DEFENDER PAR EXCELLENCE
Birth and roots
Eston Mulenga was born on August 7, 1967 in Kitwe, the home of Zambia’s most successful club in the Premier League, Nkana FC, a team he would go on to play for later, in a truly illustrious career, that saw him launch his playing career at Chililabombwe’s Konkola Blades and Army side Green Buffaloes before coming to roost at the Wusakili Township – based team.
Style of play and nickname
Considered a legend in the Nkana hall of fame, not to mention the Zambian pantheon in general, Mulenga was known for his head-diving and bicycle kicks, man-to-man marking, clean-tackling and consistent quality performances, week-in, week-out.
He was also revered for his incomparable reading of the game, expert-timing, dominance in both aerial as well as on the ground, recovery powers, lightning pace, passing precision and brilliant sense of organization in the heart of central defense – both at club and national level.
And most importantly, his cool, calm and collected aura was a joy to behold.
For possessing these qualities, he endeared himself to both the Nkana Football Club faithful as well the sea of the Zambia national team followers of all shades and hue.
It was owing to his light skin pigmentation that Mulenga was affectionately dubbed “King Yellow-man” by his admirers.
Mulenga launched his club career proper with Konkola Blades in 1982, a club that was originally called Bancroft North End when the National Football League (NFL) was established in 1962 with 12 other teams forming the top-flight. Later, the team came to be known as Bancroft Blades before it was christened Konkola Blades, a name the club maintains to the present.
Having spent two years in the ‘B’ team of the Chililabombwe based team, the technical bench, impressed with the blossom of youth of Mulenga, his by leaps and bounds graduation was the recipe to being ushered into the main team at the start of the 1985 season.
Eston, aged 17 and 5 months, would become a member of the Konkola Blades ‘A’ team in no time.
In his first season with the border town team, sadly, they finished second from bottom in 11th position on the 12-team log and were relegated to the lower tier (First Division). Kabwe United sat at the very bottom.
Having seen the precocious Mulenga in action twice when Green Buffaloes played them home and away in the league, the Army side’s scouts, whose team had finished 6th on the log that season, used ‘the relegation bait’ to lure the promising young to Arrakan Barracks.
Come 1986, Mulenga was playing at the heart of the Buffaloes’ defense. In Mulenga’s first term with the soldier boys, the team went on to finish in mid- table – in exactly the same position as the year before.
It came as no surprise that in his second year with Buffaloes in 1987, then national team head-coach Samuel Ndhlovu gave Mulenga his first call and that was the start of his illustrious career for country.
The beginning of the 1990 season saw Mulenga being unveiled as a Nkana FC player, as if to complete the full circle, Kitwe being his place of birth and it being the land of Zambia’s most successful side in the history of the Premier League, spurred him, no doubt.
The move to Nkana Stadium coincided with Mulenga winning a treble in his very first season with the Kitwe giants – the Premier league title.
While the 1990 league title was Mulenga’s first ever in his career, on the one hand, it was Nkana’s third consecutive title, a feat that put them at par with three other clubs to have captured the title three years on the bounce: Mufulira Wanderers (1965, 1966 and 1967), Kabwe Warriors (1970, 1971 and 1972) and Green Buffaloes (1973, 1974 and 1975).
Earlier in the season, Mulenga savoured the Charity Shield success with the Reds as they beat Vitafoam United 2-1 in the final played at Arthur Davies Stadium, home to six-time Premier League champions, Power Dynamos.
And to crown it all, in Mulenga’s maiden season, walked away with a Heroes and Unity Cup winners’ medal to end the 1990 season on a high.
The following season saw Mulenga win a double with Nkana of the Charity Shield and the Mosi Cup.
In the 1991 Charity Shield, Nkana thrashed Mutondo Stars 4-0 in a final staged at Chingola’s Nchanga Stadium.
Mulenga’s Nkana emerged victors after edging out town-mates Power Dynamos 5-4 on post-match penalties after open play had stymied 1-1 at Lusaka’s Independence Stadium.
Playing in his third season at Nkana Stadium in 1992, Mulenga, as fortune would have it, scooped the second treble of his short stay at the 12-time Premier League winners – winning the league title, the BP Top 8 Cup as well as the Mosi Cup for the second time on the bounce.