JACKSON Mbale has been a faithful aficionado of Kitwe footballing giants Nkana Football Club from January 8, 1955 – the day he was born.
He turns 65 today yet his admiration and devotion for Nkana is unswerving. And with his position as Nkana Midlands Supporters Association chairperson, Mbale is even grooming young supporters to take over from him when he no longer has the strength to cheer the team.
Nkana FC was formed in Kitwe’s Wusakili township in 1935, making it one of the oldest football teams in Zambia. It was first named Rhokana United FC before it became Nkana Red Devils.
The club had a long history of success during the 1980s and early 1990s, winning nine league titles between 1982 to 1993.
In 1990, Nkana were runners-up in the African Cup of Champions, the only Zambian team to ever reach the finals.
All in all, Nkana has been crowned national champions 12 times – no other team has won that many times making Mbale believe Nkana ‘likulu’ (it’s a big team).
According to Mbale, his affection for Nkana was passed on to him by his parents.
Mbale’s parents worked for Rhokana Mine – the sponsors of the team – they stayed in Kitwe’s Wusakile township, the home of the team and supported Nkana. All this was passed onto him.
As he grew up in Wusakili, so did Mbale’s attachment to Nkana, leaving him with a permanent obsession for the team.
Supporting Nkana – aba Red – is now in his blood!
On match days, Mbale is not to be missed. He has a special attire which makes him conspicuous – a red hat with white “Nkana” inscription, white T-shirt with red writing, red pants which are usually covered with a flared red miniskirt complete with red shoes. A red handbag, dark sunglasses and huge round ear-rings to complete his unique look.
Mbale says the only other team he supports is the Chipolopolo.
“I do not support any other team, not even in the English Premier League because I have hope that Nkana will one day play with Arsenal. So I don’t want to be conflicted in terms of which team to support. Nkana is my life,” he explains.
Nothing brings Mbale more joy than when his team wins. In fact, Mbale says his best memories are the twelve times Nkana have been crowned league champions.
In 1982, Mbale married Ireen whom he spotted in the Nkana Supporters choir. They have seven children and 11 grandchildren who often are on hand to console the die-hard fan when his team loses.
Mbale explains that although witnessing Nkana lose games is a bitter pill to swallow, the greatest pain he has ever felt came when the team was relegated from super league football to division One in 2001.
“That was very painful, thinking about it even now makes me feel like dying,” he says of the demotion that was compounded by financial problems.
It’s clear that Mbale will remain a permanent feature at Nkana matches for a long time to come.
Story and pictures by Salim Dawood