On a dry and chilly morning I find myself at Camp Toyoyo deep inside Jericho Estate in Nairobi Eastlands area. Nowadays the area can be called near East, as Nairobi has expanded eastwards making Kayole and Njiru the Far East of Nairobi. KPL All Stars, a select side of KPL players preparing for a trip to Spain are playing a friendly match against KPL side Posta Rangers. I am here to meet Sammy “Pamzo” Omollo, the Rangers coach. To the rest of us he is Pamzo, but to those who know him well, he is “maviatu” which translates to shoes in relation to the hard tackling defender he was in his playing days.
On 10th December 1994, Kenya Breweries FC now Tusker FC lost the final of African Cup Winners Cup 5-2 on aggregate to DRC then Zaire side Daring Club (DC)MotemaPembe in Kasarani. The Brewers had held the DRC side 2-2 away in Kinsasha. Everyone thought they would kill the match at home and follow in footsteps of GorMahia in 1987 and win the continental trophy but ended up losing 3-0 at home. Sammy Omollo was in that Brewers defense. The side had great names like Henry Motego, Patrick Nachok, Shem Nyaberi and Vincent Kwarula.
Omollosigned for Kenya Breweries in 1990 but spent two seasons between 1992 and `1993 atGorMahia sandwiched between stints at Kenya Breweries. He later moved to Indian side East Bengal FC in 1996 for two seasons then moved to Mohun Bagan A.C. for three seasons.He featured in Asian Champions League and won trophies with the two sides. He was the best foreign player in Calcutta now Kolkota during his time in India. Beyond the tackles, Pamzo was a leader on and off the pitch. He later signed as Assistant Coach of East Bengal and won the league in 2015.
Here I was with a man I heard about on the radio while growing up. I am seated behind him on a seat between the benches of the sides playing. He is leaning on the shed about a metre to my left. He turns his head to look behind him. I suspect he wants to sit down so I offer my sit. He turns down my offer in a polite way that can disarm a ruffian. A gentle giant Sammy is, standing at about six feet four inches, his aggressive play on the field in his days is the opposite of who he is off the field.
The match is on and Sammy shouts instructions to his charges. The boys are not giving the select side an easy time. We can here the rough swiping sound when players’ boots come into contact. Rangers score in the first half and the players go to rest.Rangers bring new players for the second half. After some time, Pamzo shifts from a four man defense to a three man defense and All Stars equalize the match ends in a draw. I spend some time chatting with All Stars Assistant Coach John Kamau then catch up with Pamzo and we walk to his car.
We find a bunch of Zetech College players who waylay him at the parking. This is when I see another side of Pamzo. One player grabs his football boots to hold him hostage and a playful exchange ensues. In between a friendly match and possible trials for a few players is discussed. He is given his shoes back and we leave. He tells me how he loved his time as Zetech College coach. The boys seem to miss him too.
We talk as we drive in his car to Buruburu. “Rangers’ is focused on winning KPL this year. People say that we are a defensive side but we are simply a good side off the ball.”Pamzo says about critics to his 11 match unbeaten run that came to a stop on May 20th to Ulinzi FC. “We create a lot of chances even when we win by a solitary goal; we just need to work on our finishing.”
Pamzo is happy with his side that has a mixture of young and old players. JokinsAtudo, Dennis Mukhaisi, Moses Otieno, Jerry Santo, HashimMukhwana, Luke Ochieng’and Joseph Mbugi are some of the experienced players at Rangers. Surprisingly this lot was with Pamzo at Tusker in 2011 when he won KPL with the Ruaraka based brewers. “All we need to do is stop four clubs, Gor, Sofapaka, Ulinzi and Tusker and we have the title.” That is Pamzo’s summary of the sides that stand between them and the title. “This involves beating the four sides in the second leg then we collect as many points as we can from the other matches.”
Pamzo is not a fan of artificial turf but says we have to adapt and use them for lack of a better option. “We grew up playing on grass pitches though the pitches we have now are bumpy and the artificial turf is level.” He is still worried about the ankle and knee injuries that come with playing on synthetic turf.
On current players, Pamzo says you have to handle them with care. A coach must always come between players and their phones. His take is players should avoid negative news from social media and friends before matches. Another thing is a coach cannot give players a dress down- they will break and leave. “In our days we were tough, you break up with your girlfriend and you get onto the pitch and play like her departure was a blessing.” That does not happen now, and many times he has to call a player a side and comfort him to get the best out of a player.
Playing semiprofessional football is very challenging. Our players have to go for training then leave to go for other jobs so as to earn a living. “Rangers as a club is fortunate as every player is an employee of Posta. When someone is not playing he reports to the office for other duties.” The technical bench members have contracts which bring stability. Former defender Pascal Ochieng’ has retired from playing and he is currently the team manager.
According to Pamzo, the best league in Africa is South African Premier Soccer League, but the tough leagues are in Nigeria, Ghana and Egypt. He would love to take Rangers to the continental next season after winning the regional CECAFA Kagame Cup. “I played continental football in Africa and Asia and I would like my players to experience that too.”
“If I am not sweating over football, I spend my time in cricket.” That happens to be Omollo’s first love. He grew up in Pangani area where he played cricket in the neighborhood. Steve Tikolo and the Sujis are his childhood friends and once in a while he goes to cheer Nairobi provincial side Swamibapa. “I was a good bowler but I was good on the bat as well.” Sammy is definitely an intelligent man- for those who know.
That’s Sammy PamzoOmollo, married and a father of two. I have hanged out with his son Denzel who I learn is now 13 years old. The fruit may not fall far off from the tree. Time will tell.
I have no apologies to make for standing in Stanley Okumbi's corner even when experienced scribes like Clay Muganda are coming puffing and punching at the soft spoken tactician. There are many problems with Kenyan football and I can confidently say that Stanley Okumbi is not one of them. If he is then he falls deep down the list of things holding our football back. The only problem is that someone called Nick Mwenda, who is also the FKF President believes in him.
I was in Camp Toyoyo when KPL All Stars were playing a friendly match against Posta Rangers just before their trip to Spain. I looked at the squad Okumbi and his assistants Musa Otieno and John Kamau were taking through warm up paces and sighed silently. Like a woman who is looking for an excuse for her anger. I told a journalist I was with that the squad despite being young in age lacks pedigree. Our best football players in that age group, are not playing football. They are selling newspapers, second hand clothes and washing cars.
As I watched the match from Posta Rangers bench, I sat next to this energetic young Rangers' fan. Then a lady came by to sell us bananas and immediately called him by name. His excitement distracted coach Sammy Omollo from the match a little. The lady goes ahead to tell us how the boy's prowess in football made him the darling of Baba Dogo secondary School. Sammy Omollo who has heard the boy brag about his talent many times now believed him. The irony is, the lad hangs around Rangers FC because he found a market for his clothes among Rangers' players.
On further enquiry I get a story that began at Baba Dogo Primary in Ruaraka. Orphaned just as he sat for his final primary school exams he stayed out of school for a year. His estate football kick around led to a stint at Kakamega High School. He left Kakamega for reasons he couldn't reveal for another school that I cannot remember before landing back at Baba Dogo Secondary. His reason for coming back to Nairobi was his younger siblings who had no one to take care of them. The meager handouts he got from football kept them going. After school, it was a tough choice between providing for his siblings or the lackluster Kenyan football scene. His siblings won.
AFC Leoprads' striker Vincent Oburu who travelled to Spain with the team confessed that he started playing football seriously after high school. In the same team is Kariobangi Sharks midfielder and skipper Patila Omoto. He was one of the most promising talents before joining AFC Leopards' from Kariobangi Sharks in 2013.
The passionate Nick Mwenda once described Omoto as “the greatest midfielder of his time”. He even tipped the youngster as one of the few players who will take us to the World Cup. I don't know if he meant Russia or Qatar. Omoto has featured for national sides U20 Junior team, and made his senior team debut in December 2012 in Kampala. He replaced former Gor Mahia forward Rama Salim in Harambee Stars’ 1-0 win over Malawi in the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup quarter-final match.
Omoto left Ingwe the following year for Mombasa based side Bandari FC in search of regular playing time. He did not break into the first team regulars at the club and found his way back to Sharks where he helped the side gain promotion to KPL. Omoto is a good talent but is he the best of his generation? If he is the best as Mwenda claimed then his development has not been consistent. The wish that he will take us to the World Cup may pass as just another dream. The Rangers fan, Vincent Oburu and Patila Omoto represent the problem with our football.
John Makheti is a father to two football mad sons. John found himself coaching the U10 football team at International Christian Church by default because of his sons. He is an alumni of Kakamega Boys so football is not strange to him. I religiously followed his social media updates sometimes back when he took the boys to a tournament in Arusha. His passion for the game and deep voice when he talks makes me stop to chat to the diminutive business man. I pose my observation that our best football talent is everywhere but in football. I asked for what I heard next.
John is a cousin to Vihiga United player Silicho Soita. Soita is a law graduate from Strathmore University who like Vincent Oburu never played serious football in high school. John tagged him along to his football escapades where he managed to land some trial sessions in KPL clubs and a few Nationwide sides. Soita was told in one of the KPL clubs that his promising talent aside, he reported late for the one week trials so he will not be signed. In the other he was told by the coach he will be signed but he has to part with Ksh. 30,000 of his Ksh. 50,000 salary every month. I believe the law graduate in him could not agree to those terms.
He then resigned to casual kick a rounds just for staying in shape. Such sessions took him to Camp Toyoyo one day where he played against George Sunguti. The former Ingwe and national team player saw a gem of talent in Soita and recommended him to Manoah of Vihiga United. He did not disappoint and now clubs are falling over each other to sign him.
John was emphatic about the problems with Kenyan football. We have good football players playing football the problem is the system. Cartels and lack of good scouts are two things he mentioned must be checked. I am happy he pointed out people who know too much about very little in football yet they are the gate keepers. In the midst of all this their greed supersedes their desire for the growth of players and the game in general.
I can write a lot about problems in Kenyan football without mentioning Okumbi. . The trip to Spain has exposed the gap between Kenya and world in football. At least Okumbi has given us Ovela Ochieng' and Omoto who he is trying to push through our skewed system. Our players lack the skills and character to play football at highest level. The main reason is they start playing serious football very late. The few who try to expose our children to football early like John Makheti do so without proper empowerment and no assistance from FKF.
Malcolm Gladwel in his bestselling book "Outliers" talks about the ten thousand hours rule. He says that before that big break or someone becoming an expert or good at something, above basic talent he must spend at least ten thousand contact hours on it. This applies across the board, not only in sports. We must create our system in such a way that by the age of eighteen our players are nearing the ten thousand hours mark of serious contact with the ball. We can never cheat the grind. It doesn't matter who is hired as national team coach, the virtue is more in the talent. KPL All Stars went down in the two matches they played against second string sides of Cordoba and Sevilla Athletic. They conceded five goals and scored none. Despite these results, let Okumbi be, a man can only do as much with the best that the system can offer.
You have heard that whoever wins the midfield battle in football wins the match. This is why coaches are tweaking their midfield play and players so as to have an edge over an opponent. There was even a shift from the rugged defensive midfielder of yore to a deep lying playmaker all in the name of beating the opponent in the midfield. The great generation at Barcelona led by Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta developed with the tiki-taka idea of making every a midfielder. They ruled Spain and the world cup.
It is easy to point out that the mojo or deficiency is in the midfield, but what exactly makes the difference at the centre circle? Apart from defensive and holding play, the other midfielders are supposed to be passers and play makers. Naturally a player will be good at two of them where one is a primary and the other a secondary strength. I am yet to see a player who is very good in the three.
Patrick Viera the kingpin of Arsenal’s invisibles was a good holding midfielder with defensive sub-skills. Physical play was a very important part of his game. He once said that he knew that the first contact in the tackle is very important. This is the moment when he imposed himself to win games. According to him, being strong in the first tackle says, ‘I’m here and I’m going to try and make it difficult for you’. Intimidation is part of the game.
I have watched many matches and I have come to the conclusion that the team that boxes the opponent out of 50-50 balls has an upper hand in the match. This is because it is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one. A battle must be won in the mind before it is won physically. The team that can beat opponents to these half chances has a higher chance of scoring and winning a match.
If you have ever played football you will realize that the worst thing you can do is to go into a tackle half-heartedly. There is a high chance of injury in such a scenario. When you commit fully to go into a challenge, nine times out of 10 you’ll come away with the ball. FC Barcelona lacked Sergio Busquets in Turin when they faced Juventus in the first leg of Champions League semi-final last season. Javier Mascherano a defensive midfielder turned centre half was played in front of defense and Barca lost the match 3-0. Busquets who is good at winning tackles was available in the second leg and the match ended in a goalless draw.
Brazil’s and Real Madrid’s destroyer in chief Casemiro said that his manager Zidane has never advised him to control his tackling even when he has a yellow card. If you are wondering where in the midfield Real Madrid won matches to win the Champions League for a second season running then you have it in Casemiro and overlapping left back and fellow Brazillian Marcelo. It is the power of taking chances on and winning 50-50 balls. Zidane as a former midfielder knows that so well and has the guts to risk his player being sent off as long as he can win a match.
FC Barcelona revolutionized football with possession play. The mindset was that if you can keep the opponent off the ball for long then you can stamp your authority. It worked because of the kind of players who Pep Guardiola acknowledged were a special lot. The new crop is not good at it hence when Busquets is not available, the gap is felt. At the finals of Confederation Cup between Germany and Chile, Germany won with a solitary goal yet they only managed a paltry 34% possession. If you look properly, the magic lies in the mental battle for 50-50 balls. Whoever wins the half chance wins the match.
Inside Nairobi Club along Ngong Road is an old, small but well maintained house. The main door faces the Hospital Road and Ngong Road Junction while the rear door opens to the oval shaped cricket grounds. Beyond the outer wooded shutter of the main door is a glass door with a red round logo of Kongoni Cricket Club. This is the logo that attracted me to this club house with the intention of digging into how it ended up on the grounds.
On stepping inside your eyes will catch the simple yet elegant furnishing. The bar is to your left while two cabinets holding cricket memorabilia dating back to 1860 are kept in two cabinets majestically positioned to the left and right walls. There are wooded barrels in two corners that give the house the old English farm house ambiance. On several walls are photos of club officials and visiting teams like 1959 visit of Rhodesian Strugglers’ Cricket Club.
The carpet is simple and grey in colour buttressing the mixture of simple old and new elegant furniture in the bar area. Upstairs is the pavilion that gives one a good view of cricket out in the oval ground, offices and board room. On this day the bar is playing bongo flava tunes in low tone which blends well with the noise from resting players cheering their counterparts in the three club round robin matches going on. I am here to meet current club captain Mr. David Waters, and a former player for Nairobi Gymkhana.
Nairobi Club was established in 1901 while Kenya Kongoni Cricket Club (KKCC) was established in 1927 by H.B. Emley. This is their 90th year of existence and their home has always been Nairobi Club. In 1981 they dropped Kenya from the name and remained Kongoni Cricket Club. The Sports Pavilion cum Club House was built in 1950 by KKCC, but handed over to Nairobi Club as a soft loan and they have been repaying it slowly until about ten years ago when they completed paying for it. From 1932 Kenya Kongoni controlled cricket in Kenya until 1953 when Kenya Cricket Association was formed
Kongoni leased back the house from Nairobi Club and they have an agreement which was signed in July 1966 that gave Kongoni exclusive rights over the cricket grounds. They also use the facility for keeping trophies and memorabilia, a library, meetings and training sessions. This translates to about three days a week. They hold events like dinners but Nairobi Club runs a bar and maintains the facility on a daily basis. Meanwhile, Kongoni sources for services from Nairobi Club and their visiting players and coaches are accommodated at the club. This has led to a symbiotic relationship that serves both parties well.
David Waters is on the grounds playing cricket. I will have to wait until the next rotation when his team will be resting. I take up a seat on one of the elegant couches on one side of the room facing a TV screen showing highlights of Spanish La Liga matches once in a while shifting to another one showing cricket with some young men glued to it to my right. I later learn that these are young boys from the slums who come in every Saturday to learn cricket.
I hear cheers from the grounds and prepare for my interview with David Waters. I see a man who looks busy going into sixties, a stark difference from the younger man he appeared to be while on the grounds. He assures me he will be back shortly. I look at him rush through a door marked Home that I learn is a changing room after noting that I am facing another door marked Away. The men who were resting are talking loudly as they get onto the pitch as a waiter sets up tea and snacks on the verandah to my left.
He comes back and insists we sit at a vantage point where he can watch the match as we talk. Throughout the interview, I had to give him time to clap and shout at the teams through the big window. He tells me that they have 110 members. Their main source of funds is from members’ subscriptions, donations and annual fundraising day. Currently Braeburn Schools sponsors their two teams in the Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association League. They came sixth last year and fifth the previous season which is not good for their long history in the sport. The season is yet to kick off so they are preparing for it.
Kongoni and Nairobi Club have different rules regarding membership and use of facilities. Nairobi Club members can use facilities at the Kongoni Club House but Kongoni members do not enjoy privileges at the Nairobi Club. This is their 90th year and recently they renovated the house to a tune of Ksh. 20 million. They are planning a makeover of the cricket grounds as well. He represents Kongoni on the Nairobi Club Sports Committee as well. The relationship serves them well and my talk with Mr. Ochieng’ from the club confirms that Nairobi Club is happy with the arrangement too.
He tells me as much as most cricket clubs have bases in clubs just like Kongoni, Swamibapa and Stray Lions who came first and second last season are the two exceptions. So having a home with facilities is not a prerequisite for success but good for sustainability of a club because it attracts members who may not be active players. Having a home at Nairobi Club has enabled Kongonis to stay afloat even during tough times. Waters came to Nairobi in 1980 and began his career at Nairobi Gymkhana before shifting to Kongonis.
When he came to Nairobi, Nondies RFC was based at Parklands Sports Club but they were kicked out. The rugby matches were near town and much fun, they have since moved to the ASK Show Ground off Ngong’ Road. With good agreements with mutual benefits, private members clubs can host a number of sports clubs. Currently, he says the hockey grounds at Nairobi Club have not been used in a long time.
He then moves to his East Africa Cricket and Educational Foundation. The foundation partners with Kongoni to run cricket clubs in 18 primary schools in Nairobi slums. They have coaches who are employed by the foundation who go around in these schools. Every Saturday they bring some of children to Nairobi Club for practice too. These children he believes are the future of Kongoni and Kenya’s cricket.
I then push the question that brought me. “Can football clubs and especially Gor and AFC Leopards learn from Kongoni and establish home bases on grounds they don’t necessarily own?” He shifts his face to the grounds for a few seconds then talks to me without look me in the face before turning midway to conclude his statement. “Football has a huge following; Kongoni is a small armature club with only 110 members and Kenya only has about 700 cricket players. They should not be learning from cricket. I think the problem is in the leaders they elect.”
Kongoni has maintained a tradition of annual visits to Ol- Pajeta in Laikipia, Mombasa, Nakuru, Tanzania and England. This July will mark their 86th tour of England that was interrupted for five years by Second World War. They are also planning to tour India next year.
Kongoni Cricket Club is a lesson in simplicity, stability and good leadership.
The most conspicuous item in 2013 manifesto for Jubilee Coalition was five stadiums and one was to be built in Garisa. What a gem of an idea. Many people especially the young bought sunglasses in anticipation for a very bright future. The irony is now they have to look for spectacles with magnifying lenses when looking at the performance of the Jubilee Government through sports window.
Sports was the flower in the manifesto of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto unfortunately it remained so when they got into government. I can guess that sports is also the flower at cabinet meetings and Cabinet Secretary for Sports Hassan Wario as the flower boy designate. It is meant to spruce up our social and economic space but it ends up sprucing the imagination of our politicians.
The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil is a fiasco sports enthusiasts in Kenya want to block from their memory. If Coke is the global mascot of CocaCola, then sports is to Kenya what Coke is to CocaCola. To date, no one knows the formula of ingredients used to make Coke because CocaCola has selfishly protected their prized product over time. Our athletes uniforms were stolen, allowances disappeared; tickets for coaches were missing while joy riders had access to Olympic Village and not some coaches. This is what we get even for an event that happens once in four years. Meanwhile the prosecution of NOCK officials is turning into a circus.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) officials are coming back in August to tell us that CHAN 2018, the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) version for players based in Africa will be moved to Morocco. CAF will not allow the world to watch their matches being played in substandard stadiums out of Nairobi. The two facilities being fronted are Machakos’ Kenyatta Stadium and Meru’sKinoru Stadium. It is a shame when Government officials and FKF President confidently walk CAF officials into these two facilities. Let it go, it is never that serious.
Recently word leaked that Harambee Stars players get Ksh. 500 per day ($5) as allowance. The public was shocked that the national team players can be paid such an amount of money and still expected to win. The team went to Sierra-Leon for an AFCON qualifier and lost. The excuse by FKF is that is the amount stipulated by Ministry of Sports for all sportsmen across the board. They later organized a sponsorship through betting firm Sportpesa to pad up the amount.
If I dint have to rush to look for ways of earning some money for the elusive maize flour, I would have delved into other sports as well. In Kenya, we never give sports a second thought because the first thought we give it at a glance is enough. This is the reason I silently pity many young passionate Kenyans who believe they can make it in sports; kindly have a plan B.
We have never realized the benefit of sports. Political leaders like Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero organize Governors Cup in the belief that they are promoting sports and the youth. Meanwhile the County Government owned City Stadium and Woodley Stadium are as dilapidated as Mogadishu Stadium before the Chinese renovated it.
If we are not ready to give sports the attention it deserves, let us not use it to spruce up our selfish ambitions. Sportsmen and women have suffered enough; rubbing salt into their injuries is not fair.
I am the son of a poor man. I know poverty in its architecture and manifestations because I am involved in fighting it. Right from my own family to the two communities I call home down at The Peninsula and up at the edge of Kakamega Forest in Kaimosi. I have seen the indignity of poverty. You can now guess why my heart is at home in Sofapaka FC.
Recently Gor Mahia official Judith Nyangi announced on social media that Nairobi Governor candidate Mike Sonko had agreed to sponsor Gor Mahia Youth Team; I saw poverty. She then gleefully announced that Mike Sonko will send fans to watch the Sportpesa Super Cup final between Gor and AFC Leopards in Dar-es-salaam in Tanzania; more poverty. The other thing about poverty is that it is comforting whenever one finds herself in more activity without productivity.
Judith Nyangi cannot be the smartest lady in the Gor fraternity. What she lacks in smarts and looks she compensates well with confidence, a bit of arrogance and a good grassroots network and mobilization skills. This is why she marvels in her achievement and sitting next to Mike Sonko. Gor Mahia is still on a journey because it is people like Nyangi who will help some fans see what Gor lacks. This might spur some curious onlookers to jump in and improve the club.
Gor is not a poor club; it is just ridden in poverty mentality. If Gor was a poor club, it could be struggling like Sofapaka and Muhoroni Youth. From the top leadership to the fan, people are either happy or ignorantly satisfied with the state of affairs. It reminds me of a comment by a local music producer. Kenyan musicians are happy self-negotiating for 100% of a Ksh. 100,000 deal than let someone work out a 30% of Ksh. 20 million deal. Gor and AFC Leopards’ officials are in the former category.
Poverty has the habit of looking at the here and now. Waiting for a week and seeking expert opinion is a waste of time. Negotiating in such a position is negotiating from a position of weakness. Only one outcome is expected, a loss. The height of irony is walking out of such a deal bragging. The road to financial freedom even for individuals is long and treacherous, but luck happens to a prepared mind. You cannot score a goal from the stands.
Poverty is in the mind. For Gor and AFC Leopards’ to get out of this mindset, they have to fight this poverty mentality. There is no way a handout by a politician can be announced like it is the best deal for a club that has potential for multi-million deals. There is question of sustainability and political fallout of parties involved. Mike Sonko is better off dealing with fans based branches than directly with the club. At the moment, incumbent Governor Evans Kidero is footing the coach’s rent which is a potential source of conflict with his opponent Mike Sonko.
A few weeks ago I wrote that politics is at the heart of our clubs’ problems but it can provide solutions if handled well. Handling it well requires minds that have been emancipated from poverty. This is why I am calling on the smart souls at AFC Leopards’ and Gor Mahia, to step up and lead. Next time fans are electing club officials, remember that everything rises and falls on leadership. If you see excellence anywhere, rest assured that someone somewhere endured the pain and frustrations.
In the run up to 2016 Gor Mahia elections, someone shared with me that Luo politicians were afraid to fund candidates opposed to the incumbent AmbroseRachier. Their main fear was to go against the Luo political kingpin and Gor Mahia patron, RailaOdinga who was behind Rachier. This meant that an economically endowed Rachier was up against candidates with lean financial muscle, he won.
On 29th June 2013, AFC Leopards’ went to the polls at Kasarani. Businessman Alan Kasavuli was elected Chairman and Nairobi politician George Aladwa won the Secretary General seat. The election was peaceful but the intrigues that preceded it were typical of elections in the two clubs with biggest following, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.
The results were expected because Aladwa was emerging as the leading Luhya politician in Nairobi and Leopards’ is typically a Luhya club. He had lost the Makadara parliamentary elections in March of that year so here is a man of limited education looking for soft landing. In February was the Mayor of Nairobi and by June was a citizen. I often bumped into Aladwa with a host of hangers on in the streets of Nairobi. Kasavuli beat financial expert Dr. Walter Onyino.
After the elections I saw Aladwa in the streets with an Ingwe fan I knew. I approached him and proposed to him that I had a wonderful idea I wanted to share with him. He quickly noted that I knew one of his aides and asked him to organize a meeting later for us to discuss it in detail; I am still following up to meet Aladwa to date. That is not the reason for writing this; my take is that Kenyan politics is behind the underdevelopment of Kenyan clubs, unfortunately the solution lies with our politicians.
I can share what I wanted to share with Aladwa now that he is back swimming in his waters of Makadara parliamentary elections. I first met Georgie, as Aladwa is known, in Makongeni area back in my days as a political activist and noted his mobilization skills. To rise from a school dropout, to a tout and end up as Mayor is no mean feat. I knew if I sold to him the idea that he can rise to the Luhya kingpin position through Ingwe, he will buy into the idea. He only needed to let Kasavuli the businessman run the day to day matters of the club then he does what he does best, mobilize Luhyas into club structures.
I knew his heart was elsewhere, he was just cooling his heels in Ingwe to remain in the limelight. This was going to be a win-win situation. He just needed to set up Ingwe branches in every constituency and determine the officials. Once that was set, he would return to Nairobi and sit pretty knowing that he had point men from Nairobi down to the villages in Western Kenya. These branches then had to submit annual subscription to Ingwe which would lead to the club having a steady stream of cash. Aladwa would then walk out at the right time with a network across the Luhya nation, which never happened.
Today, Leopards are in the same position with Gor Mahia. That place where a Tanzanian TFF official was heard saying about Gor during the 2015 Kagame Cup in Daresalaam; these are just noisemakers without money. The problem never seems to go even with a change of guard. Currently Daniel Mule is the chairman of Ingwe while Lawyer Ambrose Rachier is at K’ogallo elected in June and December last year respectively.
Romours have it that Ambrose Rachier paid for the ODM ticket for Gem parliamentary seat but lost it to Raila’s cousin Jakoyo Midiwo. So Raila always has a political debt he owes Rachier which Gor Mahia unknowingly picks the tab. Rachier is the A to Z at Gor Mahia, the other officials are flower girls (and page boys). When the club is stuck and money is required, Rachier foots the bill only to pocket the gate collections without consulting anyone. No one will know how much was raised because no one knows the amount of money he chipped into the club the last time cash was needed. That is how he justifies his position at the club and fans, including progressive Luos have bought into it. Meanwhile the club is run from his Mayfair Court offices at Ralph Bunche Road even when the decoy office was open at Nyayo Stadium.
Until Sportpesa came along, both clubs were struggling financially. The money Sportpesa pays seems to have taken the officials back to comfort zone.To date, both clubs do not have operational offices or official merchandise vendors. Even the CAF Club Licensing rules could not bring out the best of the two giants. Like the rest of the clubs, FKF looked the other way on many requirements. Meanwhile, the online pages of the two clubs are as active like bee hives. The problem is no honey flows from the fans to the clubs.
It is difficult to separate the Luo and Luhya politics from Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards’ respectively. This means that the only hope these clubs have lies in the networks and influence the politicians from the two communities have over their people. The problem is our politicians are selfish and myopic. Somehow when the clubs stretch out begging bowls once in a while, the politicians reach out to their pockets to massage their egos and feel relevant and not to help the clubs become self-sustaining.
In our tribal based politics, the best place Luos and Luhyas can show this country that they are fit to lead is in football. The biggest irony of our times is that Kenyan football is dominated by the two communities yet they don’t call the shots where it matters. Even in areas where they enjoy near monopoly dominance, other communities including foreigners call the shots. Politics is diminishing the stature of our two big clubs but in there lies a way out as well. It boils down to more leadership and less ujuaji. Mutajua Hamujui!
I am averse to betting for personal reasons but I will confess that the recent Ksh. 221 million jackpot win almost made me reconsider my stand. Kenyans have taken up betting like fish into water which has led to overnight growth of betting firms like Sportpesa. This has also attracted other global players in the industry into the local market. Betting has its negative effects which ended up in parliament. Even before parliament passed the bill, the government proposed severe tax measures beginning next financial year.
The government recently announced plans to tax 50% of betting firms gross profit and a further 30% on net profit. It can never get worse than this for any industry. The truth is, betting firms cannot survive these measures after enjoying great profits in the past. Sportpesa- the biggest player in the local industry – has reacted by threatening to withdraw sponsorship to football, boxing and rugby outfits. Is this sabotage or a genuine distress call?
Amidst all this, Sportpesa was reported to have signed a shirt sponsorship deal with EPL side Everton worth Ksh. 3 billion. This could have been prompted by the relegation of Hull City FC who have athree year deal worth about Ksh. 400 million with Sportpesa. The cry from local fans has been that Sportpesa makes the bulk of its money locally, gives local clubs peanuts but rewards foreign clubs well.
Recently Sportpesa spread across the border into Tanzania where they got into partnerships with local sports outfits. They are renovating the artificial turf in a local stadium while they are now the shirt sponsors of local football giants Yanga and Simba. I waited for the details of the two deals to shed light on the cry of KPL fans but it did not yield any juice for this article.
Sportpesa is giving Simba and Yanga about TSh. 5 billion each which is in the tune of Ksh. 250 million over five years. This is in the range of what Gor Mahia receives though slightly higher than what AFC Leopards earns which is Ksh. 225 million over a similar period. May be the outcry from local fans pushed them to set their ceiling around the amounts they have with Kenyan clubs.
Sponsorship is not charity. A firm goes into a sponsorship or branding deal with a football club for purposes of brand visibility. Sportpesa is going to get more visibility in Tanzania through the two local clubs than they are getting in Kenya. Tanzanians love their football and they show up for matches in big numbers. The league is also well featured in the local press. Tanzania Breweries Limited the shirt sponsor of the two clubs pulled out of football after it changed hands which meant Sportpesa got the two giants in financial straits. This could be the reason why they may have given in to not so good deals.
Kenyans should build the brand equity of local football in general but most important KPL clubs in particular. Sportpesa will only pay what the brand they are partnering with is worth. There is a big difference between their deal with Everton and what they signed with Hull City yet both clubs played in EPL. If brand equity is a measure of sponsorship then Sportpesa has been good to Kenyan football, especially clubs. Look at their perks for Kenya Rugby Union, Ksh. 607 million over five years and purported Ksh. 360 million over four and a half years as KPL title sponsors.
The term ‘purported’ comes before the KPL deal because unlike KRU, KPL did not reveal the actual value of their deal. That is a big pointer of where brand equity tilts; Kenyan rugby is a better brand than football despite having fewer followers. To attract more funds, clubs must package themselves as institutions worth of any amount they feel they are worth. People do not buy products or brands; they buy emotions associated with them. We must make our clubs and league attractive.
As Sportpesa and other betting firms prepare to fight it out with the government over the new tax regime, clubs must prepare for any eventuality. If the government’s stands its ground, Sportpesa is justified in transferring about Ksh. 400 million annual budget for local sports institutions into part of the tax that the government collects. Only two things are certain in life, taxes and death. Either way, we must play football.
Kwame Owino is a good economist, no doubt about that. If he wasn’t he wouldn’t be the CEO of Institute of Economic Affairs – Kenya. I don’t have a problem with his credentials, but I have a problem with how he recently went into thinking too much about economics. Economics like all sciences that rely on figures and data, is only as good as the interpretation. On the five stadiums Jubilee Government promised, Kwame is trying to massage facts to go deep into his imagination.
Tomorrow, the Nairobi Derby is on at Nyayo Stadium. Perennial rivals AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia are meeting for their first leg match. For the past two weeks, the match has been in limbo. Initially it was meant to be played at Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium but KPL ruled that the facility was not fit to host such a high risk match. We have one world class stadium in Kenya at Kasarani; the other (Nyayo Stadium) can be described as a concrete bowl. The two are under renovation so KPL was contemplating putting off the match until later in the year. Imagine a country like Kenya lacking a stadium to stage the local derby yet we hope to host CHAN in 2018.
If we are to subject everything we do to economic evaluation, we won’t have justification for doing half of the things we do. Take spending money on weddings and funerals. How do we justify raising millions of shillings to send off a close friend or relative? We all know that a few months after the burial, we will be moving on with our lives without the money and our loved one. Why do we bother with weddings (even a 100/- one) when we know that a wedding is not a precursor to or indicator of- a happy marriage? Some things in life beat economics, and a stadium is one of them.
The world over, Kenya is known for two things; wild life and sports especially middle and long distance running. Brazil is known for their Samba Carnival, football and volleyball just like Egypt is known for the great pyramids. These are low lying fruits for these countries in terms of international branding. It doesn’t take economics to teach you that if you are good at something you must let the world know about it. There are only two outcomes, you may make money out of it, or walk away with pride and courage that you can conquer the world to do other things.
Kenya as a sporting nation has never made an initiative to build its own stadium. Nyayo Stadium was a bribe from Americans for us to boycott 1980 Moscow Olympics. Kasarani was a ‘grant’ from the Chinese to enable host the All African Games in 1987. The world may marvel at Collins Injera and Humphrey Khayange’s athleticism in Sevens Rugby, but I am sure if they went and saw Nairobi Railway Club where the brothers train with Mwamba RFC, they will be shocked and respect them more. We are treating our athletes who bring us honour in the world stage with contempt they don’t deserve.
So Kwame is happy the government did not bother to borrow money to build stadiums yet we have an SGR that our grandchildren will pay for built by borrowed money from China. There are roads in this country that have been tarmacked for aesthetic purposes; they make no economic sense at all except that once in a while a vehicle uses it to get to its destination faster. The rationale behind these infrastructure projects is that they will open up the areas for investments. Why are we building Isiolo Airport when everybody knows that Eldoret Airport is a few flights a day away from being a white elephant and Kisumu Airport does not operate at night?
Given, the World Cup and Olympic Stadiums in Brazil are white elephants at least for now. The Birds Nest Complex in Beijing may not be doing much either, but what does Kenya have? The devil is in the details, Brazil has a host of football clubs, the government can hand over these centres to clubs. I believe the problem lies in the bureaucratic systems of governments and not the stadiums.
Look at Kasarani for instance. It has a three or four star hotel just across Safari Park Hotel. There is no hotel on the Nairobi Side of Thika Highway that can match the Kasarani hotel in terms of facilities. The problem is the services rendered at that facility. What if the Sports Kenya upgraded the services to Safari Park standards? With a jogging track and an Olympic size swimming pool nearby people may just cross over from Safari Park for affordable but better if not equal service. The National Prayer Breakfast can be held there.
Look at Nyayo Stadium; it has office space that is rented out to the public. It has two restaurants and people park there too during the week. This clearly shows that a stadium does not have to be a white elephant. Nairobi West next door is a 24 hour bee hive. Some of that traffic can find space at Nyayo Stadium; someone just needs to think a little less than Kwame Owino. Very many services can be offered within the premises, only the playing field can be left as sacred.
Maracana in Brazil is like a shrine in the football mad country. Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona like Amahoro Stadium in Kigali is more than a football ground. The Catalans view Camp Nou as a symbol of their resistance to the draconian rule of Dictator Franco. Many Rwandese survived the 1994 genocide by running into the UN protected Amahoro Stadium. To them, like the Catalans’ “more than a club” call on FC Barcelona, the stadium is more than a football ground.
Culture can also be deduced as what people do in their free time. Kenyans at the moment can be termed as a drinking nation; we never miss an opportunity to drink to our triumphs and sorrows. Yes, stadiums may not make immediate economic sense, but their aesthetic value goes beyond the balance sheet pegged on them. They can be the beginning to a cultural revolution in Kenya.
I hope people at the Ministry of Planning did not read Kwame Owino’s blog, if they did it is my prayer that they can see beyond Kwame’s obsession with unrealistic economics. There is more to stadiums than the cost of construction and operations.
Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union officials are currently cooling their heels at a prison somewhere, most probably Industrial Area Remand Prison. They agree that they disobeyed court orders because their cause is just and that man was not made for the law but the law was made for man. But the law is an ass (foolish); they have to go to jail. I used to wonder if it is ‘an ass’ or ‘an arse’ until I came to my own conclusion for the sake of it. To the rich it is the animal ass (donkey) to the poor it is the behind (body part).
Back to football. Sofapaka FC and Muhoroni Youth have been relegated for failing to comply with CAF regulations for licensing clubs. Sofapaka have won the league once and FKF Cup on several occasions. Muhoroni Youth won the Top 8 Knock Out Cup last season. We are not talking about light weight football clubs but two community clubs worth their name in the top flight league. But the law is the law, an ass. The two clubs are meant to play in the NSL this season.
It has always been said that institutional clubs are not good for Kenyan football. This is because the sponsoring institution’s core business is not football so the clubs tend to be the first casualty when costs have to be cut. Then because football is just another non-essential department, the club will never develop and bypass the institution because it will be a monster they cannot tame. This makes clubs like Sofapaka and Muhoroni important for the growth of football in Kenya.
The small remedy is that two community clubs in Kariobangi Sharks and Zoo Kericho have been promoted to the top flight. That is a good development, but what is the guarantee they will not end up like Sofapaka and Muhoroni Youth. EllyKalekwa the Sofapaka President insists that he showed he has enough money in his account to run the club. Adagala the Muhoroni Chairman claimed that Muhoroni Sugar Company has assured him of tenders which will enable him to run the club through the season. The truth is the two clubs have struggled to pay players in the last two seasons.
Everyone who has run a business will tell you that once in a while, things get thick. The case of Sofapaka and Muhoroni is not unique. It does not mean that they are the worst run club this side of the Sahara. Football does not pay in this country, it runs on individual passion and some clean money from FIFA, Supersport and corporates that turns dirty before it trickles down. For Kalekwa and Prezda to run the two clubs this far is good example of sacrifice, despite the pain caused to players and coaches.
Should we let the two clubs to go down to NSL where they will not get the KES. 8 million they get annually from KPL/Supersport. This is the only lifeline the clubs have so we can rest assured that they will close up as soon as this season ends. FKF should talk to partners, including FIFA to extend some grants or loans so that the clubs can work out a formula to be sustainable. The law does not think, but it was made for our good. If the law inhibits our growth, then it beats logic to execute it as it is.
A few people at KCB and Vihiga County might gain by the relegation of the two clubs but Kenyan football will lose. Kalekwa and Adagala have come too far to be crushed by a piece of law I believe all clubs in Kenya scored below average. As we wait for the ruling by the John Ohaga led Sports Tribunal, either way it goes, let us count the cost of the outcome. Let football win.
It has taken me time to finally sit down and write this article a week since AFCON 2017 closed in Gabon and players are settling back with their clubs. There was something missing in this year’s African premier soccer show. I am yet to put a finger on it because like it happens in many periodic shows, the problem began long before it manifests.
Let me start from our next door neighbours. Uganda went to Gabon after a 39 year absence from AFCON; they showed up, saw but did not conquer. They gave a good account of themselves though reports coming out of Uganda are that players saw the qualification as an end in itself. Their dream was for better allowances and appearance fee. Immediately the squad was cut down and names forwarded to CAF, The Monitor reported that the players were taking no prisoners from FUFA and the government.
On the other side, eventual winners Cameroon won the title despite their run in with their federation over allowances. It is the coach who recorded their displeasure with the lack of respect shown by the officials but still insisted that his players will give their best. The coach had assembled a second rate squad after seven top players turned down call ups to the national team. They came from behind to beat seven time winners Egypt 2-1 in the finals.
There was nothing outstanding about this year’s AFCON. Even as the MVP Christian Basogog from Cameroon stood out, there was something missing about his play. He terrorized defenders but may be the reason he won the gong was because he played more matches than most of the players. Fabrice Ondoa was outstanding in Cameroon goal just as 44 year old Essam El Haddarydefied age to get Egypt to the final, but still- something was missing. The golden boot went to DRC’s Junior Kabananga who scored three, yes three goals.
DRC players spiced up the show with their goal celebration dance fimbu(whip). Oh yes, this is Africa and we love to dance. Fimbu might be the best thing to happen to AFCON since Roger Milla’s corner flag dance in the 1990 tournament. Africa is about courage, heroism and space to enjoy and have fun. Even Ghana players who are known to flower the show looked like they couldn’t wait for the show to come to a close.
The problem might be the straight jacket box that European football puts our players in. It curtails their creativity and expression. Only four out of sixteen coaches were African and none of them got their teams to the semi-finals. As I write this, my finger is pointing to lack Africa in the Africa Cup of Nations. This is the reason one week after the show; there is nothing out of the ordinary to talk about.
Meanwhile the Public Relations office at the CAF office in Cairo is sleeping on the job in regards to publicizing the tournament before it kicks off. I still can decide if I should sprinkle sugar, salt or pepper on this story.
There is good and best, and the difference between the two lies in simple personal decisions and lifestyle choices. Let us look at sex, food and alcohol in relation to sports people and life in general.
I admire Paul Tergat for the same reason I have respect for John Baraza of Sofapaka and Julius Owino awilo Mwaha formerly of Rangers FC. In Africa I will take Maria Mutola, Haile Gabre Sellasie and Kanu Nwankwo. Across the Atlantic I give it to Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs and the athletics duo of Marlen Ottey and Paula Radcliff.
The sportsmen mentioned above ruled (some still do to date) for a long time than their peers. Many athletes- every sports person is an athlete- came in after them, shone and faded out then disappeared from the limelight leaving them at the top of their game.
The other end of the stick has many examples locally and internationally. I don’t have to dwell so much on it, I know you already have examples of sportsmen akin to one-hit-wonders in the world of music.
Success and failure in sports has been subject to scientific research for a long time now. I will not go into the details of genetic, nurture, nutrition and other parameters that have formed the basis for the inference of many sports outcome.
Talent is God given, but not every person with sporting talent pursues it, even those who pursue it not all succeed in it. If we apply the law of natural selection – another word for the law of the jungle then survival in sports will be a matter of fitness. The best of the pool go to the highest level, while the weaklings fall off when the going gets tough.
The assumption that the vigour and grind of sports will produce its best by separating the wheat from the chuff is only half true. In a world of options and varying social environments, and the fact that competitive sports is only for the youthful season of life, success has more than talent in it .
Then again, not everyone with talent makes it in sports and not everyone who makes it to the highest level is exceptionally gifted as well. The social environment and lifestyle choices have direct effect on how and for how long a player performs.
We are what we eat
Food is a basic need to everybody but to athletes, it is more than basic. Peak performance requires the body to burn calories just like a car burns fuel. The calories required are obtained from good food.
This is not about quantity but quality- what you can get from a kilogram of maize meal may be gotten from half that amount of spaghetti.
What we eat is subject to the culture we live in while the quantity is determined by metabolic rate. Sportspeople must be willing to eat ‘out of the box’ sometimes. It is prudent to consult a nutrition expert for advice so as to get maximum returns from our culinary engagements.
Looking at KPL players’ physical size, one is left to wonder if our clubs or national team can stand up to West Africans. Endurance and performance are directly proportional to the quality and quantity of food an athlete eats, hence the seriousness it deserves.
Quality is not subject to price, I believe someone can eat well on minimum cash. Fruits and vegetables and starch are basic and affordable. The problem is the human appetite will lean towards unhealthy foods which happen to be expensive as well.
Sex has become so common that if you apply the laws of demand and supply, then it has lost its value. Success in the sports arena leads to celebrity status which definitely attracts the opposite sex and possibly lots of casual sex opportunities. Physical exercise also leads to high testosterone levels in the blood which also makes sportspeople to have a high sex drive.
Sex is good but like everything else in life, it requires moderation and control. Former Italy football captain Fabio Canavaro once said that sex gives him the energy to perform on the pitch. To others it could be the opposite but they will not admit it.
Sex experts will tell you the stress relieving effects of good sex- note the action word good. The problem is too much of it is not good, especially with many partners.
As much as good sex has its benefits, the resources and time involved in seeking and executing (for the singles) it may affect the time required and energy levels for practice sessions. If sex is a stress reliever, casual and unprotected sex has risks that make it counterproductive.
It is prudent that a player looks at the advantage of delayed gratification in relation to sex. It is good if an athlete understands himself well so as to have a good balance especially the married ones. Sex has brought down kings and many sportsmen as well.
The s-tipple chase
Trust Kenyans to coin creative words- I had never heard of s-tipple chase before the 2012 London Olympics. We are known the world over as the seven laps-jump over barrier- and water champions. Our alcohol consumption is also higher compared to many developing countries. The s-tipple chase description is definitely a home truth.
Alcohol needs moderation, if you can’t control it the only option is to quit. A friend once told me that running with gumboots is not prohibited in the Olympics. Which means you can go to the sprint blocks in gumboots, run and finish the race- but at what cost?
So it is with alcohol, as much as it is not prohibited, it comes with unnecessary baggage. Smoking and chewing miraa (khat) just complicates the equation. The effects of khat, a mild stimulant, may not be evident immediately but the compounded effects are negative; loss of sleep and appetite are bad for an athlete.
Conventional wisdom has taught me that discipline in life is what separates good from best. In social matters go for moderation, to talent add skills. Talent in itself is not a guarantee of success; lifestyle must be planned around talent to harness it. Our athletes must exercise discipline, wisdom and moderation if they are to play and win for long.
The dust that Michael “Engineer” Olunga’s move has raised after word leaked that he has left his Swedish base for a Chinese club is more of a distraction from important issues. No one is furnishing the public with important details yet all we hear of is support and condemnation of the 22 year old and his agent.
Olunga’s move is not an isolated case. Football is a poor man’s game and so money will always be a big factor. At the top level you can count the number of players from middle class families. In a country like Brazil, only Kaka is known to come from a middle class family. The attitude around football somehow repels children of privilege. Their parents will take them to weekend kick around but the passion dies off eventually then rugby, cricket and lawn tennis takes over.
So, Olunga like many players has been enjoying kicking the ball praying for a financial breakthrough. So the approximately Ksh. 400 million signing fees is a very good place to begin with. I also hope the Chinese will pay him a good salary. After that Olunga can work hard on the pitch hoping to catch the eyes of bigger clubs in Europe.
The problem with Africans is worshipping the European leagues. Looking at the Chinese league against Norway, Swedish and Belgian leagues where most Kenyan players have plied their trade, one can deduce many things. But first is a caveat; put on middle class lenses. One area to train your lenses is the recent Sevens Rugby Kenya team strike. If it was football, another set of players would have been happy to replace their striking colleagues not knowing that better pay has a trickle-down effect. Football officials know this and they exploit it well.
These fringe European leagues do not pay well enough relative to living standards in their country. A player can afford a good life but top level football has timeline of about a decade bar injuries. Take off about five years spent on the grassless pitches of Kenya and a player has to maximize returns as fast as he can. The safety valve is always the possibility of a move to the bigger leagues. So far, Victor Wanyama is the only player to break through this barrier leaving many Kenyan players to retire and settle in the Scandinavian countries. Even the magnificent Arnold Origi has not been able to leave Norway. Denis Oliech went to France via Qatar. So what is the guarantee that Olunga will move even to second level leagues like Portugal and Netherlands?
The big money in Chinese football makes up for the lower standards of football. Again the presence of players the caliber of former Chelsea players in Obi Mikel, Oscar and Ramireswith coaches like Andre vila Boas among others in China is good for Olunga. It is still as fringe as the third and fourth rate European Leagues but with better pay. What Olunga’s agent should do is to market the lad in the third tier European Leagues like Scotland, Turkey and Ukraine aggressively. He can ride the dragon for now but his handlers must make sure he is not swallowed.
As we say in the streets; the ball bounces. It is not static.
The recent SportPesa Premier League Awards revealed the long held belief that it will take defenders another leg and head to win a major award beyond Defender of the Year. Gor Mahia prodigy Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma and Western Stima midfielder Kenneth Muguna were competing in two categories. New Player of the Year(Rookie of the Year) and Player of the Year (MVP) while Muguna was also nominated for Midfielder of the Year which he bagged, Ouma failed to capture Defender of the Year which went to old wine, Jokins Atudo of Posta Rangers.
I grew up as a Gor Mahia fan and it is Gor Mahia’s loss to APR FC of Rwanda in 2010 that made me stop the foreign football and EPL ‘madness’. I remember the pullout from Daily Nation with all the Class of 1987 players who won Nelson Mandela Cup was pinned up on the wall of my room for many months. Abbas Khamis Magongo, the man from Mwanza is my best Gor Mahia player ever. That is not what I want to talk about. I want to jump into the forthcoming Gor Mahia elections.
The biggest sponsorship deal in sports in Kenya was signed today. Kenya Rugby Union will receive a total of 607 million shillings over the next five years from betting company Sportpesa Limited. KRU Chairman Richard Omwela is reported by RagaHouse Media to have said the deal has been long and coming.
Football is the world’s most popular sport with a following that is second to none. It’s following cuts across every social and economic divide. It has the power to enforce a ceasefire in a civil war. The warring factions in Ivory Coast’s civil war would stop fighting when their national team was playing at home. That’s the immense power of what the Brazilians’ baptized the beautiful game, because it was too good a game for them.
We all know at least one of the many black spots in our roads. My most scary black spot is the Nithi River Bridge on the Nairobi Meru road. These are spots where drivers are advised to be very cautious, because a small misstep and chances of survival are slim. This is what happens to Harambee Stars in group stage qualifiers for African Cup of Nations and the World Cup.
When the Cabinet Secretary for Finance was reading the budget in parliament, social spaces were full of IEBC related drama. Very few people spared a thought for the more important once a year ritual of reading national budget. The budget is usually a projected estimate of how the government plans to spend funds raised from taxes, grants and loans for the coming financial year ending next year in June.
Kenyans are still pointing out their areas of dislike in Okumbi ever since FKF President Nick Mwenda appointed the former coach of Kariobangi Sharks FC as Harambee Stars coach. A few weeks ago I was discussing football with my dad and he did not have kind words for Okumbi and the man who appointed him. I stood my ground that despite all the dust the appointment raised, Okumbi is a good coach.
Recently I had a chat with Michael ‘Tank’ Otieno, rugby coach and former Kenya international. I did not ask him his age but from inference he is on the other side of half a century mark. I had to pass by his house on a Friday morning because he had told me he will be indoors. I found a disappointed man; there was a power blackout and he had blocked off his day to watch some rugby tournament in the comfort of his house. That is the passion and dedication that is still evident in a calm discipline one gets in rugby.
Until a few years ago, Rugby Unions around the world were known as Rugby Football Unions, including our very own Kenya Rugby Union. I believe they got an awakening that as much as rugby has its roots in English football; they had grown to become a different entity in every way except that rugby players are still allowed to kick the ball sometimes.
Several groups on Facebook that are aligned to Kenyan football can crack your ribs if you have the time to go through the jungle of posts and comments. Reports leaked before Gor Mahia’s midweek match against Thika United last week that Rwandan import Jaques Tuyisenge would miss the match due to injury.
Kenyans, as former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph once said are a peculiar people. This peculiarity has also been captured by management guru Sunny Bindra in his tweets and weekly column. In football, this peculiarity comes out as a negation in a game that is facing various challenges on and off the pitch.
On a day that fans stormed the pitch after Guinea Bissau scored a controversial goal against the run of play, so many thing s happened on that pitch that I believe Okumbi should take note. First things first, Kenya lost fairly so the idea of poor officiating we can rule out for now.
On Wednesday 23rd March 2016, I watched the match between Guinea Bissau and Kenya which forced me to write this piece before the return match this Sunday in Nairobi. A lot can be deduced from the match, so I will do my best to outline each point with the gist and gest it deserves.
I interviewed John Baraza for Kenyanstar in 2012. Since then, I have watched him with admiration as he played for Sofapaka. His peers hanged their boots a few years ago, only Charles Okwemba is still creating good runs for Posta Rangers. However, you could see that Baraza’s big heart kept going but his feet had slowed down. Even though everyone knew it was a matter of time before his boots took the road to becoming family antiques, but Baraza kept going.
Before Harambee Stars faced Zambia in an AFCON qualifier a few weeks ago, Bobby Williamson lamented the lack of creative midfielders in Kenya. Kenya went ahead and lost the match and our midfield manned by England based Victor Wanyama and Collins “Gatuso” Okoth failed to shine and Kenya paid for it. In this match, Victor Wanyama was supposed to play central midfield, a position he is not accustomed to. He kept falling back to defensive mode full time which made him a loose cog in the team.
After Kenya went down 2-1 to Zambia recently, there was hue and cry on the social media walls and timelines. Before the match I went onto my facebook page and put up a post that might have looked like a wet blanket but I was proved right. I did not expect Kenya to win though I knew Zambia could lose the match. In short, our win was dependent on Zambia making mistakes.
Ushuru FC 0-1 Leopards
The match was tilted towards Ushuru, with AFC Leopards’ still trying to find their footing after a mass exodus of players. Ushuru were calm and collected on the ball and looked the better side but failed to convert their good football into goals. Ken Kenyatta coached boys boxed AFC Leopards out of the midfield but Michael Katende , their lone striker upfront did not convert the efforts.
It has taken me time to put my thoughts together after watching Kenya draw with an average Ethiopia national team to bow out CHAN (Championship of African Nations) a tournament reserved for local based players. One word kept ringing in my mind average.
From Saturday the 11th July to the 2nd August this year, the East and Central Africa region football bigwigs will be in Tanzania. The country was chosen as the hosts of this years CECAFA Club Cup popularly known as Kagame Cup. Despite Kenya being one of nations who wanted to host the showpiece, the media buzz has been of a low key and no one has come out boldly to question the decision.
I recently had a spat with colleagues from mainstream media houses regarding poor coverage of Kenyan football in the print media. I will mention that things are better on the TV side of things. Two main media houses tried to push independent Sports Weekly magazines which wound up before they could fly. This is often cited as the reason why the local print media will prioritize foreign football leagues to KPL.
It is not the quality of matches that bring out KPL, look between the matches to know where Kenyan football is headed. One season to catch the real situation in KPL is during the mid season break, and the just ended had more drama to swing my pen into action. When one time promising talent like Victor Ochieng’ and Obadiah Ndege are now languishing behind KPL news, there is a problem that needs to be sorted.
Visions change, but if there is one thing I would love to be even for one season is a professional football player. I love the game like many others but my recent interaction with the ‘Kenyan version’ of the beautiful game has left me thanking God that I never took football seriously.
“When you see a toad out at noon, know that someone is after its life.” That is one of Chinua Achebe’s literary gems. The state of the Kenyan football scene lacks lustre that one may think you cannot get a polished gem from it. That is far from truth, if you look again you will notice some unique stuff in the Kenyan football mire. Hooliganism is said to be a thorn in the flesh of Kenyan football.
The recently concluded KPL Footballer of The Year Award (FOYA) brought out the place statistics that Kenyan football has avoided for long. On social media, people started to bring up figures to prove why a certain player deserved an award and not the other. Others rubbished statistics as a basis of judging performance in sports. Statistics experts will tell you that figures do not lie, and you can explain everything using numbers. So why has KPL not taken data analysis seriously?
Sofapaka’s good run in the 2014 KPL season is not complete without mentioning Anthony Ekaliane Ndolo and Maurice Odipo; the twins of Sofapaka midfield. They form the twin piston engine at the centre of the club’s good run despite financial constraints. The exit of Humphery Mieno to AFC Leopards’ meant that the two players had more playing time together, and sooner they formed a partnership that won matches for Batoto ba Mungu.
KPL is coming to an end this Saturday, where focus is in Kisumu Stadium and Ruaraka. Gor Mahia is hosting Ushuru FC in Kisumu while Tusker FC will entertain Sofapaka FC at Ruaraka. Everyone believes Sofapaka will beat Tusker; every social media space is focusing on the Kisumu match. It does not matter which side you stand on, Ushuru FC tactician Ken Kenyatta and Francis Kimanzi ‘have the trophy’ under their arm pits. The irony is they cannot lift it up, they will either hand it to Gor, or by denying Gor, passing it on to Sofapaka by default. They are the men in the arena, the men of the moment.
For a long time football has been associated with the academically challenged. My Mathematics teacher Mr. Otieno Masai once asked us in class who said all footballers are fools. It was a known fact that most football players went to school in heart and soul only during football season, after which they would hang around and wait for the next season.
On a day that AFC Leopards’ fans showed up at “Tok Komwanda” in intimidating numbers, their technical bench sabotaged a good chance for silverware in a season that they need to redeem their spots. May be I am punching the wrong bag yet Sofapaka came out with a hunger for continental football next year, and walked into the final with a 2-0 win.
Someone at AFC Leopards’ has his thinking hat on. When I heard from an insider that Ingwe will be holding weekly pressers in their magnificent Upperhill office, I was impressed. Something new to look up to every week in the predictable Kenyan football scene is more than welcome. I have a rider though, but before I turn into a wet blanket, let me emphasize that it is a good idea.