Given the widespread popularity of football in Zambia, the poor performance of the national soccer (football) team in the mid 1970s triggered protests from fans and a decisive move by President Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) government to control the game. Kaunda was interested in football and his government played a role in the development of the game, but they also feared that their political opponents might use football as a vehicle for expressing dissent. This article examines how Kaunda and his UNIP government contributed to the development of football in post-colonial Zambia, how they attempted to control the game and how Kaunda tried to use football to shore up his popularity. It argues that despite Kaunda’s one-party state having authoritarian tendencies and control over most aspects of Zambian society, it never gained total control of football. This was because many ordinary citizens paid close attention to the involvement of authorities in the running of soccer and reacted forcefully whenever they felt that their game was being mismanaged. This further hints at the state’s awareness of its vulnerability if popular sentiment were to turn against the incumbent government.
Keywords: football, Zambia, soccer, Kenneth Kaunda, United National Independence Party, sports history