SPORTING clubs around the world adore their heroes, and for some, more than others immortalising them forever with public memorials.
In Zambia, apart from the 1993 Gabon Disaster Heroes Acre at Independence Stadium in Lusaka, I can only think of three other football landmarks clubs have erected or dedicated to honour their heroes - fallen or alive.
At Railway Grounds in Kabwe, Kabwe Warriors have honoured the late goal king Godfrey 'Ucar' Chitalu with a plaque and his portrait in the passage leading to the grandstand.
Nkana on the other hand have their version of a Heroes Acre at Chamboli Cemetery in Kitwe with the centerpiece there being a giant red concrete football at the approach to the plot.
And in my hometown Ndola, Ndola United has one at the former Dag Hammarskjold Stadium site in the leafy suburb of Itawa.
While the stadium was demolished never to be rebuilt again 25 years ago, the Ndola United Cairn in honour of three fallen Ndola United players that once stood in the giant concrete shadow of the erased iconic stadium still survives but as a forgotten landmark.
The metre-high white diamond shaped monument with a black inscribed plaque and an embedded ball is discoloured, overwhelmed by elephant grass and acacia trees that have reclaimed what was once Zambian football's impenetrable battlegrounds.
Furthermore its very existence is under threat with the prospect of being razed as property developers circle in on what is now prime Itawa land.
From the time I was a five-year-old living just around the corner at Number 12 Kafue Drive in Itawa, I vividly remember playing at the monument with my friends on our regular expeditions to the Dag stadium that were never ever approved by my mother.
For those of you who do not know, the Ndola United Cairn was erected over 40 years ago following Ndola United most tragic period that preceded their 1975 Zambia footballer of the year Edwin Mbaso's death in a traffic accident over a decade later.
On August 18, 1969, three Ndola United players died on their way back to Ndola from Lusaka after fulfilling a Castle Cup quarterfinal game against Lusaka Tigers at Matero Stadium that the visiting side won 2-1.
Ndola United won that match courtesy of the goal scored by Hudson Kasongo and Gibbon 'Nigger' Chewe in the competition that was the predecessor tournament to the defunct Mosi Cup.
The accident is one of Zambia's earliest recorded post-independence tragedies to claim the lives of footballers on duty.
It claimed the lives of three star players at the club; 21-year-old defender Winnie Chama, Paul Mulenga 17 also a defender and schoolboy at Masala Secondary School.
The accident also claimed the life of another bright young talent at the time in 17-year-old Zambia schoolboy international midfielder Joseph Chintu of Chiwaya Secondary School.
Last month marked the 42nd anniversary of the three players' death whose names are engraved onto the black marble plaque of the Ndola Cairn.
On it reads: "In Memory of Joseph Chintu, Paul Mulenga, Winnie Chama Footballers of Ndola United Who Met An Untimely Death In A Road Accident On The 18-08-1969."
I caught up with prominent lawyer and veteran football administrator Dr Julius Sakala State Counsel who was Ndola United chairperson at that time to give me his recollection of events during the club's darkest hour.
In his old hand written notes titled "The Saddest Tragedy" that he penned in the wake of the accident in 1969, Sakala recounts a tale of triumph, shock and sorrow rolled in one weekend on an August night of the accident that occurred on the Kabwe-Kapiri Mposhi stretch of the Great North Road.
"At my age I have experienced tragedies both in my family and in families of my relatives and close friends," Sakala wrote. "It is a sorrowful, nay, painful experience."
Sakala was at home in Ndola when the accident happened.
"The team was returning to Lusaka after playing Lusaka Tigers in a quarterfinal match which was won by Ndola United FC. For some unknown reasons I was reluctant to accompany the team."
Sakala said the late Dixon Mwansa was the Ndola United senior official with the team away for that cup quarterfinal match.
"Later in the evening I heard that Ndola United has won and so I went to bed early," Sakala wrote. "At 02:40 hours that night the phone rang and I instantly said, "Oh no!" Not at this hour. It was a message of tragedy from Patrick "Amato" Zwane one of the players - ringing from Kapiri Mposhi police stadium. "I am sorry Mr chairman we have had a motor accident and two of our players have died, Joseph Chintu and Paul Mulenga."
According to Sakala, the bus was travelling on the straight section of the road near Kapiri Mposhi before it skidded and overturned.
"It turned out that three players had died, the third being Winnie Chama, the top three Ndola United players," part of his notes read. "I asked Amato where the bodies were at that time. He replied that the dead and others injured had been taken to Kabwe General Hospital. I said 'okay I am coming right now.' My wife was stunned. She said, 'please drive carefully. I know you are in a state of shock but be a man.' Sure, I tried to be a man, whatever that meant. I drove alone up to Kapiri Mposhi."
Sakala said as he took the numbing drive down from Ndola to Kapiri Mpsohi, he punctuated the lonely journey by singing Rock of Ages and Awe Mwandi Ine nalishama ku fintu fyonse fyapanwe sonde.
"It was one of my longest journeys - or so it appeared to be," Sakala said.
"Finally, I arrived at Kapiri Mposhi police station where I found Amato and one or two players waiting for me. They took me to the scene about three kilometres towards Kabwe on Great North Road. On arrival at the scene the bus was still lying on one of its sides, but then, there on the edge of the tarmac was a large piece of head hair with brain marrow on it. I could not bear it. I cried. I thought whoever that was, the death must have been painful. I cried uncontrollably."
Sakala said after a while, he composed himself and drove down to Kabwe General Hospital.
"Outside, someone mentioned that Philip Sabu our goalkeeper then had also died. But that was not true. He merely had a dislocated shoulder," Sakala wrote.
"I first went into the mortuary where I identified Chintu and Mulenga, but Chama was driven to Ndola by some Good Samaritan together with Evans Sakala who had broken ribs."
"Unfortunately Chama had severe internal bleeding. He died when crossing the railway line at Bwana Mukubwa and I must have crossed with them on my way to Kapiri."
Sakala said he heard about the passing of Chama as he was arranging to transfer Chintu and Mulenga's remains back to Ndola.
"These were the most outstanding players of the team. I could not understand how Satan (Oh, no God!) could take all three together just like that! What sin did we commit?" he said.
Sakala said Chintu, Mulenga and Chama were buried just days later side-by-side at Kansenshi Cemetery.
"The burial was overwhelmingly moving. Thousands turned up at Kansenshi Cemetery. I arranged for all the three to be buried next to each other," part of the notes read.
For seven years after the tragedy, Ndola United held an annual memorial service at the Cairn outside Dag and one was even presided over by the late Monseigneur Denis De Jong who was Roman Catholic Bishop of Ndola at the time.
The last service at the Cairn was held on Wednesday August 18, 1976 at 17:00 hours and was attended by Ndola United players and officials including the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) president of the time and other dignitaries.
At the close after the final prayer by the Ndola Mayor's Chaplin, the Last Post was sounded by the Zambia army band from the Ndola garrison of Tug Argan Barracks followed by a minute of silence.
"But I repeat that was one of my saddest occasions in my football administration," says Sakala. "I think it is imperative that we seek the protection of the memorial Cairn through the Ministry of Sport Youth and Child Development and Government."
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