Carve Their Names

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 20, 2019 15:39

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Carve Their Names

Editor’s Note

As African prepares to celebrate its most ambitious Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) to date, we hope that the Confédération de Football Africaine (CAF) will honour the memory of AFCON icons who have passed away since the last edition in 2017 at least at matches involving their nations.

Derek Miller

By Satish Sekar in Cairo © Satish Sekar (June 20th 2017)

As African football gears up for its showpiece event the Africa Cup of Nations, it should remember its famed sons who gave so much, but have passed on since Cameroon unexpectedly won the 31st edition in Gabon in 2017.

Pierre N’Daye Mulamba still holds the record for scoring the most goals in an AFCON finals, 9 in 1974. Going into the final against debutants, Zambia, he needed four to catch and pass Ivorian legend, Laurent Pookou who died in November 2016.

Twenty years later, after that achievement he was honoured in Tunisia, when they hosted AFCON in 1994. Sadly, that led to him being targeted in his homeland for armed robbery, which left him paralysed. The next 25 years were hard and horrid. N’Daye died in South Africa on January 26th 2019. His fate exposes how much remains to be done. If icons can be treated like this imagine the fates of those who lack the name and abilities of Pierre N’Daye Mulamba. But N’Daye  was far from the only African and AFCON icon to deserve recognition at this AFCON.

Less than a fortnight earlier, South African icon and former Leeds United star, Philemon Masinga passed away. He was one of the Bafana Bafana’s star players in their only AFCON triumph to date, 1996. Masinga was a losing finalist in the next edition too. In 1998 South Africa were beaten by Egypt – the Pharaohs’ fourth title.

Last year Ghana lost two icons – one an AFCON winner, the other a player who played in two finals, sadly losing both (1968 and 1970).

A valuable member of their iconic 1978 squad – iconic as that win against Uganda made Ghana the first team to win three in a row and keep the trophy – Fuseini Salifu’s tale is hard to take, but, unfortunately, all too familiar.

After the glory days passed – his career ended – he was left to fend for himself. His last years were appalling to behold.

He never recovered from a stroke suffered in 2016. Diabetes then took its toll, resulting in his leg being amputated, but it was too late. Fuseini died a day after the amputation in October 2018.

The following month, November 6th to be precise, 76-year-old John Eshun, a double AFCON finalist and Black Stars captain, passed away. Eshun was part of Ghana’s record four finals in a row.

Sadly, he never won the trophy, as Ghana lost to Congo-Kinshasa in 1968 and to Sudan in 1970. He too endured hardships unbecoming to African football icons in his final years.

In September 2018, Ken Banda, one of the first Zambians to get a trial in English football, passed away without receiving the medical assistance that he needed. Playing in the early 1960s, Banda had no opportunity to save and plan for his future. His last year – I met him in November 2017 – was sad to see.

It was clear he needed help and was not getting it. He never got the chance to play at the top football event in Africa –  Zambia didn’t qualify until 1974. The man who led that team in Egypt, Dickson Makwaza, acknowledges the importance of Banda to Zambian football.

And just a few weeks before the start of the current AFCON, another Zambian icon, an Nkana and Zambia legend and veteran of the 1974 tournament died after a short illness.

Simon (Stone) Chibwe was hailed by team-mates as an intelligent footballer, and a a great loss to football. He was an integral part of the Zambia team that made its mark in Egypt 45 years ago.

The Icons’ Icons

Less than a month before the 31st AFCON began in Gabon – it had originally been scheduled for Libya after that nation swapped hosting with South Africa – African football mourned the loss of one of Egypt and the continent’s greatest legends. Mohamed Diab al-Attar (Ad Diba) passed away aged 89.

Ad Diba set a record in the first final, scoring all four goals in the 4-0 mauling of Ethiopia before. No player has matched his feat in the 31 AFCONs to date. Ad Diba set another so far unique feat. He became an official. He refereed the 1968 AFCON final where Congo-Kinshasa beat Ghana 1-0. CAF paid tribute to him at the CAF Congress in March 2017, but not during the AFCON2017.

N’Daye equalled Ad Diba’s record in 1974, but required two matches to do so. 1974 was the only time the Cup of Nations required a replay. N’Daye  went from 5 goals to almost doubling that with a brace in each match. That gave him the record for highest scorer in any AFCON finals

The highest scorer previously was in the 1968 tournament. Laurent Pokou, scored 8 goals. He added another 6 in his only other scoring appearance in AFCON Finals. Pokou’s record of 14 was subsequently broken by Cameroonian great Samuel Eto’o Fils.

A month before Ad Diba’s death, Pokou passed away too.

The stature of all these legends in the African game should be suitably honoured during the 32nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations.

And there are others who passed away the previous year without being honoured at AFCON, including Ghanaian greats CK Gyamfi and Cecil Jones Attuquayefio.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 20, 2019 15:39