Dictators and football. King of Zaire Mobutu Sese Seko
The story of the amazing performance of the national team of Zaire at the World Cup in 1974 and the tyranny of the country's leader, multiplied by delusions of grandeur.
In 1974, the former colony of Belgium, which received a new name Zaire, played at its first World Cup in Germany. The leader of the country - a miniature burly Mobutu Sese Seko, famous for wearing his favorite leopard-colored pill hat, renamed the country's national team from “Lviv” to “Leopard”. (It was an act of propaganda). He was convinced that Zairian football could grow to a new level. In general, he was very fond of praising himself and renaming things.
He also came up with a new name for the country: The First Republic of the Congo (the former Belgian Congo) turned into Zaire, which means “a river that absorbs other rivers”. He set out to take all the power in his hands and then use his capabilities. He outlawed all political parties except one, and forbade everyone to wear leopard hats, except, of course, himself.
Mobutu and Queen Elizabeth II of England
A big fan of the concept of the cult of personality, he had previously changed his name Joseph – Desiree Mobutu to Mobutu Sese Seko Nkuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga, which means “Warrior, going from victory to victory, and no one can stop him”. It is clear that Mobutu would not accept any other outcome except his triumph. This phrase could also be translated as “A rooster who will not disregard any chicken” in honor of his praised sexual exploits. (Another example of how one long sentence can have several meanings - Mobutu had an incomprehensible ability to give new names).
He was also known as "Big Man", "Leopard" and simply "Messiah". Mobutu often flew his "Concord" for shopping in Paris and Brussels, accompanied by excellent companions. (Among which was his first wife Marie Antoinette, his second wife Bobi and his mistress, who in combination, which is somewhat creepy, was identical to Bobi's twin).
Zaire banknote with the image of Mobutu
Known for his plundering (he made a fortune of $ 46 million, which he kept abroad) and degrading the rights of his citizens, Mobutu surprised everyonewhen I invited football players to my presidential palace and presented each of them around the house and car for overcoming the qualifying round of the World Cup.
"Pretend until it becomes true." "Spend money to make money." He showed his entrepreneurial flair when he organized a fight between Don King and Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in the jungle in 1974, spending $ 10 million on this.
Mobutu before the battle of Ali and Foreman
Ali's famous quote about Mobutu and Zaire:
"Some countries are entering wars to earn fame, and these wars cost much more than $ 10 million."
When Muhammad Ali praises your PR technologies, you are on the right track.
Part of the state propaganda was the decree that in each building was to hang a portrait of Mobutu. The evening news showed him a translucent image that traveled around the globe on a sort of carpet-plane of clouds. Television talked about his fantastic exploits, how he killed a lion with his own hands at the age of seven, or how bullets and spears bounce off his chest, as if she were made of adamanty.
Leopards at the 1974 World Cup
But back to football and Mobutu’s unwavering ambitions. The boxing match was scheduled for October 1974, and before autumn would have changed summer, Mobutu had to show his greatness at the World Cup. Zaire recently won the African Nations Cup 1974, they had a star-like composition by the standards of the non-Arab part of the continent, and it seemed that success was near. Only this was not enough for the first black team in the history of the tournament.
In the first match in the group Zaire lost to Scotland 0: 2. Nothing catastrophic. The defeat with a score of 0: 9 from the Yugoslavs caused a completely different reaction. Before the third match against the reigning champion of the Brazilian national team, Mobutu sent presidential guards to the athletes.
Yugoslavia - Zaire 9: 0. Goalkeeper Tibuland Ndimbi laments the next goal. Ndimbi replaced the main goalkeeper of the national team Kazadi in the 21st minute of the meeting with the score 0-3, but in 70 minutes he managed to miss six times
Later, the football player of that team Ilung Mwepu in an interview with the Air Force said:
“The guards closed the hotel to all journalists and threatened us that if we miss four goals from the Brazilians, none of us will be allowed to return to the country.”
What are there 0: 4? Avoid at least two-digit account.Even without Pele Brazil remained Brazil, the team was staffed with such legends as Rivelino, Jairzinho and Ed. Fortunately, Zaire lost only 0-3.
The strangest moment of the game occurred when, five minutes before the end of the match, Rivelino received the right to punch a penalty from a distance of about 28 meters from the gate, and one of the Zaire team players, without waiting for a whistle, ran out of the set wall and knocked the ball out of the field. For this, he received a yellow card. Perhaps he would prefer to go to a German prison than to return to his homeland.
Zaire missed 14 goals, scored none and took part in one of the strangest free-throws in history. The players, of course, were not happy about returning home. Mobutu may have looked like a cartoon character in his leopard hat, but remained a dictator, from whose cruel deeds the blood in his veins was cold.
Six years earlier, in 1968, the Leopards won the African Cup of Nations, and their return home was another eccentric trick of Mobutu. The footballers, hung with flowers, descended from the plane with large white plates around their necks, their names were written on bulky cardboard billboards put on over their heads (these are used in street advertising - comment. Translation).After that, Mobutu invited the Brazilian club Santos, in which Pepe played then, to take part in an exhibition match in Zaire. Presentation of the teams took place on a huge podium, built for big money especially for this event. It was a real football fever.
After the shame in 1974, there was nothing like this. And although at the World Cup stadiums you could hear slogans or see inscriptions on banners "Zaire - Peace!" or “Come to Zaire!”, players would be happy to just stay alive when they return home, because no one promised them a warm welcome. No one met the players at the airport of the capital, Kinshasa, and even the transport was not provided. Footballers had to catch a ride, because they had no money either. Representatives of the Football Federation of Zaire arrogated to themselves the salaries of all players.
Ilunga Mwepa (in jump) at the World Cup 1974
The star of the “Leopards” Ilunga Mwepu (the one who knocked the ball during the penalty kick of the Brazilians) in 2002 told the BBC:
"We returned home without a penny in our pocket. We mistakenly thought that we would be back from the World Cup by millionaires."
He stated that he deliberately hit the ball to get a red card and leave the field in protest to Mobutu, because he assumed (and rightly so) that the players would not be paid.Some said that he simply did not know the rules.
(There are other versions. Some people regarded it as a comical moment connected with inexperience and low skill of African football players, someone considered as an illustration of genuine fear for their future. You can read more about this here - comment. Translation).
Rumor has it that the next day, Mobutu expressed his attitude towards the players in unequivocal terms, and they took it as a bad omen or even a mortal danger. The best players in the country, such as Mwepu, were forbidden to play abroad, they were forced to play in their home league, in which they practically did not pay. He also ordered the repatriation of Congo-born footballers who were playing in Belgium at the time. The national team took off from the qualifying tournament of the 1978 World Cup, because Mobutu was not ready to screw it up again and simply washed his hands.
Brazil - Zaire 3: 0
Well, not a very funny story.
Finish a little distant fact. In the 1930s, Mobutu played the position of goalkeeper for the command of a Catholic gymnasium, from where he was expelled because of his addiction to alcohol and women of Leopoldville, a city that he would later rename to Kinshasa,from the airport which is sometimes not so easy to get home. Under the laws of the Belgian Congo, expulsion from school meant entering the army. It was with the help of the armed forces that he eventually seized power in the country.
The national team of the Democratic Republic of the Congo ("sigh" ... the modern name of the country) after the overthrow of Mobutu in 1997 had several chances to win a trophy for their disadvantaged people. She participated in the 2013 African Cup of Nations. (In the playoffs of the qualifying tournament, DR Congo beat Equatorial Guinea, one of two hosts of the African Cup of Nations in 2012, and possibly a victim of a new dictatorial regime. Two equatorial dictators, an uncle and nephew, sometimes include in their vile plans and football, for example, limiting the freedom of the press in the 2012 tournament or shooting 150 of their political opponents in a football stadium). In the 2015 African Nations Cup, DR Congo 2015 won bronze.
The defeat of Yugoslavia remains one of the largest in the history of the World Championships
In the 2010 documentary film “Between the Cup and the Election”, which tells about the meeting of the 1974 team players,participants of those events enter a memorable alley called "Leopard Quarter". There are houses that they received as a gift to Mobutu, and then sold to survive. Good times, golden memories.
Translation of the article by Rob Kirby from cultfootball.com with minor additions. This text is the first in a series of materials titled "Dictators and Football."