NAIROBI, November 29 – They first sprung to prominence a decade ago when they ran rings round their more seasoned opponents Eldoret KCC to win the 1998 Moi Golden Cup.
Clad in their famous yellow and green and still in the Nationwide league, Mathare United announced their arrival on the local scene in some fashion as Asman Ngaywa scored an early double that gave the fledgling club their first major trophy.
Swift promotion to the premier league followed that win as the Kenyan football circles braced itself for total domination.
But other than a second Moi Golden Cup win in 2000, the slum boys flattered to deceive coming close but not quite pulling it off.
In 2007 for example, they were runaway leaders for most of the season but then tumbled to a late charge by eventual champions Tusker. They finished second in 2001, third in 2002 and a surprising eighth in 2005-2006 season.
Despite boasting an array of talent, the slum boys simply could not put together the sum parts. But this year, they finally came good to bag their maiden league crown and fulfill the potential and promise shown all those years ago.
It may have been a long wait for the slum boys but they won it with style and panache; their crisp passing and technique befuddling many a team in a way that few others can muster.
They were deserving champions registered the most wins (18) losing only three; scored 47 goals and conceded 22 for a healthy goal aggregate of 25 and fittingly, Fifa president Sepp Blatter has sent his congratulatory message to the side.
Their infinitely superior performances was no doubt down to several factors chiefly among them their young brilliant coach Francis Kimanzi.
In Kimanzi, Mathare possess a modern coach blessed with tactical awareness and a perceptive sense and he has guided the slum boys to the title calmly and steadily.
His use of his squad and application made the difference. The experience he gained in his stint as the national football team coach also widened his range of options and decision making.
Astute recruitment in the off season played a major role in their march towards the title. The return of Austin Makacha, signing of the Ayong twins – Kennedy and Ato was crucial.
Makacha in particular was a masterstroke as he drove the team forward from midfield bringing on the requisite experience and leadership and it is no wonder that he is back in the national team where he is seen as a crucial cog.
Ken Ayong has also revelled at left back with his marauding runs and crossing ability causing opposing defenders no end of problems.
The return of Edgar Ochieng and Kevin Ochieng and Duncan Ochieng after professional stints in Asia and Europe respectively in the June transfer window gave the slum boys a huge boost as it increased their depth giving Kimanzi more options from the bench.
Ochieng in particular firmed up the back line adding ballast to it and his partnership with Lloyd Wahome and skipper Anthony Kimani saw them concede the third least number of goals in the season.
Having many players in the national team also helped because the experience they gained at that level helped them navigate the last few matches as tension built.
Having handled similar pressure cooker situations, they were able to travel tough places like Awendo, Bandari and Muhoroni and get results.
In fact, Mathare were far from overwhelmed in such assignments which cannot be said of league runners up Sony Sugar who folded whenever they played away from Awendo.
Having the league’s top scorer no doubt helped their cause. Francis Ouma’s 15 goals were a major fillip for the slum boys.
His form in the last month in particular helped drag his side over the line scoring a hatrick in their away match against Western Stima in Bukhungu stadium as well as his brace in the league’s final game.
Mathare United’s impact in Kenyan football however goes beyond just winning the league.
With an extensive youth policy, by MYSA, Mathare has produced many of the country’s top players which led to the formation of Mathare Youth- a sort of junior side for Mathare.
It also produces the bulk of the national team players. Duncan Ochieng, Anthony Kimani, Edgar Ochieng, Kevin Ochieng and Kennedy Ayong just to mention a few.
In fact most of Harambee Stars first team players have at one time or the other played at Mathare with Arnold Origi, Dennis Oliech, Titus Mulama, Jamal Mohammed all springing to mind.
Mathare United has also lent their former players to a host of teams in the KPL. Bandari have Philip Opiyo and Walter Odede, KCB have Paul Ambembo, Mahakama has Sammy Kiongi, Gor Mahia had Alfred Chege etc.
The club’s players also play significant roles in developing their communities by championships such worth causes such the fight against the HIV Aids scourge.
Every player is trained on AIDS prevention and is a field worker in Mathare sums. They also do community work every month and usually they coach a Mathare Youth team.
Drawing its roots at the vast Mathare slums which has a population of over half a million people, Mathare United was formed to help give youth around the slum a chance.
An offshoot of Mathare Youth Sports Association, the club was formed in 1994 to as professional outfit of MYSA to cater for the players who had come through the junior ranks.
Among its other achievements are a first round appearance in CAF cup in 2000 and two appearances in CAF Cup winners’ cup in 1999 and 2001.
The continental scene will present the latest challenge for the slum boys. Their previous forays were nothing to write about but having grown in stature, 2009 maybe different.
They will however have to contend with losing some of their key players. Ouma is headed for Tanzanian side Azam as is Edgar Ochieng and Kimanzi will have to forage hard for Ouma’s replacement in particular.