From the pub to the pitch: The sobering story of Marafiki Football Club
“Necessity is the mother of invention” so goes the old adage. It basically means the primary driving force for most new inventions is a need.
So when Covid-19 arrived on Kenyan shores, men were denied their freedom to imbibe at their favourite joints as lockdown and social distancing protocols kicked in. However, man has to do what man needs to do and so in a Nyeri club, some patrons came up with a fitness plan that involves sweating it out in road running before settling down to wash their throats with their favourite drinks. This has, in turn, sparked a revival of a local football team with excitement building over what the future holds for the sport.
Before corona, in 2018, a group of friends were enjoying watching a football match in local pubs when they made a pact to keep fit and meet up at the local stadium for a friendly football match. These friends, accompanied by a few of their club patrons, drove to the local stadium cheered each other as they attempted to outrun or dribble past their “opponents” in a bid to score a goal.
That was the origin of Marafiki FC coached by Junior Kabuga.
“We made it a habit to meet up on Sunday afternoons as local wazees to play and keep fit, and after a few games, we noticed a crowd of young people used to come and watch. So, we decided to give them a chance,” Kabuga stated.
Speaking to The Nairobian, Kabuga said, they offered youth a platform to play football. While their main aim was to keep fit, they ended up nurturing and funding the youth in the area to showcase their talent.
That is how they ended up at the top of the county league in 2020.
“After sports and pubs were banned, due to Covid 19, more football fans started looking for a way to enjoy the games and stay safe,” Kabuga noted.
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The games have become communial creating a jamboree with fans showing up in droves, driving in with branded shirts to watch the matches and thereafter enjoy their favourite drink in their cars. A characteristic Kabuga says was part of their branding and marketing strategy.
“We want to create an atmosphere where the games are fun to watch and encourage people to come to the field with their drinks and families just like they would at the Rugby Sevens, or any other festival,” he noted.
Such has been the pillars that Tusker Safari Sevens, a premier annual international rugby tournament, has been build on. Clubs like Barcelona, Al Ahly, Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Simba and many more have used this path to build a fan base and maintain links with the communities they are identified with.
Currently, Marafiki FC is preparing to go for the regional league title with sound backing from the community.
In January 2021, Marafiki FC clashed with their rivals, Rware FC in the Nyeri Derby, which caught the attention of football fans across the country.
Hyped as the Nyeri Derby, the game attracted youth from the area who came to cheer their own.
“There is a revolution happening in Nyeri when it comes to football and people are ignoring it,” Sports anchor Carol Radull said during her web show.
The Nyeri Derby, which was played at Ruringu Stadium, attracted over 1,000 fans and local political leaders such as Nyeri Governor Mutahi Kahiga and Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu. Marafiki FC won 1-0 against Rware FC, which is a Division 2 team. The match made many imagine what needs to be done to get fans back to the stadium. Football admnistrators must lure fans out of pubs and set out a comfortable atmosphere in stadia where they can either buy drinks or carry their own to enjoy as they watch football.
Josh Mwangi, an official with Rware FC, said they have been playing football since 2016. The team won the 2017/18 county league and in 2018/2019, they made it to FKF Division 2.
“When the league was called off in 2020, due to Covid-19, we had to cut short our plans to advance and focused on friendlies, which helped us keep on training,” Mwangi said. Social media posts and constant banter characterise efforts to encourage more fans to attend the Sunday afternoons matches leading up to heightened festival like event.
Nyeri Football fan, DJ Abbas said creating a local fan base was easy because there was a personal attachment to the team and the players.
“Many of us miss football and when the foreign football seasons were suspended due to Covid 19, many turned their attention to local talent and this is what has helped local football,” he noted.
With the right club management, passion and talent displayed by the teams, corporate sponsorships would soon follow.