Mulfira Wanderers

One of the reminisced memories through childhood was to play a puzzle game using Geography Atlas book with my siblings. We aimed to test ourselves knowledge with countries, their capital cities and stronghold of their economy. The name I mastered to pronounce with ease was Lusaka, a capital city of Zambia – a country situated in the Southern African region with over 17 million population and its economy has historically been based on the copper mining industry.

Lusaka is bolstered with luxurious hotels, Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, and Lusaka national museum. However, the city doesn’t hold a rich football history. Any Zambian historian with bloated knowledge of country’s football would take you a small town – approximately 400km from the capital to find, one of the interesting stories about the game. Located near the neighboring country Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) border, the tiny town of Mufulira, would be a proud city to have one of the oldest and successful clubs in Zambian League, Mufulira Wanderers. The mainstay of town is mining but agriculture and crossborder trading complement are contributing largely in terms of the employment opportunities.

At first, the mine workers formed a club to challenge a municipal own- Blackpool up until a Mufulira Wanderers Football Club was founded in 1953 under the name Mufulira Mine Team. It has always been a mine sponsored team since inception in the copper-rich town of Mufulira. Before they used small pitch called Mutende Ground before moving to the current home slaughterhouse – Shinde Stadium. Shinde is in the local dialect of Ushi means April.

The stadium construction was completed in April, hence the name. The mighty, as is commonly known, is the most decorated in the Zambia Premier League with a total of forty-nine trophies including nine Zambian league championship and forty cup titles. In terms of league titles, they are second-highest behind Nkana Football Club who stands at twelve league titles. There is a big debate between Nkana FC and Wanderers FC on which team has the largest support base but it’s widely believed that Nkana comes first with Wanderers lying second.

The club biggest rivalry is cross-town rivals Mufulira Blackpool FC who like a forgotten club since they are competing in third tier of the Zambian football league having crippled with sponsorship challenges. The rivalry is that of economic class more than anything. Blackpool is sponsored by the Municipal Council and Wanderers is sponsored by the copper mine. Therefore, it’s a Mine against Council affair. The more interesting fact is that the town is planned in such a manner that the main highway (Mufulira-Sabina Highway) leading to the CBD has the mining area on one side and the council side on the other. So rival fans see the highway as the border. Wanderers began their dominance back in the period of 1960- 69 with late Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndhlovu being a stellar driver of the ship as the club won the record five leagues titles including three times in a row 1964- 67. Ndhlovu would go on to scoop 1964 Zambian Sportsman of the year award and later being applauded of his loyalty as he denied an opportunity to join English team Blackpool in order to stay with the club. Later, ‘Zoom’ would be a much-celebrated icon in his country and regarded as the best coach the country has ever produced. He is treated like a man behind current Zesco United coach George Lwandamina success as he taught him some football tactics.

For the past two decades, Wanderers have been losing the status of dominance as they have a zilch trophy to showcase in their cabinet and found themselves relegated twice( 2005, 2017) in the process. The last time a club won a silverware was back in 1997 with British Petroleum (BP) top eight. The former chairperson of Wanderer’s supporter’s society Wesley Mutembo believes when cooper mines were privatised by government in 1998 – the sponsorship was reduced so the club failed to maintain its powerhouse status.”Wanderers just like many mines sponsored teams on the Copperbelt Province that were negatively affected by the privatisation of the state-owned mining conglomerate called The Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM)”  Wesley explained.

“ZCCM sponsored other big teams on the Copperbelt Province and had branches in almost all the towns in the province. These branches were called Divisions, for instance, ZCCM Mufulira Division sponsored Mufulira Wanderers. ZCCM Nkana Division in the city of Kitwe sponsored Nkana FC. ZCCM Nchanga Division in the town of Chingola sponsored Nchanga Rangers FC. ZCCM Power Division of the city of Kitwe sponsored Power Dynamos FC. When ZCCM was privatised by government in 1998, the new mine owners reduced and in some cases withdrew sponsorship.

That affected Wanderers fans, other teams. But for Wanderers, the problem was further compounded with poor administration of the club.”One of the historic day in country’s football history is 02 December 2017, Zesco United, Zanaco were separated with a point heading to the last league match. A victory for Zesco at 49 800 Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola, over Wanderers would guarantee them a sixth league title while the opponents needed three points to stay in top-flight football hoping Nakambala Leopards and Nchanga Rangers would play into a draw.

But Wanderers would ultimately lose 3-1 to Zesco to be relegated for the second time in the club’s history. There were mixed emotions inside the Stadium as the helicopter carrying the league trophy landed as other fans were in tears seeing their team being relegated. Wesley says he even cried on the day because of the love he has for the club.”I shed tears too” Zesco was in contention for the league title with Zanaco on the very final day. Zanaco were playing in Lusaka (against Forest Rangers) and Zesco was at home in Ndola. The Zambian FA arranged a helicopter which was stationed at some location between the two cities, Lusaka and Ndola which is 321km apart. This was to ensure easy delivery of the trophy once the winner was established.

When Zesco beat Wanderers and Wanderers fans were still weeping, the helicopter landed in the stadium much to the agony of the relegated team. It was a very sad day”.Wesley thinks to replicate the good heydays is far from the club besides having made some serious strides to ensure they maintain top-flight status A little more streamlining can make them bag another cup. For a club with wealthy of history having produced players like 1988 African Player of the year Kalusha ‘King Kalu’ Bwalya, Charles Musonda, George ‘Chicken’ Lwandamina, Johnson ‘One man Commando’ Bwalya, Fredrick Kashimoto ‘Efford’ David Chabala, Allan Kamwanga, and Bilton Musonda (the current Green Buffaloes coach). So that’s why many people say “football is cruel”.