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Born to inspire: Lovemore Mitengo

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IT is common for every child to aspire for certain jobs or professions as they grow up. Parents, teachers and guardians will usually join forces in encouraging the child to work hard in class if they are to achieve their particular aspirations.

But not everyone ends up in the job or profession they aspired for. Most adults will attest to the fact they are in a job they never dreamt about for one reason or another. For Moyale veteran defender, Lovemore Mitengo, making headlines as a footballer was not what he aspired for as a child. His wish was to serve his Roman Catholic Church as a priest.

But life took a different path for him and he ended up on the football pitch where he has greatly contributed to the success of the only team to win national cups in the Northern Region, Moyale. Mitengo has been a solid rock in the soldiers’ defence for close to twenty years and is not showing any signs of slowing down. What is even more interesting is that he has been one of the regular goal scorers for Moyale despite being a defender.

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Mulanje, Thyolo roots  Born on September 10, 1981, in a family of six –three boys and three girls – Mitengo started school in 1987 at Gambula Primary School in Mulanje where he attended standards One to Four. No one in his family – before or after him – ever kicked a ball.

His father used to work in the tea estates of Mulanje and Thyolo districts, and transfers between the two tea-growing districts were part of life. He went on to do standards Five to Six at Satemwa Primary School in Thyolo before enrolling with Mzimu Woyera Seminary in Chikwawa in 1994 to open his way to priesthood. However, his priesthood dream hit a snag four years later. By that time, he had just attended standards Seven and Eight, as well as forms One and Two.

“I really wanted to become a priest. But things did not work out. I was out of the seminary for some reason and that was the end of my dream,” the father of twin girls recalls.

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He then went to Mkwichi Community Day Secondary School in Lilongwe to finish his secondary school education some seventeen years ago. Career path In the year 2000, Mitengo moved to Mchinji to live with his elder brother, Chiyamiko, who encouraged him to join Mchinji Medicals. It was at this team where he played alongside Joseph Kamwendo and the current Moyale assistant Coach, Charles Born Kamanga. After playing together for two years at the team, the trio parted ways:

“Charles was the first to leave in 2001. He joined Moyale. Kamwendo went to Civo Service United [now Civil Sporting Club], and I joined Dwangwa United to play under Lloyd Nkhwazi,” explains Mitengo, who hails from Chimombo Village, in the area of Traditional Authority Jenala in Phalombe District.

Move to Moyale At the time of joining Dwangwa United, Mitengo had applied to join the Malawi Defence Force. Shortly afterwards, he was invited for military interviews at Cobbe Barracks. He was successful and was immediately picked to start military training at the Malawi Armed Forces College in Salima. Upon completing the training in 2003, he was posted to Cobbe. But he did not reveal himself as a talented footballer.

“I kept calm. I knew that my chance will come one day. And the day came when my coach at Dwangwa (Nkhwazi), who was still following me, told officials of Cobbe Barracks Football Club about me. I was taken on board right away,” Mitengo recalls.

His impressive displays for the soldiers’ team in the Southern Region Football League convinced team officials to give him the armband. Mitengo’s leadership skills saw the team earning promotion to the Super League. But luck deserted the team and it got relegated at the end of the season.

Fellow military teams immediately pounced on the opportunity to recruit the team’s top players. Mitengo had two teams looking for his services- Moyale and Red Lions. But he opted for the Lions of Kaning’ina. “I chose Moyale because of their quality as a team. Red Lions already had too many stars and I knew that Moyale was the team to give me the game time every player longs for,” he says.

At that time, Mitengo was playing as a striker. In the Lions’ den Mitengo arrived in Mzuzu at a time Moyale had just been relegated. The team returned to the elite league after lobbying with Super League of Malawi on the need to maintain the team as the sole representatives of the Northern Region. Seven other players also made the trip to Mzuzu in a move that bolstered Moyale.

These are Clifford Fukizi, Sam Mwandira, Khumbo Munthali, Emmanuel Banda, Ernest Zimba, Misheck Ziba and John Madeya. The ensemble played a big role in ensuring Moyale’s league survival in 2008 under the stewardship of Nicholas Mhango.

All along, Mitengo had been playing as a striker and it was in 2009 when he decided to start playing in defence after Moyale recruited over eight strikers that season.

“I have grown up changing positions in football. The striking force was quite strong at Moyale by then. So I felt the best way was to contribute to the defence which was not that effective,” he states.

Mitengo’s leadership qualities continued to shine like a beacon at Moyale and coach Mhango made him his team captain. Now aged 36, Mitengo is proud that he has played a big role in transforming the team from a relegation-threatened side to a household name that has won several national cups and finished second in the TNM Super League on two occasions.

In fact, Moyale missed the league title just by a whisker in the 2014 season. It is a moment that haunts Mitengo to this day. “The title contest went down to the final game of the season. All we needed to become champions was for Wanderers to hold Silver Strikers. But while we were about to party, Wanderers conceded a late goal. We were all disheartened,” he recalls.

‘Very important figure’ Mhango describes Mitengo as a “very important figure” in the Moyale dressing room. He says Mitengo likes to inspire his teammates a lot, hence the decision to make him the club’s captain. “He may be 36, but he plays like a teenager.  And I do not expect him to retire anytime soon,” Mhango said.

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