CAST your mind back to the 1994 World Cup in the USA and what comes to mind?
Is it Diana Ross making a hames of a penalty during the opening ceremony, Diego Maradona’s rather crazed celebration following his goal in Argentina’s opener against Greece and subsequent failed drugs test that saw him banned?
Perhaps it was the murder of Colombia’s Andrés Escobar upon his return home, his own goal against the USA that contributed to the pre-tournament favourites’ exit as he was made the scapegoat by shady characters in his homeland.
Then there was Ray Houghton’s goal against Italy in the Giants Stadium and the horrifying massacre at Loughinsland that took place simultaneously, Roberto Baggio’s magic that brought The Azzurri to the final where his penalty miss helped Brazil end their long wait for glory.
It’s fair to say the competition had triumph and tragedy in equal measure, but that all began long before a ball was kicked at Soldier Field on June 17.
Zambia, an emerging nation that gained its independence in 1964, was well-placed to qualify for the tournament before tragedy struck in April 1993.
As the team was set to travel to Senegal for a qualifying game, the DHC-5D Buffalo military aircraft carrying the team would crash in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving no survivors among the 30 on board.
It was a devastating turn of events that left a nation in mourning and a team no more, but the resilience of the nation would manifest itself as it continued in its quest to qualify for USA ‘94 and the Africa Cup of Nations.
A new squad was built around its star player who had escaped the crash, Kalusha Bwalya under the guidance of a new coach, Roald Poulsen who held a six-week training camp in Denmark, and just 10 weeks after the crash, they would defeat Morocco.
Although qualification for the World Cup eluded them, they would star in the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994, reaching the final only to be defeated by Nigeria - one of the sides that had lit up the World Cup.
The story is expertly told by Jay Mwamba in his fascinating book ‘Crash of the Buffalo’.
Mwamba, an accomplished author and journalist, charts the tale of Zambia’s emergence as a nation and also its rise on the football pitch, the influence of Ante Tonči Bušelić who revolutionised the approach to the game and helped mould them into a powerhouse of African football.
Newry native, Ronnie Hollywood was another major influence on the rise of Zambian football as the explosion of youth and tactical innovation made them a force to be reckoned with, epitomised by a 4-0 win over Italy at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 with a number of players plying their trade in Europe.
‘Crash of the Buffalo’ charts the tragedy and triumph of a nation with its story in keeping with the events of the summer of 1994.