National secondary school games have dominated Kenyan sports news segments this week. As usual, football has taken centre stage. Names like Agoro Sare, Shanderema, and Matiliku have been rolling musically off football fans’ tongues. Fan turnout at these games beats what we saw in most premier league games last season.
The impressive fan turnout puts to absolute shame the commonly peddled excuse for empty stadia during Kenya Premier League and other FKF matches: Kenyans do not love football. I have all along insisted this is a farce. When I coached my village team, I had problems every Sunday we did not have a game. One old man used to tell me, “Look at this town. All these people are drunk because you decided they should be idle this afternoon!”
I have been willing to write about this. However, I just found someone who says it better.
Otieno Otieno, aka Alego Times says,
About 25,000 fans were in attendance as Shanderema took on Agoro Sare in the KSSSA Nationals edition. Now there is a group that drives the narrative that Kenyans do not love football, including former CECAFA boss Nicholas Musonye. That is the most fallacious argument I have heard.
Kenyans love football. You only need to understand the football culture, and its constitution to know how wrong the above group is. Sadly, even our football clubs have bought into the above misleading narrative, and continue to blame fans.
The point is simple. A sense of belonging is the premise of our football. Football fans in Kenya associate with clubs or outfits that appeal to their sense of belonging. Football clubs in the villages and in the hoods pull more crowds than top-flight clubs because the former are closer and more connected to the fans than the latter. Fan turnout brims when these teams play. Their village and hood are represented. Ask yourself why Koth Biro pulls crowds of passionate followers as a tournament but not any regular top-flight tournament. Ask yourself why village soccer has more crowds and passionate fans than KPL’s top competitions.
The issue is not even about the gate fee. KPL clubs have sometimes opened the gates to fans but still register dismal attendance or lack passionate fans that can push their brands. In top-flight football, Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Zoo Kericho, and Muhoroni Youth have some degree of such fans. Another club with passionate fans who believe that the club is a representation of them now is added to the list with the return of Shabana FC.
Connections Breeds High Fan Turnout
Secondary School football games have this special connection with football lovers and fans because a school is a community. A school is a marker of identity for alumni, current learners, and for its neighbours. It is supported by almost all and sundry insofar as it appeals to the sense of community and identity. Trust me, if KSSSA decided to charge a gate fee for these games, people will pay. People travel for these games because the school is part of them, and they believe the school needs their support.
Football stakeholders in our country must understand this special connection and overall our football culture. Only by understanding it, they can be able to bring football to its rightful owners, the people. They can package the brand in a manner that fans feel connected and appreciated, and this over time creates a sustainable relationship of support from the fanbase.
But when stakeholders believe that Kenyans don’t love local football, and they continue to do nothing, we are forever condemned to wretchedness! Kenyans love football. Our following of foreign leagues stems from two factors: the deteriorating state of our local football (stakeholders refusing to establish a fan-centric model of operations), and the desire for more, albeit an adventurous and curious spirit that is definitive of humans.
Organisers and managers of FKF leagues have nowhere to hide now. The message is clear: Kenyans love football. The discussion on community ownership of clubs has to return to the table. By community, we don’t mean tribes. Rather, we are talking about people who share a sense of belonging. This could be living in the same place, school alumni, and so on.
Lower tier competitions -Sub/County Leagues, Div I, II – are turning out impressive numbers. For how long will the big clubs resist?