It’s a goooal!

Monday February 21 2011

By CLAY MUGANDA

This match is not going our way, I think we should disrupt it,” the miraa-chewing man standing next to me at Nyayo National Stadium said to no one in particular.

He turned to me as if he was looking for support, or validation, but when I looked at him with indignation and indifference, he said nothing, removed more twigs from his trouser pocket and stuffed them into his mouth.

The sides of his mouth had thin green lines, slime from the over-chewed twigs.

As he chomped on, his bloodshot eyes kept darting from left to right, making him look like a typical Indian goonda, the louts politicians in the subcontinent employ to disrupt elections by capturing polling booths and stuffing ballot boxes with already-marked ballot papers.

He looked uneasy, unsettled, like a person who had so much in his mind and was looking for someone to share it with. Too bad I was not that person.

He made as if to speak up again, but it was time to swallow whatever juice that comes out of miraa which they believe keeps them awake. (The reason miraa keeps people awake is because it impossible to chew and asleep at the same time).

I know your type, you jerk, I told myself. You are the type who cannot tell a goalkeeper from a striker yet you think you know everything about football.

You are the illiterate hatchet men of politicians who want to stamp their authority in football clubs; the small-time hooligans who are paid peanuts by power-hungry football clubs’ officials who want to ride on the backs of suffering footballers to ascend to political office; the scum of the earth who should be locked up and the key thrown away before you infect the society with your stupidity....

He also seemed to know his type, for he beckoned at some other fellows who looked even more illiterate and told them that there is need to disrupt the match because “it looks like we are going to lose.”
Up at the main stand—for which I had a ticket but could not find seating space due to ‘disorganisation’—and all around the stadium, loyal fans were singing their hearts out, totally unaware that some idlers were planning to disrupt the match.

The match ended in a draw, and as I walked out of the stadium, I kept wondering what those people who had planned to disrupt the match were going to tell their handlers, for they did not look like people who knew what was going on around them. But did their handlers know any better? Hardly.

I had all but forgotten about that incident last year, and I was looking forward to another season of good football when the fumbling and bumbling that is the hallmark of our football began again with AFC Leopards’ failure to hold elections.

What in the world is happening to our football clubs? I asked a senior sports journalist the other day, and he told me the same old story which everyone seems to know, but which officials of numerous football clubs which are in decline think we do not know.

Clubs are breeding grounds for wannabe politicians who employ the services of small-time hooligans like the miraa-chewing lout I met at Nyayo National Stadium to disrupt elections when things are not going their way.

Football clubs do not exist to promote football or for the good of players. They are there to serve the interests of politicians, and they are the ones who pull the strings—and when things are not going as per their wishes, their hatchet men cause chaos.

Whenever our national team loses, which is often, we cry foul, blame the coach, throw our toys out of our prams, but never realise that the problem starts at the clubs level, where national players are supposed to be nurtured.

We make so much noise about lack of corporate sponsorship, and when clubs get money; like in the case of AFC Leopards, which has received Sh15 million from Mumias Sugar, the problems only increase, and the purpose for which the funding was meant gets forgotten as people fight over the money.

It is common sense that no corporate body wants its name emblazoned on jerseys of a club which is forever embroiled in internecine wars, but since our football administrators are tunnel-visioned, they fail to see the bigger picture and think they are bankable brands.

No matter how much noise we make or how much money corporate bodies contribute in the form of sponsorship, our football standards will continue to plummet; unless hooligans, tribal chiefs, clan elders together with their politician handlers are kicked out of football clubs and playgrounds.

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