The KK 11, Zambia’s team of yesteryear, was so aptly named after our great leader, the father of our nation, Kenneth Kaunda. The name came with great power and strength. It was almost like a weapon we could use when we ran into battle on the pitch.
The first time I heard of the KK 11 was on the radio. I remember it like it was yesterday. In 1974, on an evening when Zambia was playing in its first Africa Cup of Nations final, the high pitched voice of commentator Dennis Liwewe streamed through the wireless safely secured in the corner of the house. I followed the match between the KK 11 and the Leopards of Zaire intensely. Liwewe shouted the names that still ring in my mind today as two great sides battled for the honor to be African kings in the finals in Egypt. I still remember the stadium name being belted out in loud voice, ‘El Nasser in Cairo!’
My memory of this day is still clear as Mulamba Ndaye scored for Zaire, followed by Brighton Sinyangwe and Simon Kaodi Kaushi equalizing for Zambia to take the match to a replay.
There were other great names. Names that have remained etched in our history, such as Dick Chama, Dickson Makwaza, Edwin Mbaso, Boniface Simutowe, Jani Simlambo, Bernard Chanda, Brighton Sinyangwe and Emmanuel Mwape.
That team covered every blade of grass as they battled from box to box, ran from man to man and dug deep into their energy reserves in search of victory. Their determination forced the match into a 2-2 draw against a highly rated and favored Zaire side. This forced a replay which saw Zaire winning and qualifying for the 1974 World Cup in Germany. Nevertheless, that Zambian team epitomized pride and commitment. They were a collective force, a powerful team full of big names that made them a powerhouse.
A few years later, I was privileged to watch them at Dag Hammarskjöld stadium in Ndola. They were playing Zaire again, this time in a qualifier. It was the first match I watched live in a stadium and the epic battle remains one of the most unforgettable events in my life. I was with my late dad and my late elder brother, Benjamin, when Zambia savoured a 2-1 victory, courtesy of goals by Richard Stephenson and Peter Mhango.
We were able to see many matches because my dad was a member of the executive committee of the Football Association of Zambia. He used to take us to a lot of stadiums while we were growing up and we could play football all day in local grounds.
From merely following the team in the newspapers and watching them in training, I came to admire and respect this mighty group of men. Imagine then how I felt as a 19-year-old when I was first called up to join the KK 11 in 1982. I was immensely proud to wear the Zambian shirt and have the chance to feature in tense battles before capacity crowds, playing alongside the greats of my time.
President Kaunda came to almost all the games. I was in awe the first time I met him. I remember his trademark white handkerchief, his presence, his height and his strong handshake. He would come to the stadium in his impressive motorcade just as the game was about to start. We would line up and shake his hand, which motivated us to go out and do our best. Then he would ask the referees for the match ball and he would charismatically and stylishly kick the ball around with his right leg, much to the delight of the crowd.
When I first heard that we were going to State House for a luncheon I was totally mesmerized. Me, a 20-year-old from Mufulira, going to State House? It was 1984 and we had just returned from Uganda after winning the East and Central Africa Challenge Cup. The KK 11 was invited to dine with the president. I remember using the cutlery and crockery with state insignia emblazoned on them. We all looked forward to that and it inspired us to keep winning.
It was the first of many dinners and luncheons hosted by Kaunda. But, what was most memorable of Kaunda was not the state banquets, it was that he attended the matches, he ate with us and in those interactions, he shared a lot with us. In his humility he inspired us and his call to the team was to play with dignity and honor and for the people.
Kaunda always told us that we had to go out on the pitch to die a little for mother Zambia. He galvanized us and garnered a lot of support for the team.
That culture of hard work, sacrifice and dedication to duty has carried on with the Chipolopolo; we never forget what is now our tradition.
This new generation also had an encounter with Kaunda when in 2012, during the greatest moment of Zambian football, President Michael Sata sent him to join the team in Gabon for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations which we won.
It was meaningful for Kaunda to have been there on that great night in Libreville. He was emotional and he used his traditional white handkerchief to wipe away his tears of joy. The culmination of his dedication to football came full circle on this historical day.
The new generation of players coming through the ranks will find the same values, messages and encouragement as they go on to play for Chipolopolo. Kaunda left an indelible mark in our footballing history. He taught us about pride and nationalism, he taught us to be humble yet proud, he taught us One Nation, One Zambia. We will be eternally grateful for his part in our footballing history.