Talking Zambian, CAF, CECAFA and ASL with Faith Kaira

Green Eagles in control of the clash against Orlando Pirates in Zambia

Faith Kaira Sunzu, media officer of Green Eagles FC – Zambian Super League (ZSL)

Umar Mathir (UM): Hi Faith, kindly introduce yourself to the readers of ThisIsFootball.Africa.

Faith Kaira (FK): Hi, I’m Faith Kaira, I’m a public relations practitioner and journalist, and I currently work as Green Eagles Football Club Media as communications officer.

UM: Not too long ago, the team you’re a part of, Green Eagles FC (GEFC), defeated a top club team, which is considered by many people as the giant club of Zambian football, Green Buffaloes FC, please tell us a bit about that?

FK: Well, playing Green Buffaloes FC (GBFC) is always a game that is tricky and brings up some nerves because it’s a Military derby. Therefore, every time we are playing GBFC, there are always those tensions because both services are hoping to win, it’s a battle of the services, you get it? We are in the national service, and GBFC are in the Zambian army, so it was a very good game, and mostly, almost all of the time when we meet up with GBFC, the scoreline is so narrow. Playing GBFC and beating them by a goal to nil was expected. 

We would not  expect to win by a larger margin, even last season, when we played GBFC, we won by just a narrow margin. We rarely win by more than a goal or two goals to nil, it’s always been a slender margin for the most part, so this too, was a good game, a very highly contested game. GBFC had their own chances, and our team had some good chances as well, but it’s just that we were more fortunate, we pressed more in the final third, in the 18 yard box, and we put GBFC under pressure, which caused them to make some errors. Yeah. A handball won it for us. One of our strikers kicked the ball, and  the GBFC player handled it, so we ended up getting a penalty, which our left back Collins Mulenga scoring from the spot, in the 65th minute of the contest, that’s how we managed to get that goal.

Our start to this season has been quite shaky, we lost a good number of games and we lost some the first few games early on, but it’s good that we started winning again recently. We have an interim head coach currently, Alex Namazaba, our head coach whom we have for over four years, Aggreyi Chiyagi, was put on administrative leave, so we have a new coach now. He is the acting coach for the time being, and of our first 5 games played under Alex, we’ve drawn one, won three and lost one. It’s a turnaround of results which has seen our log position improve and that is actually pretty good for us.

UM: Green Eagles FC are an army team in Zambia, so too are Green Buffaloes FC, as well as Red Arrows FC, what is the actual relationship between these 3 clubs, what are the differences between them, and are there any other military club teams, besides them, in the Premier League of Zambia, the Zambia Super League (ZSL)?

FK: The relationship between Green Buffaloes, Red Arrows, Green Eagles is quite a close one, because we are all in the military.

I think to a certain degree, we all relate to each other, even when we are playing against each other, there is always that form of respect, it’s more like we are playing our brothers you see? 

There’s always that good understanding that we have, and the way we relate to other teams, is totally different, even the media teams of fellow military club teams. The way they would relate to me, when they meet me, they feel that I’m their sister, so the reception is always warm, and they’ll be very helpful when I’m at their stadiums looking for certain information, generally it’s very close, and it only gets tense (Giggling) when matches are actually being played. It becomes that battle to be victorious, it is a battle to see who is the better service, you get it?

There’s always that perception among us, that when we play a team, for example, Green Buffaloes, that we are definitely going to win, even though the reality of the matter is that we never really know what the outcome is going to be for sure, but we tend to have that sureness which creates a high level of positivity among us. 

Apart from these three teams mentioned so far, we also have other teams that are in the military. We have the Zambia Police sponsored team which is Nkwazi FC, as well as Prison Leopards FC, which is sponsored by the Zambian correctional service, yeah, so five military teams in the Premier League of Zambia, four of them currently doing well at the moment, with the exception being Nkwazi FC who are kind of struggling, and even last season, were almost relegated.

Talking about service teams, when we go to play other service teams, the reception is so different, these are our brothers, and even when we have them over for home games , there’s always that mutual understanding, mutual respect.

There’s always the following of protocol, because there are ranks, and so many other things involved, when it comes to our kind of teams, it’s different to when we are playing against civilian teams.

UM: In Zambia, Zanaco bank owns Zanaco FC, Power Dynamoes FC and Zesco United are owned and run by power utility service companies, NAPSA Stars are owned and run by the Zambian version of the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA). It seems that almost all the club teams in the ZSL are either owned by corporate companies or government entities, this is very unique from all the other better known leagues in Africa, how is this model working for Zambian football, and do you think it should remain the way it is?

Faith Kaira on official Green Eagles FC duty.
Faith Kaira on official Green Eagles FC duty.

FK: Well, you are very right, mostly teams in Zambia are either owned by corporate companies or government entities. To ask me if it should remain the way it is, somehow I’d say yes, because at the moment, Zambian football is developing. If you had come to Zambia and watched the ZSL 10 years ago, you would agree with what I’m telling you. Starting from the way players get paid, the way players are viewed, and with the emergence of social media now, the digital era, things have definitely changed and these corporate companies as well as the Zambian government have put up so many things, and have done so much to ensure that sport is supported in the country.

Now the thing is, mostly the teams that are doing well in the ZSL, are those teams that are owned and supported by goverment or corporate companies, like the Zambia National Service which is a part of the Military, owning Green Eagles, or the Zambian Air force which supports Red Arrows FC. You’ll find that players of these teams are given contracts, and they are given a job, so you’ll find that somebody is actually a soldier, but the main part of his duty is to play football.

There are no hassles or issues when it comes to these players having to get paid, as well as other administrative issues, but the teams that are owned by individuals really struggle alot, and most of the time, those are the kinds of teams that end up getting relegated.

Let’s take Lusaka Dynamoes for example, Lusaka Dynamoes used to be called “The Elite” because they had really good sponsors, they still have a good sponsor now too, but you will find that they would also pay high salaries, over and above their other expenses and day to day running of their club. In the long run, you would find players complaining and taking the club to CAF, because they hadn’t been paid for the last six months, among other issues.

So there were issues of players not getting paid, which training facilities to use, which stadiums they’ll be using for league matches, this all further goes to show that teams owned by individuals In Zambia suffer. More often than not, there’s an exodus of players, players moving to different teams, and these clubs end up remaining with below par players. The clubs owned by individuals tend to go out and get the top players, promise them a lot of money, but usually in the end, they fail to deliver on promises, again causing players to leave.

UM: That’s interesting

FK: The teams that are sponsored by corporate companies such as Zesco United have managed to stay in the game for so long, because they are able to pay for the upkeep of their facilities, pay their players their promised salaries, as well as their match-win bonuses. The very same way as the teams owned by government entities do, and you don’t find all the negative things like that happening with our military teams especially.

To say that the current make up of this league (ZSL) should change, could mean that the clubs would go down, and unless there are individuals with enough financial power to come in and help to sustain our club teams here, it’s really tricky, but the safest option for now would be to leave things exactly the way they are.

UM: Seems like it is working for Zambian football.

FK: Yes it is.  We do have a lot of supporters, as people are now starting to watch Zambian football again, especially when compared to those days in the past. But we still also have the trend of people preferring to watch European football, over local league games, so you’d find out at times, that the turnout at the stadiums isn’t high. Unless it is for those huge derbies, like the Kopala derby Between Nkana FC and Power Dynamoes FC, where people actually come through in large numbers, otherwise, we still very much need these corporate companies and government support model.

UM: How do teams travel around the different parts of Zambia, as recently as December 2021, I literally drove for some people, transitting through Botswana and Zambia to get to Tanzania. The roads in the specific route that we used inside Zambia were really hectic. How do you people manage?

FK: Mostly we use buses to move about. Yeah to move from one town to another, yes some of the roads are in really bad shape. The teams that suffer the most, are the ones playing in the Zambia National Division One league. They have to travel really long distances and go as far as Nakonde, which is a Zambian border town close to Tanzania

When compared to our teams that play in the Premier League, most teams are based in the major cities, so it’s not much of a hassle for us to travel. At Green Eagles FC we play teams that are in Lusaka, the Copperbelt region and teams from Ndola. The roads are much better for our away games.

UM: Please tell us about the CECAFA Club Cup, or Kagame Interclub Cup and Green Eagles participation in 2019?

FK: Well firstly [Chuckling] , I think I should confess that the Cecafa Club Cup tournament was my favourite. Because [Laughs], I learned so much and it was my first official tournament I covered with Green Eagles. I had moved around with Green Eagles for CAF games, everything happens so fast, you get it? 

You travel today, the game is two days away, after a game, usually the following day, you travel back. But with the Cecafa Club Cup, it was a different experience altogether, we had to be in that country, for almost a month, and come on, we’re talking about Rwanda here, it was a great experience. It was nice being there, meeting so many teams, there was TP Mazembe, Azam FC  and KCCA FC who were the eventual winners of the tournament that year.

It was really nice to meet different people involved in the game, from different countries. Green Eagles being first timers, we were invited as visitors, because we are not from that (CECAFA) region originally. When we went for this tournament, most other people involved expected us to get booted out of the tournament in the early stages, which I think has been the perception of most teams, even in CAF games, and I think that has somehow helped Green Eagles as we were always underrated.

This was the first time we were coming into the limelight, with people getting to know us. Yet, when we went to the Cecafa Club Cup with the underdog tag, we did so much better than most other teams in the history of that cup.

We came out second on the log in our group during the group stages. Then we made it to the knockout stages, then to the semifinals, where we were knocked out by eventual champions, KCCA FC of Uganda, in an exciting match that ended 4 – 3.

We won the third and fourth place playoff, which boosted the morale  within the team, as we were preparing for the upcoming CAF Champions League season, which we qualified for, as the second placed team in the ZSL, the previous season.

UM: Not too long after that, Green Eagles knocked South African giants Orlando Pirates FC, out of the CAF Champions League 2019/2020 season tournament. You and I met just hours before the return leg fixture took place at Orlando Stadium in SA, please tell the readers about this?

Supporters pack the stadium, in Zambia, to watch Orlando Pirates playing Green Eagles in their own country.
Supporters pack the stadium, in Zambia, to watch Orlando Pirates playing Green Eagles in their own country.

FK: (Giggling) I was excited that we were going to be playing Orlando Pirates, you know, these are teams we looked up to. You know, when you hear Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs, these are big teams in Africa, so we were excited, I was overexcited. I was like, so we’re going to see and meet the big name players of Orlando Pirates. Honestly, I was not nervous for the fact that we were going to play them in Zambia first, it was other people that were like “Yoh,  your’ll are playing Orlando Pirates, it’s game over for Green Eagles.”

We were looking for a stadium to use, as we were not playing our CAF home games in Choma, at the Choma Independence stadium, which is our home ground. Because of that we didn’t anticipate that a lot of people would be wanting to watch our match. We used the Kanzinze Stadium, and oh my gosh, it was something else, people actually traveled from the Copperbelt region and Lusaka, to come to watch Orlando Pirates playing, and the stadium was packed.

We won that first game 1 – 0. It gave us an advantage and hope coming into the second leg in South Africa. When we arrived in Jo’burg, there was this Holiday Inn hotel we stayed in, and I remember you also came through and we met face to face for the very first time, although we were already in touch via WhatsApp. Having to beat Orlando Pirates on aggregate at Orlando Stadium, we were not expecting it honestly.  Now that game, the second leg, is the one where I got nervous, seeing we were in Orlando Pirates territory. I was happy that we managed to qualify for the next round of the CAFCL.

UM: Faith, not many people know this, something transpired a day or night, before the Pirates vs Green Eagles clash in Orlando when Green Eagles were meant to train, please tell our readers what happened?

FK: Oh yeah, uhhh, so basically, when you participate in CAF games, the visiting teams are entitled to have a feel of the pitch a day before an actual fixture. We were supposed to do just that. We went to the Orlando Stadium,  we were err, I don’t know how to explain it, met some people who were refusing us access to the stadium. There was  a group of people who seemingly popped up out of nowhere, saying they were not authorised to allow us entry. There were people, on our side, who became really angry, and tempers began to rise, against people who did not even seem to be club officials.

I remember phoning Thandi (Merafi), the media officer of Orlando Pirates FC, and explaining to her what was going on. She was like “Okay, let me talk to them” and through her intervention along with the club’s security, after all that arguing, we were allowed entry from that point onwards.

It didn’t end there though, it was meant to be our private time, to get a feel of the pitch, and you just don’t want anyone else who is not a part of your team intruding. With it being such a big game for us, we tend to sometimes be emotional for these kind of fixtures, so when you see people, who are not from your team, you begin to suspect the unsuspectable [Laughing]. You start thinking things like, “They are trying to plan against us”, so there was that issue of us, as a team, wanting those people to leave. There were some people who wanted to sprinkle salt before we started training, we had to talk to them to try to get them to move away. But you know that there are some people who pretend as if they are leaving the stadium, but yet are still around !

UM: And?

FK: We could see some people on the terraces, trying to watch our training. But it was just meant to be a feel of the pitch for our team, and even when we finished that light training exercise, there was this one person, who came in, and I don’t know if he was carrying a jar or bucket with powders or salts, and I thought oh my gosh [Giggling]. It was something extraordinary, but at that particular moment you could feel yourself getting upset and angry as obviously you wouldn’t want the opposition team jeopardising your chances of winning.

Now that it has passed and we won that clash on aggregate, qualifying to the next round, I feel I overreacted. Because now, it just seems so funny, but at the time it wasn’t. However, overall, the trip to South Africa, was also a great experience.

UM: How was the feeling, knocking Pirates out of the CAFCL in that season? How were Green Eagles recieved back in Zambia after that? What were the headlines in the local newspapers like the next day?

Green Eagles in control of the clash against Orlando Pirates in Zambia
Green Eagles in control of the clash against Orlando Pirates in Zambia

FK: We were received as if we’d won the CAFCL [Laughing again]. Eish we found people at the airport. When we reached Choma, there were supporters on the roads, people were everywhere and I was actually trending on twitter. I don’t have a lot of followers on twitter, and yet all of a sudden people were liking and retweeting my tweets. I was like okay, this is new. 

I really loved it. You know we beat a major team, a team feared by many throughout the African continent. And that considering we at Green Eagles FC, are this team still trying to make a name for ourselves, against this vastly experienced team in CAF tournaments. Having to overcome them, and with me also being a part of that team, it will go down as a great part of the history books of Green Eagles FC. We were all so happy.

UM: In your opinion, apart from the incidents that took place at Orlando Stadium, how did Green Eagles FC, as a team, find the facilities, and how was the overall stay in South Africa?

FK: The stay was great, we didn’t have any trouble otherwise whatsoever. I actually met great people like you [Laughing again]. I actually got to know a few other people here, we went to some markets together, I actually walked to the mall, I’ve forgotten the name (Eastgate Shopping Centre, near Bedfordview, in Johannesburg) that is nearby. 

I’ve managed to buy gifts and other things for people back home in Zambia, the food was nice, the facilities were great, it wasn’t a hassle to look for a training pitch, we EVEN  found a good training pitch. SA has good infrastructure, and as for Orlando Stadium, it is such a beautiful stadium. Oh my god it is so nice, we’ve been to two other stadiums briefly, even though I didn’t get the chance to tour them properly and even after knocking out Orlando Pirates from the CAFCL, there was no hostile treatment or backlash, as you’d find from people in certain other countries.

Everything was so peaceful. We even met up with some Orlando Pirates fans, we found some outside our bus, we took pictures with them, it was a wonderful experience and among the many reasons why I would really love to visit South Africa again. Not under pressure like when I’m on duty for my team, because I want to watch some PSL games in SA stress free, especially the Soweto Derby being one of the fixtures I really want to attend.

Faith Kaira of Green Eagles FC, met with This Is Football Africa's Umar Mathir, on the 24th August 2019, hours before the Orlando Pirates vs Green Eagles second leg CAF Champions League clash.
Faith Kaira of Green Eagles FC, met with This Is Football Africa’s Umar Mathir, on the 24th August 2019, hours before the Orlando Pirates vs Green Eagles second leg CAF Champions League clash.

UM: In Zambia, how safe are supporters at stadiums, and what improvements in your opinion, should happen?

FK: They are quite safe actually, we’ve had very few incidents, mainly in the Copperbelt region as tempers tend to flare up more in that region, unlike in Lusaka or in the Southern Province. This happens especially when they have the Kopala derby, between Nkana FC and Power Dynamoes FC, both clubs being from Kitwe. This is one of the most popular football derbies in Zambia. Things are very similar to how they are with Chiefs and Pirates of SA. In that region, it’s generally safe, you’ll find kids, as well as adults, all at the stadiums together.

UM: What are crowds like, overall in the ZSL, and how is it when compared to the past?

FK: Zambian football has really improved over the years as I’ve mentioned earlier. Previously fans were only ever interested in watching the European teams and leagues, but thanks to the advent of social media, teams are on various platforms, whereby they manage to do good marketing, using social media as a tool. Now you find with people being given the correct information and they are attending more matches at the stadiums than they used to in the past and the numbers are growing.

If you come to Choma, you’ll find a full stadium, this is because we have only two teams in the Southern Province. In the capital city, there are so many teams, so they have to compete and struggle against one another in terms of winning over the fanbases. There’s NAPSA Stars, Red Arrows, Green Buffaloes, Nkwazi FC, Zanaco, and so on. So many teams in one single city alone. We at Green Eagles have most of the support in the Southern Province. I’ll mention people in the Copperbelt Region, those are football crazy people, so you’ll always find a great turnout of fans there.

UM: How much does a Green Eagles FC jersey cost in Zambia

FK: In Zambia, our jerseys for most clubs, cost mainly between ZK380 and ZK450 (Between R380 – R400 and R450 – R500) 

UM: How much do match tickets sell for in the ZSL?

FK: Our prices are quite low at Green Eagles FC, they range as follows:

VVIP – ZK350 [ R350 – R380 ]

VIP – ZK150  [ R150 – R170 ]

Open stands – ZK25 [ R25 – R28]

Kids – ZK10 [ R10 – R12 ]

In the rest of Zambia, tickets usually sell around ZK20 – ZK25 [ R25 – R28 up to R28 – R32]

UM: How do you feel about Video Assistant Referee (VAR) Technology?

FK: Honestly, I don’t like it, I’m not a fan of VAR, I think it somehow removes the fun from the game, because, even in the past AFCON tournaments, we used to see beautiful goals. But now some are getting ruled out, even simple touches are starting to be regarded as fouls. I think it’s taking the fun out of the game. Some physical contact must be allowed, now it looks like its being removed completely. There’s no fun in games governed by V.A.R.

UM: What do you think of the CAF Super League, meant to take off next year (2023)?

FK: Well I think it’s good, especially that there’s quite a lot often money involved, with the prize money being over a Hundred Million (USD). I’m just not sure about the money distribution criteria, but it will be good a good idea, to help bring about a certain level of competition, as it will also be governed by CAF. I think we are looking forward to it and I’m hoping it will ultimately improve the levels of football in Africa, to reach a height, whereby when there is a World Cup, we are able to see African players and teams representing us at the highest levels possible. Perhaps, starting to win us a World Cup title for a change. I’m really looking for to this CAF Super League, honestly, I am.

UM: Seemingly, media officers of Zambian football club teams, mostly share a great relationship with each other. Is this really the case, and can you elaborate on that? 

FK: Yeah they do. It’s been a recent development. We didn’t have such a thing as media officers In the past. But due to the Club licensing requirements, whereby every team is required to have media officer, teams had to move in that way. Obviously for me, being a new media officer, I would look around to see who are the media officers of the  other teams and look to see how could  we help each other, so that we can improve our teams. You find that there’s always that element of communicating with each other, we discuss how to tackle various issues and situations. We are the first media officers in the league. For Green Eagles FC, I’m the club’s first ever media officer, since their inception.

Look at Gwen (Gwen Chipasula, media officer of NAPSA Stars FC), and you find that she’s the first ever media officer of her team ever. There’s always been this thing of us, associating ourselves with media officers of other teams, you get to express your concerns, when you aren’t happy about something. Or if you need some kind of consolation or advise, you will find us always encouraging each other.

UM: Don’t laugh, seeing the proximity of “Fole Malembe” (Forest Rangers FC) to Congo DRC / the Congo Pedicle, don’t you think it would be wise for them to join TP Mazembe and FC Saint Eloi Lupopo in the Linafoot (DR Congo top tier league) ?

FK: [Laughing ]  Well I think Konkola Blades FC are based in Chillabombwe, very close to Kasumbalesa Boarder town. Which is across the border of a even bigger town in DR Congo, also called Kasumbalesa [Still laughing and giggling]. Yeah,  but I think with the African Super League will be like a global thing almost. Where all teams will be just a part of this one big continental league, I wish I could see more friendly games with TP Mazembe and FC Saint Eloi Lupopo involving Konkola Blades FC.

UM: Faith, before I unshackle you from the ‘chains’ of this interview, is there anything else you would like to share with us?

FK: Okay, apart from being Green Eagles FC media officer, I have my own Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. On Facebook, I’m known as Faith Kaira the sports chic, as I’m always updating on sports as well. Mostly it’s sports involving African teams. This is my way of playing a role in promoting African sport, not just the Premier Leagues of the African continent, but even some of the lower leagues too. Via different methods such as advertisements, promoting teams, different sportswear brands and apparel, However those are all discussed with me first, and subject to terms and conditions, that’s my platform, putting African football and sports and businesses first.

Faith Kaira - The sports chic.
Faith Kaira – The sports chic.

UM: Faith, thanks a million, we put you in the spotlight and you shone as bright as ever.

FK: Thank you, the TIFA team, regards and best of luck to all of you with this brand new Football website.

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