Moffat Champiti had both hands in the pocket and his assistant referee flag in the left arm. He was 43-years-old and about to officiate his first ever Africa Cup of National final games.
The setting was the Estadio Chimanda in Cabinda, Angola, on January 11, 2010. To one side stood Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Didier Zokora, Solomon Kaloue, Gervinho; to the other Babary Kone the towering hitman Beli Dagano and Florent Rouamba.
This was a big game between tournament favourites Cote dâ€™ Ivoire and rivals in the qualifiers Burkina Faso; A knockout game in the group stages as it was going to decide the last quarter-finalist from group A.
Champiti trusted his ability, so did CAF. But anybody with animawould have been nervous. He had refereed international games before, though, none anywhere near this stratosphere.
This was an Africa football opera at its best, and Champitiâ€™s hands were trembling like a violin string. It gave a whole new meaning to the pre-match handshake.
“I was very nervous my hands were shaking, so I put them in my pockets. I did not want the players to see how my hands were moving. Then I took them out and I decided to be strong in my body and in my mind,” he said
Then it was time to make the pitch and when he appeared out of the tunnel Champitiâ€™s life had just taken an almighty fork in the road.
“I knew this was my time to show the world what I am capable of. All the nerves disappeared and it was time to do the job and I did it perfectly,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.
By officiating that match, he made history by becoming the first Malawian official to officiate at the Afcon after Bester Kalombo who officiated at the 1982 Afcon finals and he did not disappoint. He got a rating of eight; very well done.
Champiti, who retired last month after passing the 45 years Fifa limit age for referees, went on to officiate three more games at the tournament involving Cameroon and Gabon, Nigeria and Benin as well as Egypt and Benin.
That was enough to earn him another record, back to back Afcon appearance. While the Flames missed out on the 2012 finals having made it to Angola, Champiti easily made it into the 32-man list of 2012 Officials.
“It is an honour to be at the best soccer event for Africa and will cherish it forever. My best moment was at this yearâ€™s finals where I took charge of the match for the third-place match between Ghana and Mali because it was a medal match,” said Champiti as he reflected on his 19-year long career.
World Cup dream
In fact had it not been of age he was in line to make it to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Fifa put him on the provisional list of 56 assistant referees earmarked for the Brazil. But he was scrapped off after Fifa realised he would be over 45 in 2014.
“I curse my age. After two Afcon appearances, World Cup would have been a fitting farewell, but I am satisfied,” he said.
International football is a game where players take all the plaudits especially goal scorers and match winner.
With Flames yet to win a cup in 24 years and struggling to qualify for the Afcon, playersâ€™ failing to shine at the top level, then Champiti is the countryâ€™s international football hero.
Since he turned international in 2002, he has officiated 189 internationals making him by far Malawiâ€™s â€˜most cappedâ€™ football personality.
He has three Cosafa Senior Challenge gold medals having officiated the finals of the 2006, 2007 and 2008. He officiated in the finals of the 2011 Under -17 Championship in Rwanda. He was part of the officiating team at the inaugural Chan championship, an Afcon version of local based players, in 2009 in Ivory Coast and the subsequent one in Sudan.
Enjoyed his career
He has been to four Cosafa Under-20 Championships. The rest were CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup games as well as Afcon and World Cup qualifiers. His last game was in June, a 2014 World Cup qualifier between Ethiopia and Central Africa Republic.
“I look at that record with pride. I have travelled the whole Africa except eight countries; Chad, Gambia, CAR, Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, Eritrea and Namibia. I am the only local referee to have attend six consecutive elite training courses once a year since 2007,” he said.
Champiti said he has officiated more than 800 games locally since 1993 but said his best have always been the Blantyre derbies; Mighty Wanderers vs. Big Bullets.
“I enjoyed them so much and have never had a bad derby. I am a human being and I make mistakes, but I have never had such a bad game to the extent of being manhandled or insulted after the match or in streets by players and fans,” he said.
At 45, he can still officiate locally, but he has hanged up his flag for good.
“I will be available in an advisory role. I have attended elite match assessor courses. I am a qualified match commissioner. On Sunday (today) I am going to Tanzania for a Fifa/ CAF elite referees Instructor course so that is what I will be doing much,” he said.
The former footballer
Champiti was a footballer and only turned to refereeing due to pressure at work.
“I played for Lonrho in the BDFL then moved to Tops in the late 80â€™s. I then I started working for Lever Brothers and due to shifts I stopped playing. Then in 1991 I joined Saint Andrews High school as a lab technician.
“In 1993 is when I joined refereeing and it took me nine years to make my international debut at the 2002 Cosafa Under-20 Championship in South Africa.
“I had a lot of patience and worked so hard because I knew what I wanted. There were some discouragements like senior officials not giving us an equal chance, but I never gave up. I believe the youngsters will look at that as an aspiring story because I believe we have talented young referees who can surpass what I have achieved,” he said.
National Referees Committee (NRC) general secretary Chris Kalichero said Champiti is an inspiration to others.
“We want to give him a special post to help us develop young referees. But we are also working hard to produce more Champitiâ€™s. So far we have 12 Fifa referees and we are organising top courses and training for them to be in good shape and go places like Champiti,” he said.
The CCAP faithful is married and has five children none of whom has interest in becoming a referee. One day though two boys who are in form four are footballers.
Champiti who hails from Champiti Village , in TA Champiti area in Ntcheu looked at Kalombo as his role model, but has always been a great admirer of former world cup referee Italian Collina.