Just like the rest of football enthusiasts in the country, AFC Leopards chairman Dan Shikanda can’t wait for football to return at the refurbished Nyayo National Stadium.
The historic 30,000-seater facility, Kenya’s second largest stadium, was finally reopened by President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday after nearly 41 months of wait.
Football was the worst hit when the stadium was closed for renovation in May 2017, ahead of the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN), which Kenya lost the hosting rights to Morocco because they were not ready to host the continental event.
Since then, the facility has been inaccessible to both the national teams (Harambee Stars and Harambee Starlets) and all the Nairobi-based FKF Premier League teams that have been using the venue.
They include record league champions Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, KCB, Kariobangi Sharks, Mathare United, Tusker, Posta Rangers, Wazito and Sofapaka.
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AFC Leopards, who consider Nyayo as their traditional home ground, last played at the venue on August 27, 2017 when they drew 1-1 with rivals Gor Mahia before switching to Kasarani, Afraha, Machakos, Bukhungu and Mumias Sports Complex as their alternative venues.
Ingwe had made Nyayo their fortress in the 1980s and late 1990s before they began limping after winning their last league title in 1998.
Save for the patched tartan track, the few improved features at the main stadium from the playing surface, to the modern dressing room, VIP pavilion, working electronic board and the perfectly installed seats, have somehow left football fans enthralled.
And Saturday’s (October 3) Kip Keino Classic will be the first event at the multi-sport facility before hosting two international friendly matches pitting Harambee Stars against Zambia and Sudan on October 10 and 13 respectively.
Furthermore, Football Kenya Federation (FKF) president Nick Mwendwa has earmarked Nyayo as the venue for the opening match of the 2020/2021 FKF Premier League season scheduled for November 6/7.
But for Shikanda, the reopening of Nyayo is of more importance to Ingwe than any club as it can be a springboard for the club to aim and end their 22-year domestic league title drought.
He feels the refurbished Nyayo has set the benchmark for Premier League teams that are planning to build their own stadiums.
“We used nine stadiums as our home ground last season, but with Nyayo National Stadium available for use, it’s now predictable where we will be playing our home matches,” Shikanda told Standard Sports.
“This is a game changer in our Premier League. It has actually set the benchmark for clubs that are planning to build their own stadiums. We need to get something close to this so that when our players play, they can feel the difference. We hope coming back here will help us restore our lost glory as a club.”
“Being relieved is an understatement, I was with Posta Rangers and KCB chairmen at the unveiling ceremony and both are looking forward to bringing their matches here.”
While Shikanda expressed his satisfaction with Nyayo’s upgrading, FKF President Nick Mwendwa said they have asked the Ministry of Sports to make a few changes on the facility for it to reach international standards.
“We’ve asked the ministry to make a few changes because of Caf and Fifa matches. We would like to bring Caf matches (Champions League and Confederation Cup) here instead of Kasarani because it’s accessible to most people,” said Mwendwa.