|Lionel Messi (L) and Godfrey 'Ucar' Chitalu (R)|
After making worldwide headlines in February for winning the African Cup of Nations 2012, Zambia has once again successfully bulldozed it way back into the spotlight. This time around claiming that the record for most goals scored in a calendar year does not belong to Argentina’s Lionel Messi, but it is actually owned by a Zambian namely Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu. At the time of writing this Messi took his tally to 90 goals. It is still a long way from Chitalu’s 107 goals. It is a tally that Messi is unlikely to break with a couple of weeks left before the close of the year. So how did we find ourselves in this mess?
This story is a strange one, and it is almost amusing to think about. So in 1972, there was a German fellow called Gerd Muller, who scored 85 goals in a calendar year. He was hailed as the record holder until a minute fellow called Lionel Messi came along. Well apparently in the very same year that Muller set his supposed record, a fellow in a Southern African country called Zambia was smashing goals as if his life depended on it. His name was Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu and he scored a staggering 107 goals for club and country. Before, Messi broke Muller’s record Chitalu was hardly known by the world and would have probably remained so if Messi hadn’t broken Muller's record, and the rest of the world was applauding him for it. It is at this moment that the name Godfrey Chitalu emerged.
Some clever people decided to put the record straight and thankfully, Twitter and Facebook were around to lend a helping hand. Chitalu who plied his trade for Kabwe Warriors when the 107 goals were scored deserved the record and not Messi. Backed by the Football Association of Zambia, the world media was forced to take notice of this nation that was making noise. Many thought that it was one of those stories that could not be proven because there were no records, therefore, it would die away naturally. However, as proof began to emerge one of the most significant being the black-and-white picture with Chitalu holding a ball printed 107 goals on it; the world could not ignore us anymore.
The debate around the world was whether Zambia’s league could be considered as a worthy league to be taken seriously. Therefore, any achievements accomplished in what many consider an inferior league cannot be taken into consideration. Then others claimed that we did not have the records but once the research done by Jerry Muchimba was revealed that argument was no longer as strong. On the other hand, some believe that Godfrey Chitalu deserves the honour and should be recognised for his accomplishment. The matter at hand is goals scored in a calendar year. It is not accompanied by a disclaimer of only in stronger leagues or the player must hail from Europe or South America. Therefore, 107 goals is the record which was set by Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu.
If I may play devil’s advocate here, where were we for 40 years? Where were we when Messi reached 50 goals, 60 goals, 70 goals? As soon as Messi broke the Gerd Muller record then we realise Chitalu's record exists and choose to blow our horns. We should have been talking about Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu’s record way before Messi came along or was even close to reaching Muller's goal tally. Here in Zambia itself except for a few football pundits very few people knew of his record. Frankly, I only knew of this record when we were contesting Messi’s record. If we ourselves did not celebrate Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu’s record why on earth should the rest of the world celebrate him? Also spare a thought for Lionel Messi. The chap had Gerd Muller’s record in sight all along because that is the only record that he knew. Imagine the celebration that was there when he shattered that record, and he achieved what seemed impossible only to discover shortly after that someone, somewhere had scored 107 goals. I would be furious and throwing a tantrum. Maybe if someone had taken the liberty to let him in on that little fact, he would have scored more hat tricks.
Apparently, FIFA has taken the wise choice to neither ratify Lionel Messi nor Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu’s record. This, in my opinion, is to avoid any further debate about this matter. So this still remains an open case and subject to debate depending on who you ask. Sadly, Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu died in the 1993 Gabon football disaster when he was the coach of the national team, so we do not have the luxury of hearing from the legend. All we have are the bits of history and records we have left.
Regardless of what people say, finally the world knows of the legend that Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu was and what accomplishments he achieved. For people choose not to accept it that is their problem. This must also be a lesson to us as Zambians to start honouring own people and documenting their lives. These are the times to start writing biographies, producing documentaries, shouting their successes so that the rest of the world may know. On the other hand, Messi is still young he has next year to target breaking the 107 goal record. Until then, I do not consider him as the record holder, that accolade belongs to our Godfrey ‘Ucar’ Chitalu.
Congratulations to Christopher Katongo for winning the BBC African Footballer of the Year Award. I just had to add that in.