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Bullets of Vihiga fall silent as coronavirus hurts clubs

Last updated 1 month ago | By Eric Lungai

Vihiga Bullets players (sitting down) listen to their head coach Edward Manoah (in red T-shirt) after finishing their training at Hamisi grounds. [Eric Lungai, Standard]

If there was any doubt Vihiga County is an unrivalled reservoir of football talent in Kenya, consider the case of Vihiga United FC. Within three years of its formation in 2014, Vihiga United, boasting youthful talent from the county were promoted to Kenya’s top-tier league in 2017.

Encouraged by this success, Vihiga Bullets was formed to absorb talented footballers from the county. Until the novel coronavirus hit the Kenyan shores, Vihiga Bullets were on course to emulate their ‘sibling’ Vihiga United.

Like many other clubs in Kenya, the future of Vihiga Bullets is in jeopardy as Covid-19 pandemic has literally left them with nothing but a begging bowl in their hands.

The Vihiga-based club may be lucky to still be clinging on their second-tier status, the National Super League, unlike such clubs Sony Sugar, who were demoted from the Kenyan Premier League last season due to financial constraints.

Vihiga Bullets, who play in the National Super League, is facing dissolution because they can no longer sustain themselves.

In a region that once had vibrant football teams, the Covid-19 situation is not helped by the ailing sugar factories that used to sponsor most of these teams. 

Chemilil Sugar and Nzoia Sugar and Vihiga United (sponsored by Vihiga County) have had serious challenges with players going for months without pay.

For Vihiga Bullets, without a long-running heritage having been formed three years ago, their situation is worse despite the huge promise the community club has already shown.

“After suffering silently for some time, we now want to bring public attention to the challenges we are facing, particularly financial and make an appeal to potential sponsors to come in and help us,” club CEO Collins Juma spoke to The Standard.

Juma said the club has solely relied on small donations from the community since its inception in 2018, but in the wake of Covid-19 that has hit everyone hard, it has become difficult for them to operate or raise bare minimum for operational costs.

“Vihiga people have been very supportive, and should not give up on the team. We pray they continue giving us the necessary support as we go forward,” he said.

After forming Vihiga United in 2014 which performed exemplarily and got promoted to Kenya Premier League in 2017, former Vihiga Governor Moses Akaranga teamed up with former AFC Leopards tactician Edward Manoah to also found Vihiga Bullets.

Manoah, together with former Leopards’ strikers Tom Tera and Francis Xavier with Akaranga’s blessings, had worked hard to start Vihiga United from scratch and saw it get promoted to KPL in a record three years.   

Akaranga saw the need to form another community team to absorb the many talents coming out of the region, but could not be accommodated in Vihiga United.   

“Many players were coming out especially after United got promoted to KPL and saying they wanted to compete at the very top level in football. Unfortunately, it could not absorb all of them, and therefore the need to have Bullets,” Akaranga said.    

According to Juma, Vihiga Bullets has also opened its doors to players from outside the county. “We also need to learn from players coming from outside the county. Currently, we have two from Nairobi, three from Nakuru, one from Mombasa, two from Migori, one from Turkana and majority from neighbouring counties of Kisumu, Kakamega, Bungoma, and Busia.”

The team has 35 players and 12 members of the technical bench. Some the players to have emerged from Vihiga Bullets include John Wanda, a midfielder now with AFC Leopards.

Alex Imbusia left Bullets and joined Vihiga United when they were still in the Kenyan Premier League.

“Our target this coming season was to boost the team with the acquisition of talented and experienced players between the ages of 17 up to 23 to hasten the team’s progress,” Juma said.

When they joined the league in 2018, the majority of their players were averagely 19 years, who made the bedrock of the team and have now come of age.

Currently, the team is managed by Manoah, and assisted by former AFC Leopards and Vihiga United goalkeeper Barnabas Tiema and Francis Xavier.

Juma said Vihiga Bullets strives to instill sporting values above the financial rewards. “Financial reward follows automatically when you do well. We teach the boys here the value of hard work and passion for the game,” he said.

“It is a shame Covid-19 has shaken the foundation of this club which has the hallmarks of being a great team. Thus far, the players have stuck with the club.

“We have never received any bad reports about our players who have joined other clubs because of the virtues they have learnt here. We are proud of them,” he said.

If there was any doubt Vihiga County is an unrivalled reservoir of football talent in Kenya, consider the case of Vihiga United FC. Within three years of its formation in 2014, Vihiga United, boasting youthful talent from the county, were promoted to Kenya’s top-tier league in 2017.

Encouraged by this success, Vihiga Bullets was formed to absorb talented footballers from the county. Until the novel coronavirus hit the Kenyan shores, Vihiga Bullets were on course to emulate their ‘sibling’ Vihiga United.

Like many other clubs in Kenya, the future of Vihiga Bullets is in jeopardy as Covid-19 pandemic has literally left them with nothing but a begging bowl in their hands.

The Vihiga-based club may be lucky to still be clinging on their second-tier status, the National Super League, unlike such clubs Sony Sugar, who were demoted from the Kenyan Premier League last season due to financial constraints.

Vihiga Bullets, who play in the National Super League, is facing dissolution because they can no longer sustain themselves.

In a region that once had vibrant football teams, the Covid-19 situation is not helped by the ailing sugar factories that used to sponsor most of these teams. 

Chemilil Sugar and Nzoia Sugar and Vihiga United (sponsored by Vihiga County) have had serious challenges with players going for months without pay.

Vihiga United's Dennis Ombeva (right) angles for the ball from Nzoia Sugar FC's James Kibande when the teams met earlier in the 2018/19 season. [Eric Lungai, Standard]

For Vihiga Bullets, without a long-running heritage having been formed three years ago, their situation is worse despite the huge promise the community club has already shown.

“After suffering silently for some time, we now want to bring public attention to the challenges we are facing, particularly financial and make an appeal to potential sponsors to come in and help us,” club CEO Collins Juma spoke to The Standard.

Juma said the club has solely relied on small donations from the community since its inception in 2018, but in the wake of Covid-19 that has hit everyone hard, it has become difficult for them to operate or raise bare minimum for operational costs.

“Vihiga people have been very supportive, and should not give up on the team. We pray they continue giving us the necessary support as we go forward,” he said.

After forming Vihiga United in 2014 which performed exemplarily and got promoted to Kenya Premier League in 2017, former Vihiga Governor Moses Akaranga teamed up with former AFC Leopards tactician Edward Manoah to also found Vihiga Bullets.

Manoah, together with former Leopards’ strikers Tom Tera and Francis Xavier with Akaranga’s blessings, had worked hard to start Vihiga United from scratch and saw it get promoted to KPL in a record three years.   

Akaranga saw the need to form another community team to absorb the many talents coming out of the region, but could not be accommodated in Vihiga United.   

“Many players were coming out especially after United got promoted to KPL and saying they wanted to compete at the very top level in football. Unfortunately, it could not absorb all of them, and therefore the need to have Bullets,” Akaranga said.    

According to Juma, Vihiga Bullets has also opened its doors to players from outside the county. “We also need to learn from players coming from outside the county. Currently, we have two from Nairobi, three from Nakuru, one from Mombasa, two from Migori, one from Turkana and majority from neighbouring counties of Kisumu, Kakamega, Bungoma, and Busia.”

The team has 35 players and 12 members of the technical bench. Some the players to have emerged from Vihiga Bullets include John Wanda, a midfielder now with AFC Leopards.

Dennis Oliech is tackled by Vihiga United team players during Sportpesa Kenya Premier League match at Bukhungu Stadium on February 6, 2019. Gor won 1-0. [Photo: BY BENJAMIN SAKWA]

Alex Imbusia left Bullets and joined Vihiga United when they were still in the Kenyan Premier League.

“Our target this coming season was to boost the team with acquisition of talented and experienced players between the ages of 17 up to 23 to hasten the team’s progress,” Juma said.

When they joined the league in 2018, majority of their players were averagely 19 years, who made the bedrock of the team and have now come of age.

Currently, the team is managed by Manoah, and assisted by former AFC Leopards and Vihiga United goalkeeper Barnabas Tiema and Francis Xavier.

Juma said Vihiga Bullets strives to instill sporting values above the financial rewards. “Financial reward follows automatically when you do well. We teach the boys here the value of hard work and passion for the game,” he said.

“It is a shame Covid-19 has shaken the foundation of this club which has the hallmarks of being a great team. Thus far, the players have stuck with the club.

“We have never received any bad reports about our players who have joined other clubs because of the virtues they have learnt here. We are proud of them,” he said.

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