Monday, November 5, 2007

Kenya's Passion for the Game

I found this article on The, where I'm the proud author of the Valencia CF blog.

It's from Kenya's 'Standard' newspaper and speaks about not only the peculiar viewing habits of Kenyan fans, but also the extreme passion Kenyans have for the game.

Have a read at the article here or on Standard website. It's well worth it!

Although critics may deride football as a game of 22 (grown up) men chasing an inflated piece of leather for 90 minutes, ardent fans do not regard it as a mere game. To them, it is a way of life.

Football lovers in Kenya, especially the younger generation, have taken to the game with so much passion that one would be forgiven for thinking the game was invented by Kenyans. And nothing brings out the best and the worst of the fan like foreign games broadcast on TV, especially the English Premier League.

Indeed, one of the most underrated peculiar habits of Kenyans, apart from their use of the mobile phone, is their application of personal pronouns like ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘us’ or ‘our’ to identify themselves with their favourite foreign teams.

"Sisi Arsenal ni wanoma, tutashinda game zote zimebaki," says one loudmouth with a replica ‘Emirates’ polyester jersey tailored in Nairobi’s Industrial Area. (We, Arsenal, are skilled and will win all the remaining games.)

"Wewe wacha, mimi ni Man U damu na tutachukua ligi. Nyinyi hamuwezani," another one in a faded red T-shirt says. (Forget about it, I’m a die-hard Manchester United fan and we will win the league title. You are not up to task.)

"Mazee, jana tulipoteza mechi ya maana, hata sikulala," a fan of a losing team would chip in. (Yesterday, we lost an important game and as I result I could not sleep.)

Wrecking marriage

A medical doctor in Eldoret who wishes only to be identified as Dr Dorothy, is struggling to keep her marriage intact due to differences with her husband over her zeal for English soccer.

"I am a die-hard fan of Liverpool, while my husband is disinterested in soccer," said Dorothy, whose husband is an engineer.

She says that her friends, five married women, usually come over to her place to noisily urge on their favourite teams while her husband watches documentaries on another TV in the bedroom. For Dorothy and company, hurling a few choice words at opposing players and the referee is all part of the game.

Late last month as Premiership sides Liverpool and Arsenal were sweating it out in a 1-1 draw, Dorothy’s husband came over to the sitting room and switched off the TV. He was apparently angered by the noise Dorothy and her friends were making, as they cheered.

"We argued in front of my friends and did not talk to each other for four days after the incident," says Dorothy, 35.

She adds: "Football is an integral part of my life. Some men think this is weird, but the truth is that there are more and more women football enthusiasts so we cannot be dismissed. Besides, countries like Germany and US have strong women soccer teams."

The medic says she was so excited last season that she was unable to sleep or eat properly for three days after Liverpool beat Barcelona 2-1 in the UEFA Champions League, at the Camp Nou, Spain.

A former MP from Western Province says he usually bets with his wife over results of Manchester United and Chelsea games.

"I am a Man U fan, while my wife supports the Blues (Chelsea). Last season when we lost the FA Cup, I had to part with Sh10,000 after our bet. She even teased me, saying the loss was a sign of what was to transpire come the December General Election," says the former MP, who sought anonymity.

However, like the politician he is, he did not take kindly to the comment about losing the parliamentary seat: "I was livid when she suggested I could lose the seat. The situation was so bad that we were not on talking terms for a whole week."

Another soccer fan, James Omondi, separated from his wife last year after he started ignoring her and got ‘married’ to the Spanish La Liga.

"I usually stay up late to watch the likes of Raul, Ronaldinho and Messi show their magical skills. Mid-last year, my wife of five years told me to choose between soccer and her," says Omondi, whose former wife left with their two children.

His wife walked out in a huff, as he spent most nights glued to the TV screen watching clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid.

A Nairobi resident, Joseph Wafula, claims that one of his neighbours parted ways with his wife for good during the 1998 Fifa World Cup because Nigeria lost a game.

"Those were the days when Nigeria was very popular in Kenya. When the husband came back home, his wife taunted him saying, ‘N’goo, you have lost.’ The man was so angry he beat his wife and chased her away. The wife never came back," claims Wafula.

Drowning sorrows in beer

Nothing relaxes graphic designer Julius Juma, 31, more than communicating with an online network of fans. "The Mafans Soccer forum has over 1,000 members. We communicate frequently and I get about 50 emails per day, including ‘friendly insults’ from opposing fans," says Juma, a Chelsea fan, adding that the forum involves hundreds of Kenyans in the Diaspora.

Jimmy Aol, a journalist, says that in such forums one might find Manchester United being referred to as ‘Man Useless’ or ‘Manure,’ Arsenal as ‘A**h*le’, while Chelsea rivals refer to it as ‘Chelski’ or ‘Blue band boys’ and Liverpool fans are taunted as ‘Liverfools’.

Like many Kenyan fans, Aol knows the finer details of the players of the top Premier League players, including their former and current clubs, their pay and in some instances, details about their families.

"I know what each player earns. I even know the names of some of the players’ parents," said Aol with a grin.

For Richard Okiko, a business executive, visiting the Arsenal website,, is a good way to spend free time. "I check on news of injured players, our next opponents and even visit the blogs to read comments made by Arsenal fans about the club," says Okiko, 30, who started supporting the team while at the university in the late 1990s.

He explains: "This is because Nwankwo Kanu, currently a Portsmouth player, was playing for Arsenal and scoring many classic goals."

He says some students used to get into fights and there was widespread betting. "The betting would sometimes be in terms of buying alcohol for whoever won the bet," he says.

He adds that by the time he completed his studies at the University of Nairobi, the institution had not installed satellite TV. "We used to watch the Premier League in pubs and restaurants in town," he says. "After the matches fans would ululate, shout and wail along the streets."

Most fans Crazy Monday talked to said when their teams lose, they drown their sorrows in beer and when their teams win they celebrate with even more beer.

Mercy Atieno, 29, says she is an Arsenal die-hard. Her husband of one year also supports the same team. However, her two brothers are fans of Arsenal’s archrivals, Manchester United.

"I started supporting Arsenal in 1997. I guess I had to be inclined to a team that was a bitter rival of Man United," says she.

Atieno’s younger brother, Allan Odongo says he supports Man U because its manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, does not discriminates against any player.

"If we lose I get distressed and can go without meals for a day," said Odongo.

Beverly Kaluli, an accountant, is a Blues supporter. She cannot stand a Blues player missing a penalty.

"Every time a Chelsea player is about to take a penalty, I rush out of the room as I cannot stand watching him missing. And when we win a game, I proudly put on my Chelsea jersey," explains Kaluli, who started supporting the club after Jose Mourinho took over as coach. Although Mourinho’s departure ‘broke her heart,’ she continues supporting the club.

"He is a resilient coach who works hard. I will support any club he will move to but at the same time I will continue supporting Chelsea," says Kaluli, whose best player is the Ivory Coast and Chelsea striker, Didier Drogba.

Many Kenyans believe they can influence the results of games played on TV by crossing their fingers, putting on particular clothes or tightening the muscles of their buttocks.

It is also baffling that some Kenyans can simultaneously support two different teams in the same league or defect from a team that is performing poorly to one that is having a good run. Generally, fans of English teams are born supporting one team and die supporting the same team. In Kenya, like our politicians, some fans move from one team to another at will. "Mimi ni wa Bolton (I support Bolton FC)," somebody would say today. After noticing Bolton’s poor performance, the same person would say a few weeks later, "Haki ya mungu mimi kutoka leo ni Arsenal for life. I can’t support a losing team."

But is this Premier league craze good for Kenyan football? The local league is now in the homestretch yet few fans seem concerned.

One of Kenya’s soccer legends, Joe Kadenge, says that football in the country is dead. He cites the apathy to local football as illustration of how the sport has gone to the doldrums.

Kadenge told Crazy Monday that during his heydays, the game was in the hearts of many Kenyans."Mashabiki walikuwa wanapenda mpira na hata ghasia zikiwua mingi," he says (Fans loved the game and there were frequent fights between them).

Kadenge, 72, argues that soccer hooliganism was part and parcel of the game about 30 years ago, since every team played to win.

"Gor and AFC Leopards were the main clubs. The two clubs’ fans used to be emotionally charged," he says.

David Ochieng, 50, recalls the 1980s local soccer scene with nostalgia. "We used to carry stones in coats and socks. And when police started frisking us, we started carrying the ‘missiles’ in briefcases while we were dressed in suits," says Ochieng, with a hearty laughter.

The briefcases and immaculate dressing hoodwinked the officers, thus letting the soccer fans into the stadium with their ‘missiles.’ Ochieng, a Gor Mahia supporter, says police often wondered where the stones whizzing past them at the end of the match came from.

Traders would close their shops before the end of the game and motorists would avoid the road from either City or Nyayo stadiums.

Although the rivalry used to leave some people injured, it made the game more popular. Gor versus AFC always created a carnival atmosphere. The throbbing sound of the isikuti galvanized ingwe (Leopard, AFC’s nickname) supporters as Gor fans chanted "Gor biro yawne yo" (Gor is coming, give way), among other chants. ‘Travelling fans’ were also a reality.

"We used to hire vehicles to transport us to Nairobi from Kisumu. For AFC fans, they travelled all the way from Kakamega and other parts of Western Kenya to the capital city," he says.

1 comment:

Krokodil said...

Hi, I am a South African living in Cape Town. Soccer is indeed the opium of our continent, but I know more about rugby. Soccer brings hapiness to our townships.
Remember that for impoverished families in Africa a child that "makes" the higher leagues locally and maybe eventually one of the clubs in Europe (even the lesser ones)provides a way out of poverty. Most of the African players buy the family a home with their first earnings.
Visit my blog and keep contact then you know somebody in Cape Town already when you arrive here.