Brighton sensation Mwepu on his stunner against his beloved Liverpool
Enock Mwepu is the Liverpool fan who scored Brighton’s goal of the season against the club he loves… now the Zambian who used to tape up his broken boots is looking forward to meeting old team-mate Erling Haaland and targeting Europe with the Seagulls
- Enock Mwepu loves Liverpool but scored Brighton’s goal of the season at Anfield
- The midfielder is one of a number of Zambian stars to have impressed in Europe
- Mwepu had a tough upbringing before working under Jesse Marsch at Salzburg
- New Man City arrival Erling Haaland was among Mwepu’s teammates at the club
The apes are turned off and The Computer is done tackling questions on Fernando Torres, black magic, Jesse Marsch and shin pads.
Now it’s time to pose one of his own. ‘Why is there no award for assist of the year?’ Enock Mwepu asks members of Brighton staff.
The Zambia midfielder – whose intelligence earned him that nickname back home – lists the goals he has created during this debut season in England. With no reward, Mwepu jokes, he won’t bother next year.
Nicknamed ‘The Computer’, Enock Mwepu has had an impressive first campaign with Brighton
The Zambian won the club’s goal of the season gong for a superb strike in a 2-2 draw at Anfield
So colleagues offer compensation for his creativity: a pair of trainers that had been lying around the training ground. And a yoghurt.
On Monday night, Mwepu scooped another prize for Brighton’s goal of the season, too. Something to celebrate after the 24-year-old suffered a groin injury that has likely curtailed his campaign.
In fact, that stunning strike at Anfield in October has long been a useful tonic.
‘I kept on watching that goal the whole week after,’ Mwepu says.
‘I still watch it sometimes. If I’m in a bad mood, I just want to watch that goal and I’m back again in a good mood!’
Mwepu’s goal started Albion’s comeback to earn a point and he regularly watches replays of it
No wonder. Mwepu opened his Premier League account with a curling, dipping shot from distance. His second top-flight goal, also nominated, was a sweet drive in victory over Arsenal. But that was always going to play second fiddle.
‘I’ve really grown up watching Liverpool,’ Mwepu says. ‘I don’t know if I missed a single game Liverpool played – even now. Really. I love them.’
Much to the misfortune of those who sought a quiet life near his childhood home in Copperbelt. ‘I made my house like on fire – just because of celebrating,’ he says.
Mwepu grew up watching Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Torres and Philippe Coutinho. ‘Even (Adam) Lallana, who plays here.’
Red Bull Salzburg gave Mwepu his first games in Europe, with Erling Haaland as a team-mate
Now, he is among several Zambian stars to reach Europe. Like close friend Patson Daka of Leicester, Mwepu joined Red Bull Salzburg en route to England with the help of ex-Tottenham forward Freddie Kanoute.
Mwepu’s younger brother Francisco plays at Sturm Graz; Fashion Sakala is at Rangers.
‘There is really good talent in Zambia but obviously there is no exposure,’ Mwepu says. ‘So the main aim is just to inspire a lot of Zambians to work extra hard.’
Sakala grew up playing barefoot with a ball of tape and plastic that needed re-constructing every three days.
He would spend eight hours hunting for rabbits or impala in the jungle armed with an axe.
The 24-year-old had an upbringing that he admits was tough and he says he plays for his family
Mwepu was comfortable by comparison.
‘I don’t come from a rich or poor family,’ he says. ‘It was just about school. My parents wanted me to do well.’ But? ‘I was that sneaky boy.’ He laughs. ‘Sometimes I would just dodge school and play football.’
Mwepu’s father had been a handy player.
‘He was just a miner and my mum was a farmer.’ So money was tight. ‘Even just getting boots was really hard but they tried by all means to support me… that’s why I am always grateful to them.’
Every pair was made to last. ‘I don’t know how many years I had them,’ Mwepu says.
‘We’d just keep fixing them over and over… sometimes with tape, sometimes they used a needle to tie them,’ he explains. ‘To play, to enjoy football, that was more important than not having the kit.’
An excellent goal by Mwepu helped Albion deservedly beat Arsenal 2-1 at the Emirates in April
And that was a blessing he could not take for granted. Changwe Kalale played alongside Mwepu until he was left paralysed by a bus crash in 2014. Kalale died three years later.
‘He was a great guy, a great friend, a brother – we grew up together,’ Mwepu says gently.
Christianity is a pillar of Mwepu’s life – he was once dubbed ‘Pastor Enock’. Did such a cruel twist of fate test those beliefs?
‘Not really. The bible says everything in life happens for a reason,’ the 24-year-old explains. ‘We know everyone will die one day… next time it might be me.’
Whatsapp helps preserve the ties that bind Mwepu with home – every day a group containing childhood friends buzzes with messages. ‘They support different teams,’ Mwepu says. ‘They are scared all the time.’
The Amex Stadium newcomer is part of a campaign aiming to recycle hundreds of club shirts
Speaking ahead of Brighton’s 4-0 win over Manchester United, he adds: ‘They obviously heard that I’m not too good to play so one of the United fans (was) so happy. He knows that I won’t score!’
Other reminders of Zambia linger beneath his socks: Mwepu’s shinpads carry pictures of his family.
‘Growing up it was tough but I play football for them,’ he says. ‘So when I play, I look at them, I feel like I’m really close to them.’ The result? ‘When I go (out) I’m now happy.’
Mwepu reckons the shin pads bring good luck. He has less faith, however, in the power of juju, or black magic, to alter matches.
Jesse Marsch was Mwepu’s supremo at Salzburg and is now hoping to halt Leeds from the drop
Last month Zambian Super League side Red Arrows reportedly refused to use their dressing room after finding a broken egg inside.
‘For me, it’s just a waste of time,’ Mwepu says. ‘I remember we played Senegal in the (AFCON) Under-20 final in Zambia.
‘One of the players took something in his socks and he threw it in our goalposts (thinking) obviously they’d get a goal.’ Zambia won the game. ‘The whole stadium just started praying for us: ‘No it won’t happen!’
Mwepu added more trophies at Salzburg – despite Austria’s winter chill. Every day before training, the midfielder would warm his boots and kit on the radiator.
Marsch’s former player could help to send Leeds down at Elland Road if results go against them
‘There was one day where my hands were really cold, I went straight in, opened the tap and washed my hands with warm water,’ he recalls. That caused them to swell up. ‘It was so painful!’
For two years there, Mwepu worked under Marsch. They had hoped to catch up over coffee with former team-mates Daka, Wolves’ Hwang Hee-chan and Takumi Minamino of Liverpool. That never worked out and then injury struck ahead of Sunday’s visit to Leeds.
‘He was very important in my career,’ Mwepu says of Marsch. ‘Always calling me in his office telling me: ‘This is what you need to work on, to improve on.’ That was really special to me.’
Mwepu adds: ‘I’d love him to stay in the Premier League but they really have to fight.’ Including against Brighton. ‘I will text him really just to wish him the best.’
They will need to reserve another seat at that reunion now Erling Haaland is joining Manchester City.
‘He was outstanding,’ Mwepu says. ‘We had him, Patson, Minamino, Hwang – at one time. I think Jesse had a little bit of headache.’
What Graham Potter would do for such attacking riches. Yet still he has overseen Brighton’s best Premier League season.
‘He’s not so arrogant as other coaches,’ Mwepu says. ‘He’s more calm, he’s nice and he talks to me in a good way where you’re able to understand what he really wants. That gives me more confidence just to be myself and show my qualities.’
Potter is turning heads higher up the league. But Mwepu sees no reason why the manager can’t go there with Brighton.
‘With the kind of football we play, everything is possible for next season,’ he says. ‘I think if everyone stays…I think we have a very big chance of trying to play in Europe.’ ENDS
American Express is celebrating 10 seasons of support for Brighton & Hove Albion by rewarding loyal fans with a Shirt Buy-Back initiative, allowing 250 fans to return a Brighton shirt from the past 10 years in exchange for a voucher for a brand-new one for the 22/23 season. The limited-run Buy-Back begins on 23 May, the day after Albion’s last game of the season against West Ham, and concludes on 29 May. Visit here for more information.
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