There is palpable excitement among sports enthusiasts in Meru County as rehabilitation work the historic Kinoru Stadium nears completion.
Since Meru-based Mafuko Bombers FC exited the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) in the 1990s, football fans from the region have been starved of top football action until Tusker FC came calling in 2013 and made Kinoru Stadium its home ground.
And fans were duly rewarded with mouth-watering football action, including a memorable Top Eight final in 2014 which attracted up to 10,000 paying fans.
But since the stadium closed down for renovation in 2014, residents only have nostalgic memories as construction work drags. The national government has been upgrading the 25,000-seater stadium to international standards at a cost of more than Sh900 million.
It was among the venues earmarked to host matches in Africa’s second-tier national football team competition, African Nations Championship (Chan), in 2018 before Kenya was stripped of the hosting rights for failing to avail match venues in time. Meru County Sports Chief Officer Mercy Ndiira said 65 per cent of the project, which seeks to nurture sports talent from the region, is complete.
The surrounding community has deep attachment to the stadium because it sits on the exact spot where fighters allied to Mau Mau hero Field Marshal Baimungi Marete surrendered their firearms on December 27, 1963.
“This is going to be the biggest football stadium in Kenya after Kasarani and Nyayo stadiums,” said Deputy Governor Titus Ntuchiu. Once complete, the stadium will have an artificial running track, grass pitch, numbered seats, VIP lounge, offices and changing rooms.
The stadium already has an irrigation system, a bore hole and modern ablution blocks. It recently hosted the national finals of grassroots football tournament dubbed “Chapa Dimba na Safaricom” and Kabeberi Sevens rugby tournament.
Work on the facility has ground to a halt, with only a skeleton workforce on site since September last year.
Upper Eastern Region Football Kenya Federation secretary, Ken Rungu, told Nation Sport that matches at the stadium used to attract fans from as far as Mombasa and Nairobi, and the facility was a favourite destination of sports lovers from Tharaka Nithi, Isiolo, Nanyuki, Maua and Embu.
KPL team Vihiga United’s new player Michael Odongo, Sweden-based Joshua Mawira and Mwiti Kinoti from National Super League team Northern Wanderers nurtured their talents in smaller leagues in Meru.
“If that (Kinoru Stadium) pitch is ready, it will be very busy because it will be the best in Central and Eastern region. Tusker will also come back to its favourite Kinoru home ground,” says Rungu.
Apart from Kinoru Stadium, Sports Kenya was meant to rehabilitate sports grounds at Meru Teachers College and Meru National Polytechnic. However, no work has been done at the two facilities. Strangely, audit reports indicate that documentary evidence was provided showing that the pitches were upgraded.
Meru County Assembly Sports Committee chairman, Evans Mawira, said his team has inspected Nkubu, Githongo, Kinoru, Uru, Maua, Maili Tatu, Timau and General Mwariama playing grounds where work was done by the county government. He said most of the venues, including Nkubu, Githongo and Timau, only had perimeter walls with broken down ablution blocks. “There is nobody to take care of the facilities and many are in poor state. We recommended that the county should employ at least two people to maintain them. The stadiums also don’t have grass and their conditions are generally not good,” he said.
Timau Member of County Assembly Collabo George Marete said there was little to show for the Sh14 million allocated to the stadium project in the 2015/2016 financial year since only perimeter wall had been erected.
Kibirichia region FKF representative Elizabeth Kananu said stadiums were important since many youth are forced to use primary school fields for training, most of which are unmarked and in poor state. To complement effort by the county government, Buuri MP Mugambi Rindikiri said playing fields in 55 primary schools in his constituency were being rehabilitated.
Mawira, who is also Mitunguu MCA, said there was no budgetary allocation for construction of new grounds but money had been set aside for maintenance of existing ones. Money has however been set aside for a baseball playground at Kirirwa in Central Imenti and archery grounds in the current financial year.