2012 will always be remembered by many as the year we marvelled at the prodigiously talented Lionel Messi; his seemingly endless catalogue of goals was fastidiously plotted in the hope he could break Germany’s Gerd Müller’s 40 year old record from 1972 of 85 goals in a calendar year. Müller was known as “Der Bomber” and his record of 72 goals for Bayern Munich and 13 for West Germany was impressive enough, but when Messi scored twice against Real Betis on December 9th, he eclipsed that total with his 86th goal of the year. Almost unbelievably Messi scored five more before the end of the year; twice against Cordoba in the Copa del Rey, the same again versus Atletico Madrid and once against Real Valladolid to take his haul to an astonishing 91 goals. He not only beat “Der Bomber’s” world record, he completely smashed it!
Or did he?
Entering the argument is Godfrey Chitalu, a Zambian centre forward of the 1970’s who was born in Luanshya, Northern Rhodesia in October 1947. Chitalu started his senior playing career with Kitwe United in 1964 and was soon nicknamed “Ucar” after the supposedly everlasting Ucar car batteries manufactured by Union Carbide, such was his power and stamina.
Chitalu was playing for a top professional Zambian side, Kabwe Warriors, as well as his country when his goalscoring proficiency reached its impressive zenith. In 1971 he scored a ‘mere’ 89 goals for club and country, but the following year was to prove even more mindboggling which was, ironically, the year Muller set his accepted record of 85 goals.
Analysing Chitalu’s records makes for remarkable reading. He notched eighteen hat-tricks during 1972 and went on a run of nine games in which he scored an incredible 25 times. In total during that year, Chitalu scored an astonishing 107 goals in just 59 matches. What makes his record even more astounding is there were eleven games in which he failed to score at all meaning the 107 came in just 48 scoring appearances! What’s more, there are reports that the Zambian FA have discovered records that he scored a further nine times over two legs of an African Champions Cup tie against Matjantja although this has still not been ratified by the organisers of that competition.
Some of Chitalu’s performances are worth noting; for example, he scored a double hat-trick against Kalalushi Modern Stars in a 12-3 victory at their home ground of the Railway Stadium. He also loved playing in the Chibuku Cup that season. In Kabwe’s opening game he got a hat-trick against Butuondo Tigers. In the quarter-final against Buselio he scored five of Kabwe’s goals in a 10-2 massacre. And in the semi-final he scored against Roan United in a tight 3-2 win at the Gabbitas Stadium. In the final staged at the Dag Hammarskjoeld Stadium, Chitalu shone once again scoring four for the Warriors in a 5-3 triumph over Rhokana United. In the Zambian Challenge Cup final, he scored twice in the 3-1 defeat of Ndola United. He also scored for the Zambia National XI against a touring Sheffield United in a 1-1 draw at the Independence Stadium. Some of these could be questioned as to whether they were first class matches; two came in an “exhibition match” for an All Stars XI against The Rest at the Buchi Stadium and three more came in two representative matches for the “Midlands XI” against the “Copperbelt XI”. What is undoubted is that he did scored this vast quantity of goals in 1972 mainly in four competitions – the Zambian Premier League, the Zambian Chibuku Cup, the Zambian Challenge Cup and the African Champions Cup.
FIFA now recognise Chitalu’s full international tally of 79 goals in 108 games for Zambia. This total has only ever been surpassed by Japan’s Kunishige Kamamoto (80), Ferenc Puskas (84), Cristiano Ronaldo (88 at time of writing) and Ali Daei with his astonishing 109 goals in 149 international appearances. It should be noted that both Kamamoto and Daei would have had goals ratified as “full internationals” against some highly questionable opposition.
Sadly no one will ever be able to verify all this with the man himself. Godfrey Chitalu was the manager of the Zambian national team when their plane crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Gabon in 1993, killing 30 people including Chitalu, who was only 45. Since his untimely death there has been a road named Godfrey Chitalu Road in Lusaka, and in 2012 Kabwe Warriors renamed the Railway Stadium as the Godfrey Chitalu Stadium and began fundraising for a statue in honour of one of Africa’s greatest ever goalscorers.