SCORES of Lusaka residents and former players gathered at the Zamsure Sports Complex on Saturday April 6 to attend the launch of the Jones Chilengi Foundation.
The foundation was named after the late national football team defender who captained Zambia to its first international trophy – the Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) Cup – in Uganda in 1984.
Saturday’s launch, held under the theme ‘Defending The Legacy’ was organised by the family and friends of the late Chilengi and was graced by among others his widow Anne and Chipolopolo legend Kalusha Bwalya. The highlight of the morning undoubtedly was a match between the Zamsure Legends – featuring some of Chilengi’s former teammates as well as players he coached – and The Rest.
The Rest started strong, scoring first through Nchimunya Mweetwa. However, and perhaps fittingly, the Zamsure Legends rallied to win 6-1, with Ferdinand Mwachindalo and David Siame grabbing a brace each while Moffat Mtonga and Cleo Musaula also added their names to the score sheet.
Chilengi played over 100 times for the national team, then known as the KK XI (or Kenneth Kaunda XI), earning his first cap in 1983.
He played as a defender for Super League side Green Buffaloes from 1975 to 1987, and later went on to coach Nitrogen Chemicals FC, Ndola United, Zamsure and Hwange FC of Zimbabwe.
Chilengi, 44 was still coaching Hwange FC when he died after a short illness in Hwange on April 9, 1999.
In an interview at Zamsure Complex, Jones Chilengi Junior described his pride in preserving his father’s legacy and how the foundation hopes to look into players’ welfare when they retire from the beautiful game.
What is the inspiration for the foundation?
The foundation’s main objective was to look at how to help retired soccer players after the end of their playing careers. The issue is that due to some research we have done, we’ve found that three out of five retired footballers, within the first five years of just retiring, fall on hard times. Jones Chilengi used to talk about it. My Dad used to say, “There’s a gap. Why don’t soccer players transition past their playing careers?” He said there are many jobs [former players] can do. Look at soccer analysts. In South Africa, once a player retires, he does a bit of training, education, and he becomes a soccer analyst. He works for a channel [like] SABC. That way he earns a sustainable income past his career. Now here in Zambia we find that this transition is not yet there. So the foundation wants to help players through the transition period.
Has the foundation been formally established yet?
This is the beginning. We’re just trying to see how it will be this year. The Jones Chilengi Foundation is a component of what we are calling the Jones Chilengi Sports Initiative. It’s got two parts; the first part is a sports development academy for both girls and boys. Right now we are in the process of clinching acquisitions with clubs in Turkey. So that’s where we are going … and we are encouraged that we are actually taking the right path.
If you look at our operations, it’s like a 360: we are looking at development … because that’s where I think it’s fundamental. During their playing career, everything seems fine, so we want to make sure that we are tapping the grassroots. That’s the stance we have taken, because those were Dad’s visions. He used to complain that, “I met a former player who is asking for small money.” It used to bother him. For the academy, he used to talk about more technically gifted players who are very good during transition play. You can play the game but what do you do when you lose the ball? That’s where the academy came in. So we took these two positions and made them the cornerstone of the Jones Chilengi Sports Initiative.
The response to the launch today has been quite impressive. How did you manage to assemble all these former players?
When we were trying to do our research, we found that Honour Janza is doing other things beyond his playing career. He was our focal point in mobilising the former players. From there we got the information to see that the ‘gap’ that Dad used to talk about is actually a reality. So we took it from there.
Please talk about your family and your involvement in this initiative
We are a family of four. The first born is Swithin, Tina, then me and Florence is the last born, but the most talkative! We were young [so] we didn’t actually understand the legacy Dad left behind. For me as time went on, I realised the impact he had; the value the name Chilengi carries. So my task is to honour my Dad. That’s why we came up with this initiative as a family and said let’s push this and see how far it goes.
And what would you like people to appreciate about his legacy?
For me the biggest thing that he brought – the first international trophy that Zambia won. I’m talking about national pride. Let’s be proud of our players and to a certain extent let’s look out for them. Let’s be a brother’s keeper. Just because I’m not on the pitch doesn’t mean I don’t exist. For me it’s about the pride and the unity. You know what happens when [Zambia] wins a trophy, how united we are. There are no barriers.