Football is more than a game. It is a way of life, a mirror through which one can see the ebbs and flows of our world, capturing our joyous moments and our very sad ones.
In his final year as Fifa president, after 24 years in charge, Joao Havelange was asked if he considered himself to be the most powerful man in the world at that time.
His reply made very interesting reading:
â€œIâ€™ve been to Russia twice, invited by President Yeltsin . . . In Italy, I saw Pope John Paul II three times. When I go to Saudi Arabia, King Fahd welcomes me in splendid fashion.
â€œDo you think a head of state will spare that much time for just anyone? Thatâ€™s respect. Theyâ€™ve got their power, and Iâ€™ve got mine â€” The power of football which is the greatest power there is.â€
In the countdown to the historic 2010 World Cup, the first such football festival to be held on African soil, David Hirshey and Roger Bennett, writing for Time Magazine, revisited Havelangeâ€™s comments and how the power of football had evolved a dozen years since he made that statement.
â€œAlmost 12 years have passed since the statement and now everyone knows that Fifa has transformed itself into the most powerful force on the planet,â€ wrote Hirshey and Bennett.
â€œIt has surpassed the power of governments and multi-national companies and now they all have to queue in front of the federation to sponsor the games.
â€œThe last two decades have helped the game achieve global economic power, it has become such a massive force that it triggered a ceasefire in a brutal civil war in Ivory Coast, caused stock markets of losing nations to tumble and, even strangely, caused a hike in German birth rate when they hosted the (World Cup) in 2006.
â€œIt established a sense of nationality among the Germans which even the great leaders find it difficult to arouse in a nation.
Â â€œAt one point, Fifa had more participating members than the United Nations or, for that matter, any other organisation in the world.
â€œThe power of football has now gone to a level which has now involved even the most poorest of nations. The sport is now taken so seriously that almost the whole politics and social phenomenon are disturbed by it.
â€œThe craziness of fans, the involvement of even the most powerful individuals in the sport, and the direct impact of the game on world economy makes Fifa the most powerful organisation in the world.â€
Nothing beats football for its sheer power.
When Zambia needed something to erase from its soul the burden of carrying bitter memories of the Gabon air crash that wiped out a generation of its finest football stars, football threw an unlikely tale.
Chipolopolo won its Nations Cup in the city where that ill-fated plane took off for the last time before crashing, moments after getting airborne, into the Atlantic Ocean in April 1993.
But do we really know the power of football here in Malawi? Are we aware of what this game can do for our country? Do we understand its magic or we merely pretend to do so? Do we care about this game or we just feel itâ€™s just another sporting discipline?
Forty-eight years after independence, all that we can show the world for our passion for football are two Nations Cup appearances, two All Africa Games appearances, three Cecafa Cup titles [two of them won on home soil] and two Cosafa Cup finals.
Over the years, we have produced only one player good enough to play in a major European leagueâ€”Ernest Mtawaliâ€”who had a stint with French top league side Toulouse. The other promising talent could be Robin Ngalande who currently turns out for Atletico Madrid Youth side.
Of course, we have had others such as Kennedy Malunga (Belgium), Esau Kanyenda (Russia), Joseph Kamwendo (Denmark) and Russell Mwafulirwa (Sweden) who have played for second class top leagues in Europe.
When we look across the border we find a Zambia that proudly calls itself champions of Africa, a country that also made the final of the Nations Cup twice, in 1994 with the legendary Kalusha Bwalya providing the inspiration, and in 1974 when Godfrey â€œUcarâ€ Chitalu was king.
In the bars of Lusaka they donâ€™t talk about the Cosafa Cup titles they won or the occasions when they were Cecafa Cup kings as defining moments in their game.
For us, regrettably, our teams no longer take part in the elite CAF Champions League. The last time a local team participated was in 2004â€”eight years to be precise when Bullets qualified for the last eight.
Of course, the Flames qualified for the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations after 26 years in the wilderness andÂ Â missed qualification to the next edition by a whisker having allowed Chad to snatch a late equaliser on that fateful night in Nâ€™djamena last October. But is that all we can brag about when our brothers across the border can become champions of the continent?
Which begs the question â€” Are we really a football nation?
The obvious answer you will get is that we are a very big football nation.
After all we have fans who fill the stadium when the Flames are doing well and they usually attract more supporters at their home games thanÂ many other African teams.
We have people who buy newspapers specifically for football stories and we have sports clubs that are thriving simply because patrons come there to watch live transmission of international football.
But is this what we call football? Is this what we want? Is this what represents all our dreams, everything that we ever wanted, everything that we will ever wish for? Definitely No!
There is more to football than all this.
Given that in 48 years we have done absolutely nothing, in terms of making an impact as a football nation, it speaks volumes about the flawed structure that we have toÂ manage this game and turn our footballers into champion athletes and our clubs into champions.
What is clear is that we canâ€™t go on like this forever because we all have a responsibility to the next generation, our kids in primary school, those not yet in primary school and those not yet born, to create a system that will have a football environment where the chances of success are very bright.
An environment, like in Zambia, where the Football Association embraced Kalusha Bwalya, instead of treating him as an outcast, and under his guidance they have just been crowned the best football team on the continent against all odds.
Of course we have Walter Nyamilanduâ€”a former Flames sweeperâ€”at the helm of our football, who is trying his best to turn things around, but we need more people of his calibre.
We need a well organised structure, we need to invest in our game and we need to develop the game from the grass-roots.