Sandwiched between the scenic Menengai Crater and the famous Lake Nakuru National Park, Afraha Stadium is probably one of the best known football pitches outside Nairobi.
The 60-year-old stadium is also a popular venue for making major political declarations but unknown to many, Afraha Stadium, which was initially a recreational park for white settlers in the 1950s, has also helped nurture Kenyan football stars.
Currently, at any given season in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL), all coaches in the top-flight league and the National Super League have at least one or two players who honed their skills at the famous ground.
It also produced future stars through the now defunct Nakuru Youth Olympic team which played its matches at the stadium in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the players who started their football careers at Afraha Stadium and went on to wear national team colours include Ambrose Ayoyi and John ‘Mo’ Muiruri.
Others like Sammy Okoth, Francis Baraza, Robert Matano and the late Sammy Nyongesa took their football careers a notch higher by becoming coaches. Still, others like Davies Omweno, George Kapis Nyamwanda and Dorcas Moraa became Fifa international referees.
Afraha Stadium’s popularity as a breeding ground for football talent started when the defunct Nakuru All Stars won the Kenya National Football League on the eve of independence in 1963, and in 1969.
It has hosted major football matches and tournaments such as 2018 Coca-Cola Under-16 Africa Cup of Nations, 2018 SportPesa Super Cup and international friendly matches.
Afraha is home ground of KPL team Ulinzi Stars, and many National Super League clubs from the region. But it is now in deplorable state. Nakuru County government plans to construct it to international standards, a project whose first phase will cost Sh500 million.
“Ground-breaking ceremony for construction of the ultra-modern stadium on the 23-acre piece of land will be done any time from now,” the county executive in charge of Sports, Lucy Wanjiku Kariuki, said. Construction work, funded by Kenya Urban Support Programme, will be done in three phases at an estimated cost of Sh4 billion over the next five years.
And as the cosmopolitan town eyes a city status, it is hoped that Afraha’s elevation to a multi-purpose facility will put it in the league of Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, although it will have a seating capacity of 30,000.
It will have a swimming pool, and an indoor arena with a seating capacity of between 2,000 and 3,000 people. At the moment, coaches are worried about the stadium’s poor playing surface.
The bumpy surface, which disrupts play, prompted former Gor Mahia coach Dylan Kerr to describe it as “horrendous.”
And when it rains, the whole field becomes one big pool of water due to poor drainage system.
Apart from the poor state of the pitch, the stands have been vandalised and are in deplorable state. Overgrown grass rings the inside perimeter wall, and vandals have not spared the four blocks of toilets in the stadium.
The basement of one of the stands has been turned into a dumping ground by street children, and vultures roam freely around.
A team of architects led by Julius Kiprop Sang, Meshack Kipkemoi Mitei and Maina Muchemi came up with the design for the new stadium, inspired by Menengai Crater.
“The new design is inspired by an erupting Menengai Crater and cooling lava which symbolizes energetic young people playing in the field,” said Sang.
Once complete, the stadium will have an all-weather running track, six changing rooms, two VIP stands, main stands and six media rooms.
It will also have several jogging lanes, eight entry gates and four exit gates, six ramps to cater for the disabled, toilets, offices and four accommodation units for the management team of the stadium.
Tomorrow: Focus on Thika Stadium, Kiambu County.