by Peter Wanyonyi
Today’s football”, the old man intoned, toothless gums smacking with disgust, “is nothing. Back in my day…”
Predictably, he went on to reminisce about the halcyon days of Kenyan football, when football players were ordinary guys who lived across the ridge, married village beauties and kicked the hell out of inflated rubber.
His disgust is not isolated. Football these days is manifested as one of two ghastly apparitions: Either a completely mind-boggling fixation with foreign teams — to the point of some fans committing suicide when ‘their’ European team loses to another European team in far-off Siberia, or as swag-fest, a show-off of noise and cars and drunkenness and scantily-clad fans. It wasn’t always that way, as the old man observed sagely.
Football was never really a profession in those days. It was a pastime, very much an amateur sport. All the players that turned out for the biggest teams had a real life and a real job. They were accountants, dentists, teachers and engineers. This helped them relate with the fans, for the person you were watching performing magic on the pitch would be teaching your child or fixing your teeth the next morning.
Not for them the high-maintenance “wags” — Wives And Girlfriends — that litter the modern sporting landscape like so much loose flotsam and jetsam. None of today’s fake glitter was on display then. The legendary Mahmoud Abbas was the best goalkeeper in Africa and highly regarded in the rest of the world, but that didn’t stop him going to his day job every morning. Indeed, when a Belgian team had the temerity to approach Abbas’s understudy, Washington Muhanji, to keep goal for them after his heroics at the 1990 African Cup of Nations tournament, Muhanji was unmoved, preferring to continue his career as a soldier with the Kenya Army.
That would be unheard of in our ‘blinged-out’ generation of footballers today. They live for nothing more than that coveted stint playing abroad, and come to Kenya only to show off their large-as-houses foreign cars. Granted, everyone is entitled to enjoy the sweat of their labour, but these players are real drama queens. Where previously teams were honoured to have their pictures in the newspapers representing Kenya, these days, our star players are more likely to get photographed in our sister magazine Pulse — bingeing and fooling around with half naked women — than playing soccer.
Yet football was no child’s play in the old days, the old man added. It’s easy to see what he meant. Back then; when the likes of Reginald Asibwa and Austin Oduor played in Kenya’s defense, opposing strikers needed guts to even attempt to score against us.
These days, strikers are treated like beauty queens. If a goalkeeper so much as breathes a striker’s exhaled air, the striker goes down weeping for a penalty. They wouldn’t have survived the old football, which paid peanuts but demanded the best from the best.
Doesn’t that remind you of our politics?
- Stage fright aside, Kandie is a consummate professional
- Brave police officers who should be garlanded
- Human cost of medical negligence is unacceptable
- Kimaiyo should mind his acts and remarks on force reforms
- Sh20m plant a relief for soya farmers, traders
- Airport construction to help export livestock products