At the foot of the picturesque Nyambene hills, miraa business thrives and drives the economy of the populous Igembe region.
On the green surface of Maili Tatu Stadium on Thursday under the cool weather at the foot of the scenic Nyambene hills, a group of youths engaged in a keenly fought amateur football match.
However, the moment they noticed our camera, they disappear into thin air, leaving a few disappointed, miraa chewing fans.
The scenario is the same all around the miraa belt of Meru North.
The local youth, oozing with energy, are turning away from prolonged periods of chewing miraa and embracing playing football as the main past-time.
Before Covid-19 spoiled the party, youngsters from as far as Kangeta, Mutuati, Laare, Maua and other parts famed for miraa growing had been congregating here for football matches. In Igembe South, youths have formed over 20 teams after area MP John Paul Mwirigi, who is also the youngest legislator in the country, promised a Sh1 million cash reward for the best team.
When the league started in December, Mwirigi had already purchased jerseys, boots and balls for all the 20 participating teams and the winner was set to be crowned this month.
Akui FC led the table in March with 45 points, same as Shamah Juniors FC and Thaicu FC, who were second and third respectively on goal difference.
Ntherone FC were fourth while Karurune were fifth.
The MP has been using the matches to help the youth bond and stay away from vices. He usually invites prominent personalities to mentor them.
Here, youth idleness is commonplace since miraa picking and selling is usually done early in the morning and late afternoon. The region is quickly overtaking Meru town where the glory days of Mafuko Bombers are just a memory, as a football powerhouse with local club Maua United twice topping the county league.
Igembe South FKF chairman Paul Gitonga said local teams had been consistent since 2016, attracting eager fans on Sunday match days.
However, the poor state of the local Maua Stadium is a major hindrance to sports development and most of the matches, including district and county league matches are played on primary school fields.
Maua stadium has not been used since October last year due to perennial flooding while a perimeter wall, whose construction started in 2011 courtesy of CDF, was abandoned at the halfway stage of completion.
The stadium also missed out on funding by the county government that benefited several stadiums before 2017 and has no changing rooms and no terraces. The toilets are rundown.
“Maua stadium used to host big matches but has been neglected. This facility is in disrepair and is always flooded during rains. We have a lot of untapped talent. When the season was on , every Sunday, primary school grounds hosting matches were full to capacity,” said Gitonga.