Remembering Wisdom Chansa
‘Wisdom Chansa is one hell of a player, ’ said Alex Forbes, coach of South African football club Dynamos. ‘I wish I’d signed him earlier’. Forbes, who played 240 times for Arsenal as a wing-half, was speaking to me as we watched a Dynamos training session in Joubert Park, Johannesburg.
Chansa had made the move to Dynamos at the beginning of 1993, after playing for over a decade in the Power Dynamos first team. He left the club he cherished in acrimonious circumstances when he and his teammates who won the Africa Cup winner Cup in 1991 were banned the following season after a players strike. This followed the non-payment of bonuses promised for winning the cup. He missed the full 1992 season alongside most of the first-team players. It was this that led to the club losing it’s the most influential leader in the team’s history. Power Dynamos loss was Dynamos of South Africa’s gain.
He began his club career at Nkana, where his father James Chama had played for eighteen years as a defender. Nicknamed ‘Zee’ for his ability to silence his striking opponents, Chama set a high bar with his uncompromising play at the back. Following in a parent’s footsteps is never easy, but Chansa worked his way through the youth ranks at Nkana. To the surprise of many, he was considered surplus to requirements when the youth team players were elevated to senior status.
Unfazed, he moved across the dual carriageway to Arthur Davies Stadium to join Nkana’s cross-town rivals, Power Dynamos, who were fast emerging as a powerhouse in Zambian football. Under Freddie Mwila, Chansa was played as center-forward, leading the line in attack. He was supported by a cast of stars with Peter Kaumba, Alex Chola, Lucky Msiska, and Stafford Mtalama providing a steady supply of goal-scoring opportunities that he readily took.
He was in the Power Dynamos team that reached the final of the African Cup Winners Cup in 1982, the first time a Zambian team was playing in the final. Though Dynamos lost both legs by a 2-0 margin, he firmly cemented his place in the team as a nineteen-year-old.
In 1983, he was instrumental in Zambia’s U20 success in the COSAFA Cup in a team that included Kalusha Bwalya, Boyd Chilembo, and his Dynamos teammate, Edwin Katongo.
In 1984, he was outstanding as Power Dynamos went on to win their first-ever league title following a 4-1 win over Mufulira Wanderers at the Arthur Davies Stadium.
Chansa’s versatility saw him introduced as a second striker and he became even more influential in the team as the role gave him greater license to influence matches in a deeper-lying role. In 1986, he became a regular in the national team, featuring in the Africa Cup in Egypt and, thereafter, becoming the only local player in a frontline full of overseas-based players.
In the qualifying matches for the 1988 Olympic games, Zambia faced the might of Ghana’s Black Stars. Chansa scored Zambia’s second goal in a 2-0 home win, and though Ghana won the second leg,1-0, it was enough to see Zambia though. At the tournament, Zambia shocked the world by beating Italy, 4-0. In Seoul, Chansa was played in an unfamiliar role in a wide position on the left side. He took to the task with characteristic adaptability and profoundly influenced Zambia’s midfield superiority as the team reached the quarter-final, humiliating a strong Italian side.
When Zambia returned home to heroes welcome, Chansa was now a cult hero among football fans. The chant of ‘Wiz’ whenever he touched the ball became even more vociferous. Such was his form in 1988 that he crowned it all by being voted Footballer of the Year. Later, at the 1990 Africa Cup of Nations in Algeria, in a largely local side, he was one of the senior players leading Zambia to the semifinal of the tournament, before bowing out after a 2-0 loss to Nigeria. Zambia’s consolation was a third-place finish with a 1-0 win over Senegal with Chansa again hugely instrumental in Zambia’s highest finish since Libya 1982. Later that season, he led Power Dynamos to three domestic cup wins, earning the club the moniker, Power 90.
Eight years after their loss to Arab Contractors in the Cup Winners Cup final, Power Dynamos were back, this time against Nigeria’s BCC Lions. After a 3-2 away loss, they rallied to win 3-1 at home to take the cup. This history-making occasion owed much to Chansa’s leadership both on and off the field. On it, he gave constant on-field advice to the younger players while dictating the flow of play. Off it, he kept the youthful tendencies of Winter Mumba, Douglas Mwamba, and Kenan Simambe in check to ensure that they didn’t lose their way, and leading by example, made sure the older players matched his will to win. As he lifted the trophy, all the hard endeavor of the last decade at the top was finally rewarded.
Across the dual carriageway, the Nkana faithful could only look with envy at what might have been having they not let him go as a youth player.
Under the surface, however, all was not well at Power Dynamos. As the new season kicked off in 1992, there was unrest among the players. The promised bonuses for winning the Cup Winners Cup had failed to materialize and the players were not having it. The club management, in a fit of pique, announced the suspension of most of the team including Chansa, and when he returned to football his mind was made up to leave.
By the new year, he was off to South Africa, joining the coincidentally-named Dynamos, and making a new beginning. Two months into the new season, alongside fellow Zambian’s Samuel Chomba and Robert Watiyakeni, he took Dynamos to an unprecedented second-place on the league table.
In mid-April, he flew to Zambia and was drafted into the national team at the airport through he was there on a personal matter and not initially called up. He played against Zimbabwe in a 0-0 draw, then against Mauritius who were downed 3-0 through a Kelvin Mutale hat trick.
The next flight would be a long, draining, multi-stop journey to Senegal for a world cup qualifying match. On the way there, after takeoff from Libreville, Gabon, an engine blew up and a dream died.
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