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Mtopijo Njerwa: Toughness from the islands

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DYNAMITE, they say, comes in small packages; and Mzuzu-based TNM Super League side, Moyale FC, can bear witness. The team is a proud beneficiary of what is usually considered a waste of time in the country’s schools.

Physical Education (P.E) is probably is an activity that teachers choose to ignore. It is not strange to find teachers replacing this subject with other extra lessons believing that taking the learners out for exercise is a waste of time.

But for one Mtopijo Njewa, P.E. is a very important subject as it enabled him to become the tenacious defender that he is today for the Lions of Kaning’ina. Mtopijo remembers how his Standard 5 P.E. teacher, a Mr. Malikita, used to yell at him whenever he was failing to catch up with his classmates during running exercises. At that time, he did not like running not knowing that one day, he would need the athleticism to help him stop some of the country’s ferocious goal poachers.

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Today, Mtopijo is a lynchpin in his team’s defence. Humble beginnings Born on July 7, 1985, Mtopijo started his football career while he was at Yofu Primary School in his home district, Likoma Island. In the first term of his Standard 6, the school made him football team captain an honour he held all the way up to Standard 8. At that time he was playing as a striker.

Playing football did not affect his performance in class. He was good enough to make it to Likoma Secondary School after sitting his Primary School Leaving Certificate Examinations. In 2005, after he had played for Likoma’s school team for two years, Mtopijo found himself at Chipsyela Community Day Secondary School.

“I failed my Junior Certificate Examinations (JCE) at Likoma. So I went to Chipsyela the following year and I made it,” he said. Professional football career Armed with a JCE, Mtopijo tried to forge ahead with school but was frustrated by lack of school fees. This compelled him to seek opportunities that could help him make ends meet. He saw a career in football and decided to leave his island home for the mainland to realise his dream. His first club was Nkhata Bay Police in 2007.

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The team was then being coached by Audrow Makonyola, who is now Head Coach at Blue Eagles. Mtopijo said it was Makonyola who turned him into a defender. Two years later, he left Nkhata Bay District with his team when it had gained Super League promotion for Mzuzu where it became Eagles Strikers. He played for the team and went down with it back to the regional league when it failed to stand the heat in the top flight.

He then joined Embangweni United when it had also earned Super League promotion but he again left the Mzimba-based side because, according to him, he was not being paid anything. Moyale Barracks career In 2013, a window of opportunity opened for Mtopijo. He took part in trials at Moyale before the start of that year’s Super League season.

The then coach, Nicholas Mhango, was impressed and immediately signed him. “It is him [Mhango] who has helped me to be where I am today. He drilled me to become the real sweeper. And yes, I am enjoying my game in this position than ever before,” the father of four said. It did not take him long to settle down at the Lions of Kaning’ina’s den.

In the 2014 season, he netted his first league goal for Moyale in a 5-2 win over Epac FC.

“Apart from the fact that they employed me as a soldier, what I like most about Moyale is that it is a clean team. It does not believe in charms and we play football the way it is supposed to be played,” he said.

Mtopijo said if he were not playing for Moyale, his choice would be Wanderers. “I cannot choose Bullets because I would not enjoy playing for them. What I enjoy most in my football career is playing against them and stopping their strikers from getting past me,” explains Mtopijo who singles out Be Forward Wanderers attacker Peter Wadabwa as his toughest opponent.

Mtopijo, whose side reached the finals of the 2016 Presidential Cup, is an unhappy man that he has never won the TNM Super League. National team aspirations He might be in the twilight of his football career, but the 32-year-old feels that he can play an integral part in the Flames’ backline.

“I believe that with the likes of Miracle Gabeya, Yamikani Fodya and John Lanjesi, we can form a strong defence,” he said adding that he would be most pleased if he made it into the Flames team before hanging his boots. Is Ronny van Geneugden watching?

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