Sport

A Peep into Dennis Lota’s Final Days

Dennis Lota-Chesa MpamaFifty-days ago upon learning that former national team football star Dennis Lota was in the country on holiday, we set up contact to link up with him for a chat.

Never one to just give in to random interviews given his schooled nature, Lota gave us a brief test of why the HELL we thought we could call him out of the blue and set up an interview with him.

After a brief ‘interrogation’, he warmly gave in and it was all set for December 15 at Top Gear Lodge. So I walked through the gates of Top Gear Lodge with my mind not wholly at ease as the possibility of ending the interview if I in any way proved inadequate in running him through events that made him a worthy interview target were not off scratch.

I stepped into the vicinity and had the benefit of an aimless chat with one Beston Chambeshi and Numba Mumamba, local coaches undergoing the CAF coaching licence training at the same venue before I lumbered into Lota’s room.

Once we settled in, it was so easy to listen to him roll back the years and telling it all from the Burkina Faso debacle, the malaise of national failure in the late 90s and early 2000s, his first trial at Zanaco Football Club and his trade mark hand rubbing (Chesa Mpama) celebration, it all just mellowed in.

Here is the full interview with bolazambia.com’s SYDNEY MUNGALA

“I was born in Kitwe on November, 8 1973 and did my primary school at Wusakile Primary and later attended Ndeke Secondary School where basically my football started from,” said Lota of his baby steps in his football life.

“I was playing in the streets and around my grade seven I played for the school team and then I was also playing for a development side in Kitwe which was called Ajax.

“It was a feeder youth development for Nkana, so I played there and then I played a little bit for the Nkana juniors.”

As was always the case with the glory days of the Zambian game, the jet legged Lota played in the mining conglomerate Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines sponsored junior teams.

“There was the introduction of the Under-16 and Under-18 ZCCM league so I played for Nkana for those junior competitions until I left and joined an amateur side at the time I finished school which was UBZ stars.”

From UBZ Stars, Lota moved to Big Coke which was a Division Two outfit in Kitwe before trekking to Lusaka in 1989 to try out his luck at newly promoted Super Division side Zanaco Football Club.

“Coming from Division One they (Zanaco) had no reserve team, so they needed a reserve team in the Super League,” he said.

“I settled well because I remember in the reserve team if I played games, it was maybe only five games and I became part of the first team right through.”

At Sunset Stadium he worked under the wings of Danny Kabwe, Davy Kayuma and also the late Vincent Mandona.

For the two seasons he lasted at Sunset Stadium, Lota left his mark having been named best young player in his first season and club top scorer before heading back to the Copperbelt where he joined Nchanga Rangers.

“The following year although I left Zanaco with three or five games left I was the top scorer for the club.”

It was the loss of employment by his father that led to his move back to the Copperbelt to help out as a breadwinner.

He moved to Chingola where he starred for Nchanga Rangers building on his growing reputation in front of goal.

“I stayed at Nchanga for two seasons and I was the club top scorer. Imagine from the midfield and we had good target men like the late Eugene Chisanga who was very good, there was also Abuid Kunda as well,” said Lota.

His next stop was Kabwe Warriors where he lasted one season before heading to the border town of Chililabombwe in 1994 where he joined former teammate now turned coach Benjamin Bwalya (brother to FAZ President Kalusha).

By the time he got to Konkola Blades, Lota had won the hearts of many in the local league widely recognized as deadly finisher.

It was at Blades that he was converted from a deep lying midfielder into a supporting striker and he flourished winning successive top scorer awards in the local league in 1994 and 1995.

At this stage Lota had also won recognition from national team selectors with his first ever call up coming in 1994 in a game against Malawi at Independence Stadium.

“My first call up (national team) was in 1994 in a friendly game against Malawi at Independence Stadium. I was called for that game and had a bit of action maybe five minutes,” he said. “After that they started calling me consistently.”

The late star’s best international memory was the 1996 bronze winning performances in South Africa in Chipolopolo colours.

“I think the highlight of the tournament (1996 Africa Cup) was the game against Egypt in the quarterfinals. Egypt was leading 1-0 at half time and we came back and won 3-1. I think that was the biggest game and the highlight of the tournament,” said Lota on the team’s sterling acts at South Africa 1996.

“It was very rare that teams could come back and beat Egypt so mercilessly.”

Although the team ended up winning bronze, Lota was disappointed but took heart at having won something.

“But the tournament had reserved the biggest disappointment later in the semi-final after we lost to Tunisia. Considering how far we came and if you look at our performances until Tunisia it was a big setback even ourselves we did not expect to lose to Tunisia things just fell apart,” he said.

“It is even difficult what led to that loss. It was a very painful experience.”

Probably in his best years in the game, Zambia fell out at the first hurdle in three successive tournaments.

“1998 was another experience, we drew with Morocco 1-all, lost to Egypt 4-0 and then beat Mozambique 3-1 in the last game but still went out,” he said with a tinge of emotion.

He let out his emotions on a very touchy subject on the Zambian experience of 1998, “On our part I think the contributing factor was the management we had this guy from Germany, Burkhard Ziese. He had no idea about things. How he found himself as coach of the national team, only the people that appointed him knew.”

“He had no knowledge of football whatsoever. He was actually the cause of us not performing well. We had so many problems with him; everybody had a problem with him.”

Zambia was ejected in the first round at 1998, 2000 but it was not Lota’s final year in national colours. However, it was that experience that fast tracked his retirement at national level.

The story of the 2000 Africa Cup was not any better as Zambia crashed out in the first round for the second consecutive time.

“All the competitions that followed after 1996 were really not played under the best of organizations,” he said.

“One of the biggest reasons was that the problems in the association, it is like there was no association. There was so much infighting and there was always interim this, interim that and caretaker what.”

With 2000 out of the way, Lota then gave Africa Cup glory one more shot with a 2002 Africa Cup experience which also ended in disappointment.

“At one point you have to retire, the problem was when? When I looked at first the organization part, it was one thing which was demoralizing because from 1996, things just started going down,” said Lota.

He always looked back to the 1996 bronze medal as a sense of pride.

“It is a big achievement because some people have played for years but have not won even a bronze medal at the Africa Cup while others have never even played at the Africa Cup. I have something to show,” he said.

On his club career, Lota looks to his last season in 2007 in Amazulu colours as memorable.

“In South Africa I was the top scorer in 2001-02. I was the first Zambian to win top scorer in 2001. I was the pioneer in being top scorer” said.

“I have done extremely well in South Africa and if you are a foreigner and they give you a nick name, then you must have really done something special. If I look at my career there, I think I have done more than enough and the people respect me in the football fraternity.”

He narrowed down to his memorable final season in the PSL: “In 2007 I was at Amazulu for one season. Amazulu were facing relegation after playing 18 games, they had four points, one win and one draw. I joined them in the January transfer window by then there were only 12 games remaining. I played seven games and scored nine goals. The team avoided relegation and they were back in the PSL.”

Once he had hung his boots Lota took a one year break before taking a step into the murky world of coaching.

“I did not attach myself to a club but went the development route. I needed to start from the base and started with a development team. I was involved with development from 2008 to 2009.

“Then from then I was recalled by Swallows in the technical staff, not the bench just part of the coaching structure but not really as a coach but a fourth assistant but with emphasis on development.”

The Kitwe born said, “From 2009 I have been involved with Swallows in the same capacity, then in 2010 I was made head of development. The team’s offices for development moved to Soweto they needed something that associates the team with the locals so they set up there to bring people closer to the team. So I was head of Soweto youth development for Swallows.

“From there in 2011-12 seasons I was appointed full assistant coach since 2011.”

Despite the experience he garnered in South Africa on the bench Lota preferred to keep out of the politics of the Zambian game.

“Honestly, I won’t even say a word concerning the current state of Zambian football. The reason is that me coming from there (South Africa) even if I had to give you an honest opinion it is always going to be faced with criticism that because some will say because this guy is coming from South Africa he thinks he knows better,” said the eloquent deceased former soccer star.

“I will leave it to you guys because you know better what is happening here to give an assessment and opinion and way forward.”

Sadly, this was to be our final interaction with one of Zambia’s celebrated goal-scorers and bolazambia joins the rest of the country in bidding farewell to this legendary figure of the Zambian game. Go well D Breaker! Chesa Mpama others called you.

Source: bolazambia.com

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