Kenyans should back community football clubs now

Shabana FC fans celebrate after the team won the National Super League title after beating Kisumu All Stars 2-0 at Gusii Stadium. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

A few years ago, a top East African football leader quipped that Kenyans pretend to love the beautiful game but only pay lip serve to it. He infuriated Kenyans further by adding that the fans only converge in entertainment joints to cheer their favourite European teams at the peril of their struggling football clubs.

The uproar was huge as Kenyan fans took on him through social media. The Kenyan Premier League clubs were then languishing in financial debts, unpaid players’ allowances and lack of transport. Majority of the top tier clubs could not honour some matches due to lack of money. The stadiums were empty as big matches went on without fans.

After some time, Supersport, Azam TV, Sportpesa, Betika and a few other betting companies put a little money into the league and things started looking up. Besides a few hiccups here and there, today, the league has improved in leaps and bounds.

Fans have returned to the stadiums and matches enjoy admirable coverage on TV and radio. Players have started being appreciated better financially and the game is improving. The league has become competitive, with new teams joining the elite clubs as others drop to the lower division. This is as it should be.

This year, Murang’a Seals and Shabana FC have excited the KPL fan base as the new kids on the block. With the support of their fanbase, the two teams have brought back the phenomenon of community football clubs. This is besides Gor Mahia, which largely draws Luo support and AFC Leopards’ Luhya backing as well as other clubs spread across the country.

Shabana FC draws its support from the Gusii community, while Murang’a Seals is majorly backed by the Kikuyu community. This could ignite community club rivalry and hopefully raise the standards of the game and make football widely accepted and popular.

However, Kenyan fans must come out strongly and support their community clubs with resources and physical presence. There should be no club playing in empty stadiums for lack of fans. Further, the fans must be patient and support the newly promoted clubs as they navigated the league. The results cannot be immediate, especially when they face experienced KPL sides who have been in the game for decades.

As former Harambee Stars player Elijah Onsika noted recently, the journey demands perseverance, belief and a collective will to fight. They must also rediscover their unity, passion and determination to go through tough games, hostile opposition players, fans and even officials.

They must identify their strengths, address their weaknesses fast and seek constant improvement. The new clubs must also give their technical benches enough time to build successful teams. They must also avoid the temptation to sack coaches after losing a few matches. It is a long journey, but one that is surmountable.

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