back into football.”

Addressing Needs

Last November, I first met Banda. I was told about Banda, and he was invited to the match against Cameroon. He was a late inclusion in Empower-Sport Ltd’s project A Sporting Chance of After-care – Zambia.

We took legends to Chipolopolo matches – The Football Association of Zambia (FAZ), through its then General Secretary, Ponga Liwewe, provided VIP tickets for them.

We then entertained the legends at a braai in their honour. He told me about his career and troubles long into the night. We wanted to help him and others. Further events and meetings occurred, but Banda remained on the fringes of Zambian football, and that is a great shame. Banda should have been feted and cherished, especially by Zambia.

It has support in Zambia and also Ghana, among other places. Sporting Legends of Zambia aimed to do that through A Sporting Chance of After-care – Zambia.

Ken Banda was an important part of that project. He was also an integral part of Sporting Legends of Zambia, which plans to deliver this for Zambians. His legacy must include the role he played in Zambian football, and ensuring that he is the last Zambian legend to suffer like this.

The vast treasure trove of football knowledge he accrued over the years has gone. He played when there wasn’t money in the game, especially in post-colonial Africa and railed against the lack of discipline in the game now – he blames money.

“They play for money now, and waste it,” he told me. “I played for love of my country.”

Banda wanted help. He needed it in the year I knew him, and I wanted to help, but a meal here and there; a few Kwatcha from me could not solve his needs, or any other players from his era for that matter. There should be a programme to help former players, especially legends like Ken Banda, and it should not depend on a foreigner.

“I’m sure he’s going to be remembered throughout the world of football, but in particular in Africa,” Howard Gayle said, “and I would hope that there is some sort of memorial or status to him in the future.”

Ken Banda deserved more in life; so did Salifu Fuseini. Let their legacies at least be properly honoured now that they have passed away.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar December 21, 2018 20:25