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Derby Mankinka: The genius tragedy took away

By Robson Sharuko

If indeed, he was born in Harare, then it was some form of a dream homecoming show.

Derby Mankinka
Derby Mankinka

In just eight matches, in the colours of Darryn T, Derby Mankinka cast a shining light on the domestic football scene, blanketed by a fog amid the negativity of a bitter boardroom battle between ZIFA and the rebellious top-flight clubs fighting for their independence.

He arrived at the turn of the ‘90s with a lofty reputation, having won the Zambian Player of the Year award as a 24-year-old in 1989, joining the elite company of the likes of the legendary Godfrey “Ucar’’ Chitalu, Alex Chola, Peter Kaumba and, of course, Kalusha Bwalya.

And, from the first match, it became clear he was a very special talent whose football gifts were crying out for a bigger league than the domestic top-flight league.

Although, in essence, he only gave us a glimpse of his talent, in those eight games, it was enough to bewitch local football writers who included him among the Soccer Stars of the Year, at the end of the season.

The midfielder arrived in Zimbabwe on the eve of a new era for domestic football.

The late Morrison Sifelani and Chris Sibanda, with a helping hand from their friends, were plotting the revolution for the top-flight league’s clubs to divorce themselves from ZIFA’s grasp.

It was a period of chaos, with ZIFA intent on even consolidating their grip, fearful the rebellion could result in them losing control of the game in the country, in particular, and the funds they generated from gate receipts, in general.

Amid that in-fighting, Mankinka — whom many online sources, including the respected transfer market website, claim was born on September 5,1965, to Zambian parents, before growing up across the Zambezi, arrived and illuminated the scene with his flashes of magic.

He moved to Polish champions giants Lech Poznan, the club where Robert Lewandowski would first make his name before his big moves to Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, with Mankinka helping them win the league title in his first season in Poland.

Always a nomad, he was on the move again, joining Saudi side Al Ettifaq.

He was set for another dance on a Zimbabwean football field, this time in the colours of Chipolopolo in 1993 in an AFCON qualifier, but he never made the trip to Harare.

On April 27, 1993, he was one of the 18 Zambian players killed when a chartered military aircraft, taking Chipolopolo to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal, came down just after take-off in Libreville, Gabon, and crashed into the Atlantic. Yesterday, marked the 27th anniversary of that disaster.

Thirty people, including Chitalu, who was coaching the national team back then, died in that crash. Chitalu’s name would feature prominently around the world in 2012 after Lionel Messi was reported to have broken German legend, Gerard Muller’s record 85 goals in a calendar year.

The football leaders in Zambian launched a protest, arguing that Chitalu had actually scored 117 years in a calendar year in the country’s top division, and international matches for his country, in 1972.

“We have this record, which has been recorded in Zambian football, but unfortunately it has not been recorded in world football,’’ the Football Association of Zambia said in their protest.

“Even as the world has been looking at Lionel Messi’s record, breaking Gerd Muller’s, the debate and discussion back here has been why Godfrey’s goals are not being recognised.’’

Before his arrival here, Mankinka had also been part of a group of the first three African players to break into the then Soviet top-flight league in 1989.

Pearson Mwanza and Wisdom Chansa were the two other Zambian players who joined Pomir Dushanbe in the then Soviet Union.

Chansa died in that plane crash while Mwanza had died a month earlier, in Kitwe, at the young age of 29.

Among the families of those who perished in that plane crash, a number of questions still have to be answered.

“Every day is a reminder that our father is not here,’’ Mankinka’s daughter, Diana, told BBC Sport, in a rare interview, in April 2014.

‘’It hurts every days that I do not know why my father is dead.’’ “In 50 years, we will still feel this hurt. Even if I die, my children will fight to know why my father, their grandfather, died.’’

Along the way, Chipolopolo won the AFCON title in 2012, fate somehow ensuring that their finest hour would come in Gabon, the city which had, until their triumph, had represented their darkest hour.

“I was crying when they won — watching them win was a painful reminder for us that our father is not here with us,” she said.

“I would have fallen in love with football if I knew why my father died. I cannot think of the game without thinking of what it cost us, and for me that is enough for me to never want to think of football.’’ But, even in death, Zimbabwean football would never forget Derby Mankinka. The Herald