George Lwandamina was not your typical footballer who dreamt of imparting his knowledge on upcoming soccer stars after hanging up his boots!
Instead, Lwandamina fancied turning his back on the game entirely the very moment he hung his boots. It would have been a 360-turn, so to speak.
It all seemed right and attainable. In any case, he was never the kind of footballer who played the game because schoolbooks were unkind.
He played the game because he loved it. Lwandamina was sharp at school and often sailed through.
Sadly, after losing his dad at the age of 10, life was always going to be tough for the Mufulira-born lad.
It meant moving to Justin Kabwe Primary School, far from home, where he would stay with his aunt. But it was not long before he had to stop school while doing 5th grade as there was no money to pay his fees.
But while away from school, talented young Lwandamina honed his football skills. And when it was time to continue with his studies after two years, he went straight to the final grade and easily aced it to qualify at Ndeke Secondary School.
In his first year at Ndeke, Lwandamina was appointed captain of the football team, lording it over older boys for the next five years.
By the time he was in his final year in school, doubling up as a prefect, Lwandamina had offers from several football clubs. He was that good.
He eventually landed at Mufulira Blackpool before later joining Mufulira Wanderers.
But a horrific knee injury in 1992 would hamper the promising career of the stocky defender.
In fact, for almost three years, he had to rely on binding the knee and pain-killing injections until he was forced into early retirement in 1995.
“It was never my dream that I would do coaching, I wanted to do something else after playing, but my club saw some leadership qualities in me, and they sent me to Germany,” Lwandamina frankly tells FARPost in a telephonic interview.
His mind was all set. He would pursue law and become a legal practitioner.
But the devout Lwandamina believes God had other plans for his life.
“I wanted to do law – that was my ambition, but I have no regrets at all, this is my destiny,” he adds.
It all happened in an interesting way, however. Just when he was contemplating on hanging up his boots in 1995, Wanderers were sending Ashious Melu for a coaching course in Germany.
The instruction was clear. Upon Melu’s return, Lwandamina would have to forget about playing and serve as his assistant. He would also get his chance to go and do a coaching course in Germany.
So, soon after he quit playing, Lwandamina was appointed assistant coach to Melu at Wanderers in 1995 and the team won its first league title in 17 years which they retained the following year.
After attending a coaching course in Germany, he took over the reins at Wanderers when Melu died in January 1997.
Thrown right into the deep end, Big George gradually grew into coaching, managing nine-time Zambian champions Mufulira Wanderers with such aplomb.
“I’ve learnt that God uses people, I’ve tried not to disappoint those people who believed in me, they are always at the back of my mind,” the modest coach says.
But he developed the knack for mentoring young players rather than glorying in ready-made stars.
It then became an easy choice to take charge of Nchanga Rangers’ development structures after leaving Wanderers in 2000.
But his stay there would be short-lived. His next port of call is a stint very close to his heart.
He was handed the national Under 20 team with whom he won the Cosafa Cup in 2003 and then finished as runners up in 2004 and 2005.
“The captain of Zambia’s 2012 AFCON winning team was one of the boys I coached,” he says with pride in reference to former Jomo Cosmos forward Christoper Katongo.
The likes of Mamelodi Sundowns goalie Kennedy Mweene, Stopilla Sunzu, Emmanuel Mayuka, Rainford Kalaba and Davies Nkausu all passed through his hands in the national Under 20 team.
His biggest achievement was when he guided Zambia’s Under 20 to the last 16 of the World Cup in Canada in 2007.
The same boys he coached at youth level graduated to become African champions with the senior national team in 2012.
The pinnacle of his success though, was turning Zesco United into a continental powerhouse.
‘Big George’ is undoubtedly Zesco’s most successful coach, winning four league titles during his two stints.
He won the title in 2014 and 2015 after joining Zesco from Red Arrows in February 2014, adding back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019 in his second spell.
In between those stints, he lifted the 2016/17 Tanzania domestic title with Young Africans.
Lwandamina also presided over Zesco’s best continental showing to date, reaching the semi-finals of CAF Champions League in 2016.
“Winning the league with Zesco (is the most memorable thing in my coaching career), they became a household name in African football. We even reached the semi-final of the Caf Champions League,” he recalls.
Of course, he has had stints with the national team before but nothing, for him, beats seeing his boys go on to be world beaters.
Having taken his craft to Dar es Salaam, where he oversees Azam FC, ‘Chicken’, as he is affectionately known in football circles, wants to take the club to another level.
“As a coach, you go into this job to improve the position of the club, which is very important as you compete and take care of the status of the club with the support of management and the sponsor,” he says.
A multiple league championship winner in two different countries, he knows pretty well that it will take the second title triumph to improve the image of Azam.
Azam FC gained promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their short history in 2008/09. In the 2011/12 season, the club finished in a historic second place below Young Africans.
Two years later, they were crowned champions, a feat they would want to repeat in the current season.
And Big George is determined to turn his players into world beaters!
RELATED STORY: DEAL DONE: Lwandamina joins Azam
By Mthokozisi Dube