Eston Mulenga fact-file

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From yesterday

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In emerging victorious as 1992 league rulers, Nkana, from 30 matches, collected 66 points to push Mufulira Wanderers into second place, 3 points less than the champions.

The Mulenga-marshalled Nkana defence, conceded 18 goals in as many matches while the Kelvin Mutale-led forward-line rattled in 56 goals.

And in one of the most spectacular comebacks in the BP Top 8 Cup finals’ history, Nkana 2-0 down at the interval, rallied back with a (Kelvin) Mutale brace and Captain Dennis Kabwe contributing the other to give Eston his first taste of the prestigious BP Zambia plc-sponsored tournament’s crowning glory.

And to put the cherries on the cake, Mulenga would walk the podium to collect his Mosi Cup winners’ medal following Nkana’s 5-1 destruction of Forest Rangers in a one-sided final played at Lusaka’s Independence Stadium with second half introduction Musole Sakulanda claiming a famous hat-trick in a space of 20 minutes.

Mulenga’s last glorious moment with Nkana was the 1993 Charity Shield final win as his team narrowly beat Zamsure 1-0 at Ndola’s Trade Fair Ground, then home to Zesco United.

As is well documented, Mulenga and 17 of his senior Zambia national team colleagues would perish in the infamous April 1993 Gabon Air Disaster that also took the lives of his two coaches and 10 other passengers aboard the buffalo military plane.

As it turned out, Nkana, despite losing five of its finest players in the plane crash that year, contrary to what most observers anticipated, that the team’s performance would slump, would go on to steal all other pieces of silverware on offer to re-write history.

Not only did Nkana win the Premier League title, but also captured the BP Top 8 Cup, the Mosi Cup, the Heroes and Unity Cup and the Champion of Champions Cup – as if to posthumously honour their former club-mates who died in the Gabon plane crash: (Eston) Mulenga, John Soko, Mwitwa, Moses Chikwalakwala and Numba Mwila.

What a change of fortune for Eston – the switch from Konkola Blades then to Bufflaoes and finally Nkana!

Having drawn blanks at both Konkola and Buffaloes between 1985 and 1987 – Mulenga would be compensated handsomely at Nkana with 2 league titles, 2 Charity Shields, 2 BP Top 8 Cups, 3 Mosi Cups and 1 heroes and Unity Cup to go to his tomb with 10 overall title in all competitions between 1990 and early 1993.

During this period, the Champion of Champions was the only trophy Mulenga missed on lifting.

Individual honour

On a personal note, Mulenga’s highest personal achievement came when he won the 1992 Zambia Footballer-of-the-Year award.

By that feat, he joined three others before him to have won the coveted individual award from Nkana FC in the names of Bernard “Bomber” Chanda (1974), Gibby “Mupike” Mbasela (1990) and Ronald “Sate-Sate” Kampamba (2014), the only player to have stolen the award after Mulenga’s own larger-than-life attainment in 1992.

Coincidentally, all the four former Nkana players to have won the national Most Valuable Player (MVP) award have had famous nicknames: “King Yellowman” (Mulenga), “Bomber” (Chanda), “Mupike” (Mbasela) and “Sate-Sate” (Kampamba).

International career

First capped for Zambia in 1987, Mulenga made two AfCON appearances and played in one Olympic Games as well as three CECAFA tournaments.

Having established himself in the heart of the Zambia senior team in late 1987, Mulenga played in all his team’s five matches during the 1990 Algeria-held AFCON finals as the Samuel “Zoom” Ndhlovu tutored side won bronze.

In all of the three Group ‘B’ matches in which Zambia beat both Cameroon and Kenya by an identical 1-0 score-line respectively, before drawing 0-0 with Senegal between March 3 to 9, Mulenga was a Mr. Ever-Present in the Zambian line-up.

When Zambia were humbled 2-0 by Nigeria in the semi-finals, Mulenga together with Samuel Chomba, anchored the central defence.

Similarly, in the third play-off match in which Zambia beat Senegal through a Webster Chikabala lone goal, Mulenga was very much a vital cog of the flat four defence band of Soko, Changwe and Chomba.

Elsewhere, Mulenga, the man they fondly called King Yellow-man, was part and parcel of the 1992 Zambia squad to the Senegal-held tournament in which edition Mulenga and Co. were sent packing in the quarter-finals after being beaten 1-0 by Co d’Ivoire on January 20, 1992.

Earlier in Zambia’s Group D matches, she beat Egypt 1-0 in her opening game but would be defeated by the same score-line by Ghana in the second and last match of the pool, Abedi Pele scoring the only goal of the match at the Stade Aline Sitoe Diatta in the town of Ziguinchor.

And in the memorable 1988 Seoul Olympics in which Zambia produced a sensational 4-0 mauling of Italy in the group stage before exiting in the quarter-finals, Mulenga played a key role in defence with skipper Ashious Melu and Edmund Mumba.

Other prominent members of that famous squad were fellow Gabon plane crash colleagues Efford Chabala, Derby Makinka, Samuel Chomba, Wisdom Chansa and Richard Mwanza.

Others were Manfred Chabinga, Pearson Mwanza, Lucky Msiska, Kalusha Bwalya, Charles Musonda, Stone Nyirenda and Johnson Bwlaya, among others.

In the regional CECAFA tournament, Mulenga formed part of the 1988 team to the Malawi-held tournament where Zambia were beaten 3-1 by the host nation. 

In the 1991 CECAFA competition, Mulenga was in the victorious Zambian team that beat Kenya 2-0 in the final, in the Uganda-staged championship.

King Yellowman was also an integral part of the Zambia team that won bronze at the 1992 CECAFA showpiece won by Uganda.

Legacy

Very few players would play for a club in the top-flight for a short period like three years and go on to win 10 honours. Yet Mulenga, just under three seasons at Nkana, won a dozen accolades in addition to the individual national Footballer-of-the-Year award.

And for the fact that he held on to the central defence position for five consecutive years, only for the Gabon Air Diasater to disrupt that incredible longevity, is another bright spot on Mr. King Yellow-man’s rich CV.

Personal life 

At the time of the Gabon plane crash, Eston Mulenga, aged 25, though he had fathered a son, was still a member of the Bachelor club just like the youngest players two players of Moses Chikwalakwala (18 years and 8 months) and Kenani Simambe (18 years and 8 months), Mwila Numba (20 and 11 months) and John Soko (24 years and 11 months).

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