Viewers tuning into watch Zambia so far at the FIFA U-20 World Cup may have noticed a subtle but consistent feature of their games – outside of the raw attacking pace and power they have often displayed.
While drums have been adding to the atmosphere across the stadia so far at Korea Republic 2017, when Zambia is in town, there is one notable addition to that percussion section. With his chants of “Let’s go Zambia, let’s go” repeated a thousandfold across the course of a game, Peter Makembo – drum strapped to his chest – cannot be faulted for the lengths he goes to to pull the current of the crowd behind his team.
As the President of the Zambia Sports Fans Association, it is perhaps not a surprise to find him leading the charge. “Whatever is going on on the field,” he told FIFA.com following their thrilling 4-2 comeback against Iran, “they can look up into the stands and see the big man, drumming up the crowd, only wanting victory.”
Providing “a 4-2-4 system of drums and support” and decked out in the colours of his country, Makembo is clearly committed to his role as chief cheerleader, and knows the power it can have. “In football, the 12th man plays a very big role,” he explained from the stands of the Jeju World Cup Stadium.
“When the 12th man goes to sleep, it becomes a problem. We don’t make room for that at all. We make sure that we give them the extra power, the extra munition, that comes with extra support.
“Most fans, when their team is down, follow them. All fans ever want is to see their team go on to victory, so when things are going badly on the pitch, you have to be seen adding extra force and rhythm to the team.”
But maintaining the vocal stamina to keep that four-second chant alive throughout the game is a mean feat, but when Makembo adds that he is a church pastor, the natural command of voice and crowd all makes sense. As too his religious commitment to following his team around the globe.
“Wherever my national team is, they provoke my presence,” he passionately insisted, with plans already in place to travel to Algeria for their FIFA World Cup™ qualifier. “To me, football is my food. I sleep in it, I wake up in it, that’s my nature. When there is nothing like that, I feel like I’m missing something.”
Makembo hopes to see his ranks bolstered by even more fans when Zambia take on Germany in Jeju, hoping to provide the extra push, as the Young Chipolopolo look to achieve their best-ever U-20 World Cup finish – having been roared on by packed-out crowds in becoming African champions on home soil in March.
But the clergyman’s message to the players for their next challenge is simple. “Play to the last whistle. When god says it’s over, it’s over.”