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First national team goalie dies

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PASSIONATE ABOUT THE GAME—Kisyombe liked to attend football activities at Karonga Stadium

By Gospel Mwalwanda, contributor:

The goalkeeper associated with the infamous 12-0 drubbing of the then Nyasaland XI by Ghana’s Black Stars, McMillan Kisyombe, has died.

The country’s first national football team goalkeeper died on Wednesday aged 81.

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Kisyombe’s first born child, Vinda, said his father passed away at his home village of Kayuni in the area of Paramount Chief Kyungu in Karonga District.

“He had a respiratory problem and died at home around 9:30am,” Vinda said.

Late Kisyombe is survived by two widows, eight children and 13 grandchildren, and will be buried tomorrow.

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Kisyombe was a student at Dedza Secondary School when he featured in the unforgettable match on October 2 1962 against the Black Stars who were visiting the country.

In goals ‘by accident’

He told this writer in an interview in 2018 that he became a goalkeeper ‘by accident’ while at Dedza Secondary School around 1961 during a match against Dowa Secondary School.

Kisyombe said the match was organised to select players for the Central Region team. He said after their goalkeeper got injured while playing, he stepped up to replace him.

“There was need for one of our players to replace him and I said let me try,” late Kisyombe recalled in the interview.

“That is the biggest mistake I made which changed my life,” he said jokingly, adding that everyone was happy with his performance despite playing between the sticks for the first time.

“Everyone was impressed with my performance and officials told me that I would henceforth continue to play as a goalkeeper. We went on to beat Northern and Southern region select sides and I was eventually selected to join the national team.”

Haunting defeat

Kisyombe was excited to link up with fellow top players as they started preparations to face the West Africans.

The embarrassing 12-0 defeat was to haunt Kisyombe decades after the match took place as some football fanatics poked fun at the team, not believing a national team could lose by such a wide margin.

Kisyombe said the cricket score could not have been avoided given the strength of Ghana at the time.

He said the West African side was humiliating team after team on the continent and stopping it was not a stroll in the park.

“I should admit that the loss was down to the huge difference in quality between the two sides. The Black Stars were just too good for us,” he said.

He said the fact that players were selected from every corner of the country without a proper coach or training worsened the situation.

“There was no team spirit, and understandably so. A white man named Johnston who used to work at Mpemba Boys Home in Blantyre trained the team in preparation for the Ghana match in the absence of a proper coach,” Kisyombe explained.

He said the Nyasaland Select team had the likes of Nathan Gondwe, Lewis Chinula and Richard Banda.

“Others were Oliver Matiwa, Nankhumwa, the Thipha brothers, James Sangala, Bright Gondwe, ‘Zam’buku’, Rally Mmanga and substitute goalkeeper Noel Nthara,” Kisyombe narrated.

He said Ghana trounced Nyasaland straight from another huge 13-2 thumping of Kenya in Nairobi.

“Ghana played like professionals whereas we were amateurs. No one could be blamed. We were simply no match for the Black Stars. In December the same year, they beat Tanzania 6-2,” Kisyombe said.

Origins from soccer-mad district

Karonga has, for a long time, been known as a soccer-mad district and is associated with many players who were once household names in Malawi, including the legendary Kinnah Phiri.

Other big name players with origins from the lakeshore district are Bosco Munthali, Donnex Gondwe, Austin Nyondo, Hellings Mwakasungula, Kannock Munde, Chite Malema, Julius Kilama, Sterio Gondwe, Chiukepo Msowoya, Maupo Msowoya, Victor Nyirenda, Lennox Kisyombe and Kelvin Hanganda.

Asked why Karonga was renowned for producing some of the country’s finest players, Kisyombe attributed it to the influence of matchona in the district.

The matchona were Malawians who left the country to work elsewhere, especially in nearby countries such as Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and were often away from home for years.

“When they came back home, say from countries where football was already established, they began to popularize the sport in their communities,” Kisyombe said.

He said he himself was a good example, having lived with his parents in Wusakile Township in Kitwe, Zambia, where he did part of his basic education.

“So my Zambian background helped to establish my football career,” Kisyombe said.

Mixing football with education

The Nyasaland team of 1962 may have lost 12-0 to Ghana but one thing about the team worth mentioning is that it had players who went far in pursuit of education.

For instance, four of the top players in the team, including Banda and Nankhumwa, went to Dedza Secondary School which, at the time, was one of the country’s prestigious learning institutions.

Banda proceeded to study law and rose through the ranks within the judiciary to the position of chief justice.

Banda later assumed the title of first gentleman after his wife Joyce Banda became Malawi’s fourth president following the sudden death of Bingu wa Mutharika in 2012.

Kisyombe himself, who quit the civil service in 1971 after working for two years, spent four years in France (1965-1969) studying agriculture economy.

He went on to become the first member of parliament for Karonga Central Constituency in multiparty Malawi.

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