Kenyan football fans at the game with Nigeria *** image courtesy of michezoafrika***
Kenyan football fans at the game with Nigeria *** image courtesy of michezoafrika***

by Victor Karuga

Tension. So thick you can cut it with a knife, throw it onto the pitch and risk the ire of match day stewards. Maybe,  just maybe, that will elicit some kind of reaction from the team on the pitch; spark them into life. All they seem to do is stroke the ball around aimlesslly and purposeless, the picture of indifference. They don’t seem to understand what the fans have gone through, coming to watch them play, and on a weekday. Sacrifice.

The Federation was skeptical of attendance figures. Well, they can relax. There’s someone behind me, and I am slammed into the guy in front of me, packed like sardines. In the terraces, that is what Ksh 300 gets you.

The fans are going from anxious to irritated, with only one shot to the Nigerian goal taken and 10 minutes of regulation time left to play. Ten minutes that mean winning and topping the World Cup Qualifying Group, or losing and cementing the bottom place in the group. Ten long, agonising minutes.

All of a sudden the Stars attack. Stephen Waruru is fed a through ball, and he only has the Nigerian left back to beat and surely he will be through on goal. Pandemonium. The fans smell blood, a half-hearted Mexican wave is aborted, everyone now on their feet as a collective gasp is uttered. One of hope more than expectation. Waruru attempts a series of quick stepovers. Attempts, because the Nigerian left back disposseses him and boots it upfield. You can almost touch the disappointment. But the fans sit tight, knowing they can rely on a solid backline to launch another attack, (and then, maybe not try Waruru this time.)

They are wrong.

In a chase for the ball perhaps symbolic of the two teams continental fortunes, Ahmed Musa, the Nigerian forward beats his Kenyan marker, and lobs the ball over the advancing ‘keeper. Shock. Disbelief. Rage. At least in the Kenyan section. On the other hand, the handful of Nigerian fans are dancing, fists pumping the air, pleasured with the knowledge that their players have now won it. Only the occurence of something seemingly impossible can reverse or alter the scoreline now. Perhaps, something as impossible as a credible African election…

In the Director’s Box, Kenyan football’s head honcho, Sam Nyamweya chats with Deputy President William Ruto who now glances at his watch glumly. Even he, an athletics fan, knows it is over for the stars. The physical location of the Director’s Box, where the football executives are holed up, is high up in the stands. Perhaps, representative of the relationship between the fans and the Federation. Executive and subordinate, except that here, the subordinate pays the executive, their ambitions as different as the objects now being tossed onto the pitch by angry fans, and as indifferent as to how they are being tossed around. Bottles. Fruits. Coins. Anything that’ll draw attention to the plight of the fans, who only want an attractive brand of football and a competitive side. But the Federation insists that only a fat bank account, donor funding and financial government support can guarantee that. What about youth structures, proper use of resources, unbiased team selection and investments in proper stadia?

The Ivorian referee brings the match to an end. Fans make vows and declarations that they have made all too often before;  this is the last match they will ever attend. The Stars meanwhile trudge back to their changing rooms, disappointment firmly etched onto their faces. The Nigerians saunter to their team bus; mission accomplished.

Its not all doom and gloom though for the Kenyans. Victor Wanyama put in a solid performance. Stand-in skipper, now permanent. His market value has surely risen; at this rate, he may not be at Celtic for much longer . The prospect of a Kenyan playing in the English Premier League is a bright prospect even in this gloomy times.

As the lights in the stadium dim to a dark sky, the scoreline remains as a
permanent, painful reminder that something needs to give if the team is to be a winning outfit. The fans agree on one thing. Irrefutably, the stars are not shining.  Not now at least.