MatchDay Memory–1974: Part 5 (Africa)

Forty years ago I came into the world and while I may not have made an impact on the game of soccer, it has surely made an impact on me.  Playing the game from a very early age, I didn’t start following the game until my early 20’s.  Starting with Manchester United, I eventually started reading everything I could get my hands on and watching whatever game was on, learning about the rich and complex history of the game.  My MatchDay Memory posts over the next few weeks will focus on events in world soccer during the year of my birth, 1974.  It is in no way a comprehensive summation but rather an examination of teams and incidents that I was drawn to in my research.


Due to an online soccer course I took in the summer of 2013 I became more aware of African soccer, in particular the political and sporting context of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  In my research I came across an article that looked back at a game in the country between an all white team and an all black team in the 1970’s.  At the height of apartheid, the match was quite significant.

Reading the account of the game, I was surprised to see how many of those players made their way to the NASL.  One thing I have learned about the league is that the NASL served as further development of the American game from British based players to players from other parts of the world.  This transition would be further exemplified by the MLS as it drew from Central and South America in its early years.

In investigating what else was happening in Africa during 1974, I came across the team from Zaire.  David Goldblatt’s The Ball is Round provided background into the former the Belgian Congo, as a General named Joseph Mobutu rose to power and changed the name of the country and the nickname of the national team from the Lions to the Leopards.  Using football as a political tool, success came at both the club and international level.

Steve Bloomfield noted in his book Africa United, “TP Mazembe, a club side from the Katanga Province, reached the final of the African Champions Cup in four consecutive years, from 1967 to 1970, winning the trophy twice.”  As for the national team, already African Champions in 1968, the Leopards won the 1974 African Cup of Nations.  Hosted in Egypt, Zaire rebounded from a loss in the group stage to defeat the hosts in the semis and then beat Zambia in a replay.  19 years later a wonderful generation from Zambia was lost in a plane crash, but 38 years after defeat to Zaire, Zambia lifted the trophy in the 2012 edition.  I skimmed the rosters and the Team of the Tournament.  No names jumped out at me, which is a reflection of my ignorance rather than their ability.


The country also survived Africa’s World Cup Qualification.  With the continent only allotted one spot, Zaire qualified.  After a series of home and home playoffs, the final section consisted of Morocco, Zambia and Zaire.  The Leopards walked it, earning maximum points on their way to West Germany.  Unfortunately their participation at the Finals was not as easy.  Zaire earned no points, scored no goals and conceded 14 goals to Brazil, Scotland and Yugoslavia.  The team went from hailed heroes to humiliated failures.  The country would have to wait almost 20 years for glimpses of former success.


I chose 1974 simply because it was the year I was born, yet in reviewing the events of those 12 months it was interesting to see how many precursors and foundations and glimpses into the future were present.  The eternal battle between disciplined defenses against attack minded opponents; players and clubs searching for the next dollar/euro/monetary unit; shock results;  the constant emergence of new and dynamic talent from all around the world.  In 1974 I imagine that there were unknown pockets of activity around the world, complete with rich storylines and regional influence, and stories these days are now part of the worldwide narrative thanks to the internet and globalization.  Teams, players, coaches and cultures are more familiar and are part of a global fabric, with the game belonging to the world and being shared with the world.  Part of the sharing is this project, which was hard work, but informative and enlightening, and I hope you have enjoyed this look back into footballing history.



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