Thursday, December 10

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: More football

Kenyan football is, for the most part, over for the season. The Kenyan Premier League wrapped up its regular season in the third week of November, and the national team, the Harambee Stars, are done after failing to qualify for both the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations and losing in the quarter finals of the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup to Uganda. All that's left to look forward to now for fans of Kenyan football are Sofapaka's first Champions League tournament and AFC Leopards entrance in the CAF Confederation Cup, both beginning in February.

Not that there isn't still a lot of football to enjoy. For instance the center is hosting the inaugural Nakuru West Football Peace Tournament the next two weeks. Ten teams composed of boys from the neighborhood are participating, and judging from their size, I would guess ages range from 8 to 15. Carol AFC, the home team played the Friendly Stars to a 1-1 draw in the opening match. About half of the teams I've seen play have come with uniforms of any sort, though more than a few play without shoes of any sort. Otherwise, I've been very impressed. It has all been organized, from finding the teams to bringing kids to set up new goal posts and dig sidelines and goalboxes on our pitch, by a local secondary student. People walking down the road have sat down just outside our fence to watch.

Of course, football in Kenya will never be over so long as the English Premier League plays. Local favorites are Arsenal, closely followed by Manchester United. A banner was hung over the main street to announce a 'red-hot' party at one of the resorts when Arsenal played Man-U, and knock-off jerseys and shirts for them are everywhere. It's the same at the center. After the last holiday break, a bunch of the boys took pens to their shirts turn them into English jerseys, and one spent half his last sponsor letter describing in detail why Liverpool is his favorite (mostly because it has Torres).

It's frustrating, really. Most of the kids probably couldn't name any team in Kenya but listing off the starting line-ups of the top English clubs is no problem. You can only find Harambee Stars jerseys in Nairobi and even then they're rare. And forget about finding KPL jerseys. The only reason AFC sells them is that I think they have some sort of Green Bay Packers thing going on with the fans owning the team. Seriously, they die hard. When AFC was facing relegation at the tail end of the season, fans started fundraising to pay the players 10,000 shilling bonuses for every game they won.

I want to tell the kids to have a little local football pride. Quit cheering for the teams you only see on TV. Watch the Ulinizi Stars and Red Berets in person. Sure my high school's football field and track is in better condition than Afraha Stadium, but it's an awful lot more fun to be there than watching SuperSport.

It's funny that it's taken five months in Nakuru to realize this. I never attended any Shock or Chiefs or Indians games in Spokane, and my attendance at Gonzaga athletics was, at best, lackluster. I can claim an indifference to sports in general was the cause, but in Nakuru, any opportunity to spend time away from the center and kids is welcome. Sports have provided that outlet for me, and now it bothers me when the locals don't even care about their boys. Why not cheer for the guys you might actually see around town? What about the athletes who aren't multi-millionaires endorsing whatever garbage or whose every move is tracked on ESPN? What about sports at a level where it is still a fun game and not a culture? Local may not be professsional and top tier, but the games are still fun and a far sight cheaper.

In any case, there's rugby to look forward to now. At least Kenyans have some pride in that. You can actually find the national team jerseys. Now I just need to learn the rules of the game.

No comments: