One of my most catchy trips was seven years back when I accompanied the Under-20 squad on a tour of duty by road to Mafikeng, South Africa, for the Cosafa Youth Championship. It was quite a wearisome trip. That we enjoyed the 43-hour foray was because of ingenuity of some players blessed with a gift to entertain. I remember that little Gomezgani Zakazaka, who was as naughty as ever, also made the trip.
The fun started right at Mwanza border, when some mischievous players spotted an old-fashioned briefcase belonging to their team manager McHodges Chunga as he fetched his passport. The briefcase had lost its original colour, suggesting it could have lived a few years past its projected life-span! The boys taunted Chunga and mocked him of having carried a state-of-the-art laptop. But he never made a fuss out of it.
That was my first clique with Chunga who enjoyed a good bond with Flames players when he was elevated to the senior team as team manager and later as goalkeeper trainer. Of course, many believed Chunga had extra tasks behind the scenes, including supplying juju that led to players and officials nicknaming him ‘Artillery.’
And memories are still fresh of the Flames trip to Angola in 2010 for their first Africa Cup of Nations appearance in 26 years. I sat next to Chunga on the plane and on a lighter note, I asked him whether he still had the briefcase that sparked a barrage of scorn from U-20 players a couple of years earlier. To my surprise, in an instant he stood up and produced the worn-out briefcase from underneath his seat. He bragged that in it was the ‘artillery’ that would make the Flames write a fairytale success story at the continental showpiece.
And when the Flames stunned the then World Cup bound Algeria 3-0 in their opening game, he declared that the hosts Angola would be the next casualty with a 2-0 beating, but when the result went the other way, a stunned Chunga could only say: “Eeeh! Amwene, apwitikiziwa ndiokhwima zedi, atiwonetsa mbwadza, zinatembenuka!”
These are special memories that remain embedded in my mind, and probably, all those lucky to have interacted with the cheery fella who was also committed to his duties. Sadly, my good man ‘Artillery’ passed on last week. Let us spare a thought for the man who was dedicated to Flames’ cause so much that he was part of the technical panel that took our team to the promised land. Go well my man ‘Artillery’. Glory be to God! Uloliwe.. Uloliwe wayidudula hi..Nang’esiza! [The train is pushing!]