Despite being crowned the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) cup champions for the 1978, 1979 and 1988 editions, there were three CECAFA tournaments that the Malawi National Soccer Team (Flames) were geared to lift again but couldn’t make it.
The first one was the CECAFA tournament held in December 1984 in Uganda. The Flames which had a few months earlier participated at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament for the first time in March 1984 in Ivory coast where Flames’ Clifton Msiya netted goal of the tournament against Nigeria (2-2), managed to reach the finals of the 1984 CECAFA tournament to play against Zambia on 15th December 1984 in Kampala (Uganda).
Following a 0-0 draw in regular time, Zambia won the match 3-0 during post-match penalty shoot outs to win the CECAFA cup for the first time. This was an act of bitter revenge for Zambia against the Flames following a painful defeat (3-2) they suffered at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre on 19th November 1978 during another CECAFA final match.
Some soccer fans in Malawi feel that the 1984 CECAFA should have been the moment for the Flames which was in good form after participating at the 1984 AFCON, to lift the CECAFA cup for the third time .
The next CECAFA tournament that according to some soccer commentators, the Flames were geared to win after missing the 1984 CECAFA gold medals by a whisker, was the 1987 edition which was held in December 1987 in Ethiopia.
Earlier on in August 1987, the Flames had won bronze medals at the 1987 All Africa Games in Kenya where they clobbered Africa’s soccer giants such as Senegal, Cameroon, and Egypt with Flames’ deadly striker Lawrence Waya clinching a golden boot as top goal scorer of the tournament having netted 5 goals.
It was after this brilliant performance at the All Africa Games, that the Flames traveled to Ethiopia in December 1987 to participate at the 1987 CECAFA tournament as favorites where a tragedy occurred to the Flames forcing them to withdraw from the tournament .
During the first assignment against Zimbabwe on 13th December 1987 in the city of Asmara, the Football Association of Malawi (FAM) Chairman Mc. Ewen Kumichongwe suddenly collapsed. He was pronounced dead a while later at the hospital where he had been rushed straight from the stadium. Other sources indicate that cardiac arrest was the cause of his death.
The Flames drew against Zimbabwe 1-1 following an equaliser from Lawrence Waya which was delivered with a header beautifully converted from a corner kick by Holman Malunga.
The Flames immediately returned home in somber mood while mourning the passing of Mc Ewen Kumichongwe who had led their delegation to Ethiopia. Nevertheless, Zimbabwe which had played against the Flames in the first game proceeded to reach the finals in which they lost to the host Ethiopia 4-3 (post-match penalty shoot outs following 1-1 draw) on 27 December 1987.
The following year, it was the turn for Malawi to host the 1988 CECAFA tournament. The Flames scooped the championship for the third and last time after beating Zimbabwe 2-0 in the semi-final at Civo Stadium in Lilongwe on 17 November 1988 and then hammered Zambia 3-1 in the final match on 19 November 1988 at Kamuzu Stadium in Blantyre thereby revenging for the loss of 15th December 1984 in Kampala (Uganda).
At this time, Chief Justice Richard Banda (retired) had been appointed by the Life President of the Republic of Malawi Dr. Kamuzu Banda to replace Mc Ewen Kumichongwe as FAM Chairman.
The 1989 CECAFA edition which was held in Kenya is another tournament at which luck was not on the Flames side to clinch the championship despite reaching the finals. The first choice goalie Donnex Gondwe had sustained an injury, he couldnt play any more while his substitute Ganizani Masiye who replaced him, had some difficulties with his sight.
For the final match against Uganda on 16th December 1989, goalkeeper George Waya who had been dropped as the Flames were traveling to Kenya, was as a matter of urgency flown from Malawi to help the Flames defend the CECAFA trophy.
As it happened at the 1984 CECAFA, the Flames lost 2-1 to Uganda during post-match penalty shoot outs following a 3-3 draw at the end of extra-time. Three minutes before the end of the first half (regular time), the Flames were comfortably in the lead 3-1. Barely 5 minutes before the end of the second half (regular time), the Flames were leading 3-2 before Uganda scored an equiliser to force the match into extra-time.