By Al Gunn, London
It is every young footballer’s dream to represent their country. For 19-year old Lyson Zulu that dream has come true in a way that he could not have predicted.
A week ago, student Lyson Zulu was hoping to secure a debut appearance – on trial for UK amateurs Loughborough. And on Tuesday morning he got the call he was expecting. He was to start for their first team that night. Then, half an hour later, he got a call he had not imagined possible. He was in the Zambia National Squad to play the mighty Black Stars of Ghana in London the next day.
The call had been made because FAZ had run into trouble, failing to secure visas for over half their pros. At the last minute, three UK-based Zambians playing student-level football were called up to supplement the squad. “It was an opportunity I could not refuse”, said Lyson as he took time out from work at Multisport, a training camp for teenage kids, to tell Lusaka Times the story.
“I got the call around midday on Tuesday, after learning I was playing for Loughborough that night. I played 90 minutes on Tuesday evening for Loughborough then travelled down to meet the Zambia squad in London at midday on Wednesday. I was told I would play about 20 minutes, but because Mayuka and Njobvu were not there at kick-off I started and played the whole game”, explained the student. “I was tired but for your national team it’s something you are happy to do.”
Kalingalinga-born Lyson is in the UK on a sports scholarship, part-funded by the Zambian youth academy he started out with, EduSport. He is working towards a degree in Sports Performance at the University of Bath, which he will complete next year. He has represented Team Bath, a football club made up of University students that had reached one of the highest tiers of semi-professional football in the UK before it folded earlier this year. Bath is considered one of the top places for studying sport in the UK.
So was Lyson intimidated when he joined up with his famed compatiots before the game? “I had played with my friend Fwayo Tembo, Hichani Himoonde and Given Singulumu at EduSport, so it was not a problem. Hervé Renard also welcomed me to the squad and encouraged me to do my best. He was so professional, I was impressed with his style!” And what of the Black Stars? “They were very professional, confident and they played well.”
Lyson led the line for the Zambians on Wednesday. He was up against Francis Dickoh, the strong centre-back from Jacob Mulenga’s FC Utrecht, and Eric Addo who also plays in Holland for Roda JC. Against such an experienced, tough defence, Lyson struggled to make an impression. He explained “I was not playing in my usual position. I am a winger and can play No.10 just off the main striker. Because we had so few players I was asked to play No.9. So I didn’t play my best. I can play a lot better!” Given Singuluma, Zambia’s regular No.9 and CHAN top-scorer, deputised in midfield.
The team struggled after an early injury to Nyambe Mulenga, a red-card for Dennis Banda and the late arrival of the Israeli-based duo, who arrived just in time for Ghana’s fourth and final goal just before half-time. “I thought we defended well in the second half”, argued Zulu. “Hervé was calm and got us together at half-time. We came out more compact and having Njobvu in midfield for the second half helped us too.” 10-man Zambia held Ghana off in the second period, preventing a seriously embarrassing scoreline, which had seemed possible. He was kinder on his team-mates than some fans have been, saying that overall they did well. He was not surprised to learn that Fwayo’s performance had earned plaudits; “To be fair to him, he did put in a very good game.”
So what’s in the future for this young Chipolopolo boy? Does he see himself playing for his country again? “I hope so. I thought I could make it in about two years time and I still think that is possible. For now I am working towards my education to get a good degree and then a good job. I still hope to play football. I may have a sports scholarship in the USA soon so I will continue to learn and play.”
Whether Lyson Zulu gets to pull on the Zambian jersey again remains to be seen. However, it seems that whatever happen, his ambition and hard-work will lead to a successful career in sport. From captaining the EduSport team in Kalingalinga through to leading sports education projects in the UK, Lyson seems to have found a working answer to the question of whether to focus on his football or his education. He does both.
Which reminds us both that this newly annointed international footballer has to get back to teaching the kids at Multisport. “They have been asking me so many questions!”, he boasts. I doubt that I have grilled him half as hard as his protégés.
As Lyson prepares to groom a new generation of sports men and women, he insists on sending a message to the Chipolopolo fans who were at London’s Brisbane Road stadium on Wednesday. “Thank you so much to them, their support kept us going. We could hear them singing, ‘Zambia, Zambia’ which inspired us to make it through the second half without conceeding a goal.”