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Celebrating Women: Kenyan female footballers turn heads in European clubs

FOOTBALL By Washington Onyango | March 8th 2021
Israel based Harambee Starlets player Esse Akida and teammates posing for a photo before a match in the team's dressing room. [Courtesy]

Revisiting strides made by Kenya female footballers in joining paid ranks since Doreen signed for Werder Bremen in 2008-2010.

 “The best protection any woman can have is courage.”

When American leader in women's rights movement Elizabeth Cady Stanton said these words, she did not have Harambee Starlets players in mind.

The football ladies have demystified the quote, worn it as a cloak and are now rising amid the daily challenges, to conquer the sport not only nationally but internationally.

U20 Starlets striker Corazon Aquino receive Special SJAK Award onbehalf of Essie Akida of National Starlets during the SJAK Awards in Nairobi on Dec 18, 2017. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

Despite the dire financial situation that is facing the Football Kenya Federation Women’s Premier League, which saw the league divided into two to curb the expenses, the Kenyan queens have beaten all odds by attracting interests from top European clubs.

Head Captain Harambee Starlets Anne Aluoch (centre) Mary Kinuthia Captain and top scorer Essie Akida (left) at Hotel Ole Sereni after arrival at JKIA from CECAFA Tournament in Uganda on Wednesday, Sept 2016. [PHOTO: JONAH ONYANGO/STANDARD]

After playing second fiddle to their brothers in Harambee Stars when it comes to players joining paid ranks abroad, Harambee Starlets appear to be slowly but surely finding their foot in this sector.

Starlets’ players have dominated the headlines in recent months with their moves abroad and many believe this is the start of a long term change in women’s football.

Last year, Kenya exported four players to top European clubs, thanks to Starlets’ successful campaign in 2019, and this is despite having Covid-19 pandemic derail sports activities around the world.

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Cynthia Shilwatso, Ruth Ingotsi, Corazon Aquino and shot stopper Annedy Kundu secured moves to Europe.

Starlets player Corazon Aquino display in the newly launched Sports Kits for the National Teams in Nairobi on Monday, May 22, 2017. [PHOTO: JONAH ONYANGO/STANDARD]

They joined Christine Nafula and Mary Kinuthia (both at Dalhem IF-Sweden) on the list of Kenyans playing abroad.

Though legendary Doreen Nabwire remains one of the most successful Kenyan female stars and the first Kenyan female professional footballer to have played in a European League, the current trend is encouraging.

These developments mark a sudden shift from West Africa to East Africa as scouts have started keeping tabs on Kenya.

Harambee Starlets Odhiambo Vivian Corazone Aquino against Algeria during CAF women Africa cup of nation qualifiers at Kasarani Stadium on Tuesday 12/04/16.PHOTO.BONIFACEOKENDO

Despite missing a ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games after losing to Zambia on aggregate in the penultimate round of the qualifiers, Starlets gave a good account of themselves on continental scene.

They went on to redeem themselves later by lifting their maiden Cecafa Championship title in Tanzania.

This is after they dethroned hosts and defending champions Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Queens 2-0 in the final.

Starlets combined their first regional cup win with a shocking 1-0 triumph over African giants Ghana in the Olympic qualifiers that was truly a turning point to the careers of many players.

Despite torrid times in the women’s premier league, Starlets continue to find reason to believe.

And believe they did when Eldoret Falcons duo of goalkeeper Annedy Kundu and defender Ruth Ingotsi signed a three-year deal with Cyprus outfit Lakatamia FC earlier last year.

The two ladies from Kakamega County were among the lucky Starlets players who were scouted during the regional tournament in Tanzania.

Midfielder Aquino followed suit after she completed her dream move from Gaspo Youth to Portuguese top-tier side Atletico Ouriense while Vihiga Queens midfielder Cynthia Shilwatso also bagged a three-year deal at Spanish top tier side EDF Logrono.

Other players who have had professional stints abroad include Vihiga Queen’s Terry Engesha who turned out for Swedish Division Two side Dalhem IF and Essie Akida, who recently joined Thika Queens after leaving Besiktas of Turkey.

Harambee Starlets head coach David Ouma said he is happy with these recent developments.

“We have a lot of talent in Kenya. What we need to do is continue investing in scouting and developing these talents.”

“The future is bright and were it not for the coronavirus pandemic, I believe we would have had many of our girls playing abroad. Nevertheless, this is a motivation to upcoming players that there is a future in football for women,” Ouma said.


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