NAIROBI, Kenya, May 27 – On Wednesday night, thousands of Kenyans will flock to the bars in numbers, frothy drinks will flow freely as they cheer either Manchester United or Barcelona on to victory in the Uefa Champions League final.Despite it being a working day, replica jerseys of both teams have dotted the streets, networking sites like Facebook have been full of jibes about both teams, the tension between two sets of fans almost palapable.
But while Kenyans’ show such an appetite for European football, a question comes to mind, why are not as fervent in our support of our own local football.
True Kenyans flock the stadium in their thousands when the national team is playing, but the fans have been conspicuously lacking whenever our club sides are in action.
How many fans for example were at Nyayo national stadium last weekend when there were two premier league matches for the price of one?
And the teams that were playing included reigning champions Mathare United and this year’s most outstanding team so far Sofapaka.
What happened to the good old days in the eighties and early nineties when fans would fill Nyayo stadium for a league match? Where did that passion go?
A number of reasons can be pointed. One is that local football is not of the desired quality. The league suffered from a multitude of issues at the turn of the century and this led to fan apathy.
Two leagues, two federations, lack of funds have all contributed to a weaker league.
The quality declined to deplorable standards with players unable to execute even the most basic of tasks like ball control.
The pilferation of the monster that is the English Premier league has also played a huge part. Its production is world class and one gets to watch it when seated in the pub or in the house.
Proper marketing of the English Premier League has seen it acclaimed as the best league in the world and with Kenyans’ tendency to want to be associated with most things western has seen them buy into it.
Our current teams lack the fanatical support enjoyed by the great Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards or even Re Union of eighties.
With most teams supported by corporate, it has been hard for them to draw support from fans as depicted by Tusker who despite being one of the most successful teams in Kenya, they boast almost no support.
In contrast, most sides in Europe are community clubs and draw support from their regions.
This is a fact most explained by die hard Gor Mahia fans who still follow their team’s every move despite going through lean times staying true to the green of Kogalo and their rejuvenated form has seen the number of fans increase.
It is for similar reasons that the return of AFC Leopards to the premier League was so welcome because Ingwe command similar following and that besides the two, maybe only Sofapaka commands a similar following.
Maybe our corporates should support existing community clubs rather than setting up their own clubs which would guarantee support from the communities around them.
However all is not lost, the recent revival of Kenyan Premier League no doubt assisted by the huge sponsorship deal by SuperSport is slowly turning things around.
Clubs are getting incentives and support and the quality is improving. Likewise, Supersport is beaming Kenyan games live on TV and their quality of broadcast is making a world of difference.
The spotlight provided by the South African company is slowly turn attention and focus on the league with sponsors slowly getting back into the sport.
If you can’t beat them join them goes the saying and KPL has gone a step further to try and accommodate the English premier league. Matches now start at 3pm so that by 5pm, they are over and fans can proceed to the bars for their weekly doses of Arsenal, Chelsea etc.
Maybe we should adopt a way of curtailing European matchs from being watched if they are running concurrently with out local matches.
In England for example no 3pm kick off match on a Saturday is shown live on TV. Instead fans countrywide are instead encouraged to go to stadiums and cheer their team.
Actually its easier to watch Premier League when in Africa than in London and it also explains why most games involving the big four are almost always played on Sunday or a slate or early kick offs.