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He may have played just three games for the Malawi national football team, but his name surely deserves its place in the archives of the country’s football.

The man remains the first ever footballer to have made the grade as national team goalkeeper way back in the 1960s.

He answers to the name McMillan Kisyombe. His face and name may not be familiar to most Malawians but he can best (or worst?) be remembered for featuring in goals when the country’s national football team played its first international match in October, 1962.

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In that game, Malawi made news for all the wrong reasons after conceding 12 goals against Ghana with no reply.

Local football was surely still in its formative stages as Nyasaland evolved to become Malawi in 1964, and the team can be forgiven for letting in the dozen goals.

And it is normal for attention to centre around the goalkeeper each time a team concedes a goal.

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It is therefore relieving to note that 56 years later, Kisyombe is still alive to tell the story of a team that had a terrible start to its international campaigns.

Call of national duty

Kisyombe was called to feature for the national team when he was at Dedza Secondary School in 1961.

He can hardly remember his exact date of birth, but he recalls that he was aged 20 by then.

By that time, he had already featured for the Central Region football team where, following his impressive performance, he was selected to be part of the national team.

It was not his dream to play at that stage, but since there were no platforms for talent identification in the country, the school allowed him to represent the nation.

Born in Kayuni Village in the area of Traditional Authority Kyungu in Karonga District, to Kisyombe, football was just for fun, although he used to play for his school’s football team on numerous occasions.

“To me school was my first priority. I used to play football just as a hobby. I just loved playing football that time. But I never dreamt of going any further with it,” Kisyombe says.

Malawi’s first international football match

Malawi had just joined the Federation of International Football Associations (Fifa) as a footballing nation.

As a starter, Ghana was invited to a friendly match on October 15, 1962 at the then national stadium of Nyasaland, Rangeley.

It was supposed to be a dream start and the dawn of a new era for Malawi soccer.

But what happened on that day can be likened to a Hollywood horror movie. Kisyombe collected the ball from the net 12 times as the then British protectorate failed to make use of home ground advantage.

Skipper Aggrey Fyn shot Ghana into the lead, before Agyemang Gyau made it 2-0. Edward Acquah, nicknamed ‘the man with a sputnik shot’ scored 4 goals on the day, while Wilberforce Kwadwo Mfum netted 5 times.

Despite whipping Kenya 13-2 in 1965, Ghana’s win over Malawi remains the West Africa team’s highest by margin on the international stage.

After the Ghana loss, the Flames went on to lose 6-2 and 3-0 against Zambia and Tanzania respectively later that year.

In those matches, Kisyombe was also Malawi’s first choice shot stopper.

“Ghana at that time had a squad full of professional players. For us, I can say we were just individuals with the desire to play football. There was no coordination throughout the game. Everyone played their type of football,” recalls Kishombe, now aged 77.

He says unlike what happens in present times, the national team players of those years prepared for the Ghana game without getting any allowance.

The racial divide in football

Kisyombe says in the 1960s, the whites and blacks had separate teams which later merged when the country’s first president, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, became Minister of Sports.

He says it was exciting to play for the national team, but the problem was that mixing football with politics was proving to be difficult.

“This was a period of political transition as the country started with gaining self rule, independence and later, republican status.

“So juggling the two at the same time was quite tricky as we sometimes found ourselves in conflict of interest,” Kisyombe said.

During that era, the team had no full time coach, except one Johnston, who was acting as a caretaker mentor.

The trainer used to work as a sports organiser at Mpemba Boys Home in Blantyre.

Kisyombe on Malawi football

Kisyombe says despite several interventions, the local game is still lagging behind as compared to other African countries.

He piled the blame on the way national team players are selected, saying the country has a lot of talented players, but scouting remains the biggest challenge.

Kisyombe expresses concern that there are no incentives to keep the players fully-committed when on national duty.

“If you analyse the cur situation, you will realise that the majority of the players that are called for national team training are mostly from the country’s three biggest clubs. “But let me remind the national team selectors that it is not just (Nyasa Big) Bullets, (Be Forward) Wanderers and Silver Strikers that have the best players. There are other smaller teams that also have capable players and they should be given a chance,” he says.

Living testimony of Malawi football evolution

Relegated TNM Super League side, Chitipa United’s Head Coach, Kondwani Mwalweni, who hails from the same village as Kisyombe, described his homemate as a living testimony of the country’s football evolution.

Mwalweni, whose brother Petros captained Bullets in the early 2000s, says it is important to have personalities like Kisyombe in society.

He believes former players are better-placed to give good advice on how football can scale greater heights in the country.

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