Birth and roots
Born on June 6, 1956 in the DR Congo, Alex Chola, in his formative years, played for Zairean side Solbena FC in Lubumbashi before he trekked to Ndola where his lived briefly.
Pascal, the young brother Alex, by his own admission, described his older brother as precocious and that he got huge inspiration from the master dribbler.
According to Pascal, himself a former Ndola United who also played for Power Dynamos like his brother, said Alex showed extraordinary footballing skills from an early age, attracting envy here, there and everywhere.
It therefore came as no surprise that the teenager, aged 18 in 1974, joined Mufulira Blackpool in what turned out to be the Launchpad of a truly illustrious career that would span14 years.
Style of play and nickname
Owing to the way the man used to dribble past his markers with swimming ease, his left arm strapped across his heart as if it were in a sling similar to the injured Germany forward Karl-Heinz Rummenigge’s sight during the 1998 World Cup tournament, Chola was indeed a player out of this world – hence the birth of the nickname Computer by the late radio commentator Dennis Liwewe.
When in his element, Chola, famed for his pyramid-like fashion of beating his markers wanting to dispossess him especially in aerial situations, he would hook the ball over their heads, this way and then that way. Alex, simply said, had the ability to beat the same player one, twice or even thrice using the same or different tricks, depending on the situation or condition, to the delight of the crowd.
On the ground, he was as slippery as an eel to catch, a master par excellence, feinting this way and then that way as if he had the property of elasticity, totally losing his pursuer in the process.
Seeing Chola in action at his brilliant best was like watching the puppet and the puppeteer at work where he, taking the role of the latter, would virtually command the ball to his wishes. A football magician of the rarest species this man was.
Whether Zambian football will ever see another Alex Chola remains to be seen.
Despite the big-time players Blackpool had at the time in 1974 – the likes of Simon “Kaodi” Kaushi, John “Fuso” Lengwe, Lee Mulenga among others, Chola with his outrageous talent and incomparable skills in evidence, he held his own at John Yumba Kachofa Stadium, Blackpool’s home.
Blackpool, a campaigner in Zambia’s old Division One, the then top-flight, finished 4th behind champions Zambia Army (renamed Green Buffaloes in 1975), runners-up Mufulira Wanderers and third-placed Nchanga Rangers.
By coincidence, that year (1974), the very year Chola joined Blackpool, happened to be the club’s highest scaling since the Mufulira team first joined the topflight in 1963, a season in which they finished third from the bottom (7th) on the 9-team log then.
Before being relegated to the Second Division in 1972 after a 9-year stay in the top-flight (1963-1972), Blackpool’s highest finish was 7th three times in 1963, 1964 (on the 10-team log) and 1966 (on the 12-team log).
Therefore, to have bounced back in 1974, apparently Cholas’s maiden season with Blackpool with the team finishing 4th, was a giant leap for Chola & Co. Chola, to all intents and purposes, must have added a touch of magic to the team. How else would one put it, given the sudden surge to the top four of Zambia’s elite league?
Things happened to have been going well for the new kid on the block at Blackpool.
In July of that ‘glorious’ term, with the suspension of team captain John Botha, the huge responsibility of skippering the big yellow submarine called Mufulira Blackpool fell was squarely placed on the shoulders of the young Alex who had just turned 19 the previous month.
Owing to unimaginable impact the lad had made on the team in 1974, teams of all shapes and shades from bitter rivals and town-mates Mufulira Wanderers, Zambia Army (green Buffaloes) and Rhokana United (Nkana FC) in particular, fell in mad love and courtship like thunder and lightning behaves.
Blackpool had to desperately clutch on to their most prized asset – not in the least interested to let go of their newly-mined and cut diamond at whatever cost.
Despite the team not finishing in the top six in 1975 and 1976, there was huge success elsewhere in the latter year at individual level when Chola made rare piece of history by being voted Zambia’s Footballer-of-the-Year, the first and last time a Blackpool player had ever won the prestigious individual honour in the history of the club.
Before Chola joined Blackpool in 1974, the team had previously won the 1963 Northern Rhodesia Castle. Elsewhere, Blackpool were runners-up in the 1963 Inter-Rhodesia Castle Cup to Southern Rhodesia’s Salisbury Callies who beat them 2-0 in a final played at Luanshya’s Kafubu Stadium.
And 10 years later, they would lift the 1973 Chibuku Cup (Heroes and Unity Cup). That same year, Blackpool, in a town-mates’ Independence Cup (Mosi Cup) final staged at Ndola’s Dag Hammerskjold Stadium, beat Butondo Western Tigers 4-3 in regulation time with four different players honing in.
The quartet that sent Blackpool victorious that October afternoon were Ernest Kambole (penalty), John Lengwe, Davy Mwewa and who else, the skipper himself, Alex Chola.
Tigers’ three goals were scored by brace hero Godfrey Nkole (of the Nkole brothers’ fame) and Leonard Sichone providing the other.
The year 1978 happened to be Chola’s finest season with Blackpool in the club’s pursuit of the country’s biggest prize – the top-flight.
How painful it must have been for Chola and colleagues because they were ultimately beaten to the title by a single point (41-40) by town-mates Mufulira Wanderers.
From 30 matches played champions Wanderers won 16, drew 9, lost 5, scored 77 goals and conceded 45 to have a healthy goal difference of plus-32. Runners-up Blackpool on the other hand, from as many games, won 15, drew 10 times, were defeated on five occasions, netted 68 times and had their net breached 53 times.
Despite Blackpool’s incredible performance in 1978, to the utter surprise of their faithful and neutral observers alike, would finish the season in 15th place, one of the two relegation positions. Sadly enough, the basement position was equally occupied by fellow town-mates Butondo Western Tigers like it were a conspiracy of a kind; both ended on 23 points each from 30 matches in a 2-point-for-a-win awarding system then. Luckily for both teams, despite being certain and conformed confirmed candidates for relegation that season, they retained their positions in the top-flight after the local FA increased the number of teams from 16 to 18 the following term. And despite the reprieve, Chola was not in the least interested in being a Blackpool player any longer