Howard Mwikuta

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Howard Mwikuta
Howard Mwikuta in March 1967.jpg
Howard Mwikuta in March 1967
Personal information
Date of birth (1941-06-20)20 June 1941
Place of birth Ndola, Northern Rhodesia
Date of death 26 February 1988(1988-02-26) (aged 46)
Place of death Chililabombwe, Zambia
Playing position Defender
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1958–1964 Bancroft North End
(later Bancroft Blades)
1965–1966 Broken Hill Warriors
(later Kabwe Warriors)
1967 Atlanta Chiefs 22 (1)
1969–1970 Dallas Tornado 11 (0)
National team
1964–1966 Zambia 17 (0)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Howard Mwikuta (20 June 1941 – 26 February 1988) was a Zambian footballer and coach who featured in the first Zambian national team at independence in October 1964. He was named Zambian captain in 1966 and at the end of the season was voted Zambian Sportsman of the Year. Mwikuta was one of the first Zambians to play professional football abroad when he signed for American club Atlanta Chiefs in 1967, together with Emment Kapengwe and Freddie Mwila. He became the first player born and raised in Africa to play in the NFL when he featured for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970 pre-season as a placekicker.[1][2]

Playing career[edit]

Mwikuta was born in Ndola on 20 June 1941 and was brought up by his elder brother after losing both parents at the age of two. He went to Chimoto and Fiwale Mission Schools for his primary education before moving to Bancroft (Chililabombwe) in 1957 where he joined the mine. He first played schools football and then joined Bancroft Blades, graduating to the first team by 1958 as a full-back or half-back. In the same season, he was chosen to represent the Rest of Northern Rhodesia against Katanga in Elizabethville in Congo and from then on was a permanent fixture in the Northern Rhodesian or Zambian sides.[3]

The determined tackler was part of the first team that played under the name Zambia, winning the Mufulu (Freedom) Cup in Malawi in July 1964 with wins over Tanganyika (Tanzania) and the hosts. He also featured in the Zambian team that hosted Kenya, Uganda and Ghana during Zambia's independence celebrations in October of the same year.

The powerfully built Mwikuta not only had the stamina to keep running for 90 minutes and beyond, he was also famous for his long throw-ins and packed a powerful shot. In 1965, he switched to Broken Hill Warriors and the following year he was made captain of the club. He led the team to the Castle Cup final and to third position in the league after a second from bottom finish in 1965.

He also captained Zambia in Malawi in a tournament staged by the hosts to celebrate the country's achievement of republic status in July 1966, which Zambia won after beating Madagascar 3–0 and the hosts 6–0.[4] He also led Zambia to a Rothmans Cup triumph over Kenya in September 1966.

He made 17 international appearances from July 1964 to the end of 1966. When Phil Woosnam, coach of Atlanta Chiefs in the newly introduced Professional Soccer League in America came to Zambia for the second time in December 1966, he approached Mwikuta, Mwila and Kapengwe on behalf of Chiefs. Mwikuta's deal was rushed through club, National Football League (NFL) and Football Association of Zambia (FAZ) executives in less than a week. Woosnam made the most attractive offer made to Zambian players at the time: close to £200 per month plus bonuses, with one-year contracts upon successful conclusion of a two-month trial. Mwikuta accepted the offer and promised to return to Zambia to pass on what he would learn to the younger generation. In fact, he had been saving up for a trip to Britain later in the year where he hoped to see some top class European football and all of a sudden, he found himself with an all expenses paid trip and the chance of a lifetime.[3] [5]

After clarification of FIFA's recognition of the American league, Mwikuta left for Atlanta with Kapengwe, Mwila and Chief's scout Doug Sammons on 22 February 1967,[6] becoming the first Zambian players to play professional soccer abroad. Mwikuta impressed Chiefs' coaching staff with his fitness, often waiting for the rest of the players to catch up during training runs. Chief's assistant coach Vic Crowe once told him "We will have to start you running an hour ahead of time so that everyone is even when training begins."[7]

He missed some early season games for illness and the last few with an ankle injury, playing 22 games for Chiefs and scoring one goal against Toronto. At the end of the season, Kapengwe and Mwila were re-signed so Mwikuta again left Zambia on 22 December 1967 for the US, sponsoring himself for a course in physical education and soccer coaching because he realised that Zambia badly needed professional coaches. In Atlanta, he found that the youngsters soccer skills far behind their Zambian age-mates so he starting coaching. "In my country, kids begin to play soccer at the age of five," he told his American friends. It pained him to see kids idling about, when they could do something in their spare time – like play soccer – but he also saw there was need for qualified help.

He postponed formal coursework and got a hands-on sporting job with the city of Atlanta Recreation Department. He carried in his car a supply of soccer balls and through this interaction and word of mouth he had a following coaching football in Atlanta. His work with the youngsters the community was praised. His boss Howard Long described his employee as a "great organizer" and said the kids learnt a lot from him in a short time. And his enthusiastic young followers are reported to have described him as the best "goodwill ambassador" they knew.

In mid-1969, Topic, a widely read American monthly magazine circulated-widely in America carried an article covering Mwikuta's contribution to Atlanta and youth since he having been there in February 1968. [8] Mwikuta would later spend most of his time coaching in local schools and around the state of Georgia. He also conducted clinics for referees and linesmen and attended a mass Boy Scout Jamboree at Pine Mountain where he lectured on soccer and Zambia.[9]

In 1969, he signed with Dallas Tornado for two seasons (69–70) before trying his hand at American Football with the Dallas Cowboys and became the first born and raised African to feature in the NFL when he appeared in the 1970 pre-season. However, he was released before the regular season began.[10] Howard Mwikuta coached the Men's Varsity Soccer Team at SMU from 1974 to 1979. Because of his contribution to community work and the development of youth in the US, Mwikuta met at the White House US President Jimmy Carter.[11] He eventually completed his studies with degrees in physical education and soccer coaching and came back to Zambia after a 12-year absence. Mwikuta settled in Zaire (now Congo DR) where he began coaching Tshikuku United in Shaba Province.

Death[edit]

In February 1988, he travelled to Zambia to visit friends and relatives and on the morning of 26 February 1988, Mwikuta was at his brother's house in Chililabombwe when he collapsed and died of a heart attack.[11] The country mourned the passing of a talented footballer, coach and ambassador who was a credit to Zambia and in touching the lives of so many youth in Atlanta.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Mark L. Ford (24 September 2014). A History of NFL Preseason and Exhibition Games: 1960 to 1985. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 112–. ISBN 978-1-4422-3891-6. 
  2. ^ Johnson Publishing Company (20 August 1970). Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. pp. 56–. ISSN 0021-5996. 
  3. ^ a b Anon. "America Here We Come – Howard Mwikuta, Captain of Zambia and Broken Hill Warriors" Times of Zambia, 11 January, p.10
  4. ^ Anon. "Zambia wins Malawian soccer trophies", Times of Zambia, 10 July 1966, p.10
  5. ^ Kamphodza, Sam “My mind is made up says Howard Mwikuta,” Times of Zambia, 25 January 1967, p.10
  6. ^ Anon. "Atlanta, Here We Come", Times of Zambia, 23 February 1967, p.12
  7. ^ Anon. "Howard's fitness amazes the Americans", Times of Zambia, 23 September 1967, p.15
  8. ^ Liwena, Ridgeway "Our Ambassador in Atlanta – Zambia's Mwikuta is the hero of young American footballers," Times of Zambia, 1 October 1969 p.13
  9. ^ Anon, "Mwikuta turns hand to coaching" Times of Zambia, 16 May 1968 p.12
  10. ^ "Trio of Kickers Gets 'Poke Axe". The North Texas Daily. 4 September 1970. Retrieved 13 October 2016. 
  11. ^ a b Anon. "Deaths Rock Zambian Sport," Zambia Daily Mail, 27 February 1988, p.8

References[edit]

Muchimba, Jerry "Howard Mwikuta: Talented Footballer, Youth Coach and Goodwill Ambassador," Bola Yathu http://bolayathu.com/index.php/component/content/article/88-more-football/357 (retrieved 1 June 2012)