The Malawi National Soccer Team (Flames) as the then reigning champions of the 1988 Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) cup, were scheduled to play the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers against Swaziland on 9th April 1989 in Mbabane and on 23rd April 1989 in Blantyre while Ethiopia was slated to battle it out against Egypt in Addis Ababa on 9th April 1989 and in Cairo on 21st April 1989.
In preparation for these two important assignments, the football associations of Malawi and Ethiopia mutually agreed to slot in two international friendly matches between the Flames and Ethiopia to be held in Addis Ababa on 26th and 28th March 1989. The first match ended with a 1-1 draw. Peterkins Kayira scored for the Flames with a penalty.
The second match ended prematurely following a mayhem that erupted in the stadium while Ethiopia was leading 1-0. Ethiopia had a deadly striker called Mulugeta Weldeyes who was held in high esteems the manner Kinna Phiri was revered in Malawi during his peak in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
As Mulugeta Weldeyes was speeding towards an aerial set piece coming from behind into the Flames’ 18 yard box while being pursued by a Flames defender (Jersey number 12 who appears to be Felix Nyirongo in the TV footage), Flames’ goalie George Waya (Amunantapo) quickly charged with a one leg-studs up tackle against Mulugeta Weldeyes .
Upon a head-on collision with George Waya, Mulugeta Weldeyes fell down. When Mulugeta Weldeyes’ teammate (Jersey 21) who had scored the first goal, came closer to where Mulugeta Weldeyes was lying, he reacted by touching at the back of his head with his two hands as he walked away. It was said that in Ethiopia once someone does that upon the sight of an individual battling for life, it is a symbolic communication of instant death or funeral.
The Ethiopians who had jampacked the stadium couldn’t fathom that as they were bracing to fulfill an important AFCON fixture against Egypt in two weeks, their own legend Mulugeta Weldeyes could just be ‘slaughtered’ by a foreigner on their own soil just like that.
The Ethiopian fans erupted in fury and descended on the pitch to avenge the death of their legend who was merely lying unconscious but still alive. They wanted the entire Flames squad starting with George Waya himself dead. George Waya sensing danger, quickly threw away his jersey, disguised himself as being part of the angry mob that had invaded the pitch and disappeared to the dressing room unharmed.
Almost the entire Flames squad including the substitutes and officials at the bench were physically beaten and assaulted with all sorts of objects like bottles, sticks and stones that the angry fans could lay their hands on.
The situation was exceedingly volatile such that while some injuries that the Flames players like Frank Sinalo and Ibra Mwase sustained from the mayhem would require a referral to a health facility for further treatment, it was not safe for any member of the Flames squad to be seen anywhere in public.
In an interview with Lost History Foundation in June 2020, former Flames midfielder Peterkins Kayira who had managed to skip through the fracas to the dressing room unharmed like George Waya said:
“…The Ethiopians were too hostile against us. We couldnt get back to our hotel let alone take our colleagues who were injured to the hospital. The Ethiopians were literally clamouring for our blood. It was really scary and actually a miracle that we all came back to Malawi alive. And what a sigh of relief that was the moment our plane finally took off at the airport in Addis Ababa…”
The military cushioned the Flames in the dressing room at the stadium until the marauding crowds were dispersed. Some mobs rushed to the hotel where the Flames had been lodging to attack them upon their arrival from the stadium.
Hence straight from the stadium, the Flames were escorted to another hotel for their own safety under heavy military security to spend their last night where team doctor B.B. Nngonda who despite being injured, continued to offer first aid treatment to the players and officials who were traumatised.
Meanwhile, the team manager, Lt. General Clement Kafuwa, utilised his military skills to coordinate a night operation to evacuate all the equipment and personal effects of the Flames squad from the hotel they had been staying to where they would spend their last night.
The following day, the Flames were escorted by the military to the airport where they boarded the plane without passing through the normal immigration procedures and the boarding gates like the rest of the passengers. They were driven by the military straight to the plane to board upon collecting back their passports which were taken for stamping in a batch.
The injury that Mulugeta Weldeyes sustained marked the end of his illustrious soccer career prematurely. While the Flames won their two AFCON matches against Swaziland on 3-1 on goal aggregate and proceeded to the second round in which they were booted out by Kenya 3-2 on goal aggregate (in July 1989), Ethiopia lost to Egypt 6-2 on goal aggregate and bowed out of the 1990 AFCON race.