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Derby Makinka – Remembering the Gabon Disaster Heroes

Derby Makinka – A uniquely gifted midfield genius

Blessed with scintillating technical ability, it is no surprise that Derby Makinka is considered the best defensive midfielder to ever don the Zambian football Jersey.

On his day, he could not only dismantle the opposition with his trickery, but also easily boss the game with energetic performances that left opponents chasing shadows. He possessed unique qualities that enabled him to hold up play, linkup well with team mates coupled with the ability to shoot accurate-stinging shots from distance that left goalkeepers helpless. Such distinctive performances won-over fans and earned him the name ‘The Tanker’.

Beginning his club career at Profound Warriors in 1984, Makinka rose steadily through the ranks.     His roller-coaster journey with Profound warriors would include a first premier league appearance for Profound Warriors that would last two seasons, followed by demotion to the second tier. In the face of Profound Warriors’ demotion, Makinka’s individual standout performances wouldn’t go unnoticed as he would go on to receive the national footballer-of-the-year award in 1989. This milestone made him the first footballer in Zambia’s football history to receive the award with a demoted team.

On the international scene, the Tanker’s career would first take him to Pomir Dushanbe, in the Soviet League where he made his debut in 1989. In the process becoming one of the first Africans to feature in the Soviet Union alongside Pearson Mwanza and Wisdom Mumba Chansa.

He made his debut playing 90 minutes on 2nd October in a game Pomir Dushanbe lost 4-0 to Moscow Torpedo. In this game, his KK11 team mate Wisdom Chansa also featured and the two got raving reviews in the USSR papers for their performance.

His coming to the Polish club was quite a big event. Despite his short-lived 75 day stay in Poland

He was later to make substitute appearances on the 20th of October in the 1 – 0 loss to Rotor and another 1 – 0 loss in the final game of the season against Metalist Kharkiv in which he played 53 minutes to make his final appearance in the Russian league. He clocked a total of 158 minutes.

Thereafter, Derby Makinka represented Darryn Textiles Africa United (also known as Darryn. T), in Zimbabwe in 1990. In one particular match he famously dribbled a cluster of defenders before pushing the ball into an empty net. Such was his brilliance. Despite only playing 8 games, Makinka with his sideway dribbles, powerful runs and inch-perfect passes was the star of the year. As retired Zimbabwean footballer, Stewart Murisa, who was his teammate at Darryn. T remarked, “Derby was a complete player, a true professional and a marvel to watch both in a match and at training.”

Having shone at the 1990 and 1992 Africa Cup, Makinka headed back to Europe at age 27 and he signed for Polish side Lech Poznan. He would be remembered here as the first African to represent the ‘Kolejorz’ as they are locally known. Unfortunately, his stay was short-lived playing only three games towards the end of the season.

Makinka arrived in Poland on 1st March 1992 and would only make his debut on 11th April for the log leaders coming on in the 53rd minute. A week later, he came in as a first half substitute putting in a 70-minute shift in a game that some of the Lech fans thought he was not accepted as his teammates didn’t look like they wanted to play with him. He warmed the bench for the next three games before making a 10 minute appearance for the club on 9th May in his team’s 2 – 1 loss. Lech wrapped up the league title on 16th May with Makinka flying out of Poland on 19th May, 1992. He made history as the first Zambian to win a league title in Europe and the first African to win a league title in Poland.

His very short stay at Lech was attributed to a number of reasons:

  1. His coming to the Polish club was quite a big event. The first shot – Lech training, the whole team trains on one side, Mankinka kicks the ball without sense under the other goal. A question for coach Lech, later coach of the team, Henry the Apostle – why does Mankinka not play in the first team. Apostel, in a country cap, clearly disgusted: “and so he is, I see him coming to trainings, I did not want him, as long as I train Lech I will not play such a footballer …”.

    In Post-communist Poland, racism was a rife. Derby didn’t feel welcome in the team. Most times he cut a lonely figure in headsets with very little interaction with fellow team mates. It is well documented that in one match when he came on as a substitute, Derby’s teammates hardly passed the ball to him.

  2. The Lech heirachy that signed him had mixed intentions. It is widely reported in Poland that they signed him based on what they had seen from his performance at the 1988 Olympics. But, more importantly, they were concerned about the money side. The deal they proposed him was onerous on him. According to a Polish journalist,  Derby would only get his signing fee of 20, 000 USD (which even at that time was ridiculously way lower than the average) upon successive appearances. If he did not play, the club was not obliged to pay. In addition, they hopped to cash on the fan-base excitement of having an African player. Therefore, it was the board that insisted on him and not the coach.
  3. He was expected to arrive in January 1992, but he only arrived in March joining the log leaders with very little time to gel in a team that was soaring.
  4. It took a long time before he would actually play due to work permit issues and a delay in arrival of his agent. He found himself spending time in the terraces and not on the pitch. This led to a dip in form.
  5. He was home sick and struggled to acclimatize to adverse weather conditions. Once he said, “I would rather go back to Zambia, than sit on a ‘cold’ bench. Moreover, he had left his wife and kids in Zambia.

He was later to move to Al Ettifaq F.C, a Saudi Arabian team in 1993.

Not acknowledging Derby Makinka’s involvement in the Zambian national setup would be doing him a great disservice. Although born in modern day Zimbabwe on 5th September, 1965, Derby chose to represent Zambia. It was his exploits in the national team that made him a fan favourite and earned him global recognition. He was both reliable and dependable. He made his national team debut as a 19-year-old 77th minute substitute when Zambia walloped Cameroon 4 – 1 at home in 1985. In the fortnight return leg match that Zambia drew 1-1, Derby featured for 15 minutes.

He never looked back from that moment and went on to make 98 national team appearances with 10 goals. He represented Zambia at three Africa Cup of Nations tournaments in 1986, 1990 and 1992 respectively. He played in a total of 10 Africa Cup of Nations games, including entire games at the 1990 and 1992 tournaments.

11th March 1986 – Zambia 0 – 0 Algeria. Derby Makinka in action against Algeria at the 1986 Africa Cup of Nations tournament

Who remembers the June, 1989 Zambia vs Tunisia FIFA World Cup Qualifier in Lusaka? He scored a cracking goal against Tunisia few metres from the D-centre-circle to hand Zambia a lone goal victory.

Perhaps Derby’s most eye-catching performances came at the 1988 Olympic Games Men’s football competition in Seoul. Playing in the famed ‘KK11’ team alongside arguably Zambia’s finest footballers such as Kalusha Bwalya, Stone Nyirenda, Jonson Bwalya, to name a few, Derby shone at the tournament. Zambia topped Group B comprising of Italy, Iraq and Guatemala. The biggest highlight being Zambia’s 4 – 0 victory over Italy. Zambia eventually exited the competition in the quarter final stage following 4-0 loss at the hands of West Germany.

Click here to watch some highlights of Derby Makinka in action.

In spite the exit, the world took notice of Zambia’s talented generation of players, led by Kalusha Bwalya, the author of a hat trick in a meeting with Italy. As Zambia’s second highest scorer in this tournament, Derby walked away with 2 goals to his name.

Derby Makinka is a Zambian football legend that gave the beautiful game his all.

He played his last game when Zambia beat Mauritius 3 – 0 away on April 25, 1993. The team arrived back in Zambia on April 26 and where headed to Senegal for a 1994 World Cup when the plane carrying the entire team plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Gabon on the night of April 27 – The plane crash that took the lives of the Zambian squad and cut his career short together with many other gifted players.








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6 Comments to Derby Makinka – Remembering the Gabon Disaster Heroes

  1. Sibs01 says:

    What a a Playeeeer as the Late Dennis Liwewe would say. He was indeed a tanker in the Midfield. Power,, Precision and skill. We lost players of immerse quality and abilities in that Fatal plane crush.

    The players of today are mikes behind compared to this team.

  2. sibs01 says:

    Miles behind…

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. I remember I was still a child then but the way the played so well. I cried when I saw the makinka footage, man was he player! I wish we could produce some one of that calibre
    With the current crop of players. Again, thank you for taking recognition in he’s abilities and what he did for this country

  4. Lazarus Mwitwa Ntambo says:

    Surely indeed! These were men of nighest Football caliber from grassroot level up to top rank(National) I was a young boy at a time..I only used to hear such big names on the radio..,used to see them on the Halls , even pillars along Mwanamat aya corridors back in Serenje, at a that time…. the likes of the ‘Bwalyas’, T Mwitwa, Efford Chabala…and many others ,Iconic figure at a ever National level.For many others it became as a normal to cry seeing these stars lse a match..Those were soccer bundits who ever performed in Zambi, even Africa large!!

  5. Ganizani Mwanza says:

    I’m grateful for this information you’ve just shared

  6. Reuben Phiri says:

    Well articulated and researched artical indeed Makinka what a player

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