By Kenyatta Otieno
The preacher in the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes said that there is nothing new under the sun. The problems facing our football industry in general and the two clubs with massive support, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards’, in particular are not new. Let’s consider the South African club Orlando Pirates and how two people solved the same problem in two different ways.
The South African Premier Soccer League (PSL), like Kenya, has two clubs with massive support: Orlando Pirates and Kaizer Chiefs. The two clubs derive their support from the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto. Their rivalry is one of the biggest in the football world and a must watch for African football lovers. What is not known to people is that Kaizer Motaung, a former Pirates player, formed Chiefs for players who had fallen out with Pirates leadership in early seventies.
Orlando Pirates started as a community club, providing hope and solace to the black South Africans from 1937 through the apartheid era. Then in the late sixties, former player Motaung, then plying his trade in the USA, tried to arbitrate in a row between the club and a group of expelled players but failed. When he came back home in 1970, he formed Kaizer Chiefs and won over a chunk of Pirates support and other neutrals.
In 1981, Dr Irvin “iron duke” Khoza became the secretary of Pirates but resigned out of frustration and in 1991 controversially took over as the new owner. Though the takeover of Pirates by Khoza is clouded in mystery, he took the club when it was in shambles and the club is now worth millions in Rand.
Around 1991, Pirates, then operating as a community club, was at its lowest on and off the pitch. The people running the club at the time asked him to come back; he agreed on condition that he got “total control” of the club. He registered it as a company and four years later in 1996 they won the South African league and African Champions League.
Moutang and Khoza founded the PSL (currently Absa Premiership) in 1996 and attracted big money sponsorship to the league. Today, Irvin Khoza is the chairman of PSL and vice chairman of South African Football Association by virtue of being at the helm of PSL.
According to Khoza, when he took over at Pirates, he looked no further than Kaizer for inspiration and Chiefs for best practices. According to him, no one wanted to associate with Pirates; Moutang portrayed a picture of someone who was happy and knew what he was doing. This is what sponsors wanted to see in club leadership.
Best on the continent
The league is currently the best run league in Africa and the highest in terms of monetary value after recently upsetting the Egyptian Premier League off the perch. The Absa Premiership is kicking its way up world football’s money league. It has been three years since a R2.04 billion (Sh16 billion) broadcast rights from SuperSport, who also happen to broadcast KPL to Africa viewers, was signed. PSL players’ are now paid double what they earned in 2007. The highest paid player is said to be Teko Modise of Mamelodi Sundowns who takes home about R574,000 (Sh4.5 million) per month.
Looking at the two scenarios, we see two people who played football at some point but decided that South African football was bigger and deserved better. In Kenya as it is now, our clubs are not professionally run, which has led to players going for months without pay. In a career where a player spends just over a decade playing football, missing pay that can be described as peanuts is more dehumanising than unfair.
The two faces of foreigners that came into the game in Bob Munro and Elly Kalekwa are now headed for football doldrums. Munro’s Mathare United had a spell of thin financial times until insurance firm Britam were arm twisted by SuperSport into sponsoring them this year. After securing branding rights for Nyayo National Stadium, Britam could not watch SuperSport cover their banners when covering KPL matches. By sponsoring Mathare United, their brand now gets a chance to beam around Africa when matches are aired.
Mathare United has been running as a donor-funded outfit for youth involvement in environmental conservation around low income neighbourhoods of Nairobi’s Eastlands.
Things were going so well that at some point in the recent past, every club in KPL had a product of Mathare United. Then donor funds stopped coming just as Munro got involved in establishing KPL as the company that ran the national league, amidst the dust from the KFF-FKL wars that gave us FKF.
Then mass exodus happened at the “valley” (as journalists described Mathare United base) months after they moved to a new facility along Kangundo Road. Meanwhile, battle-hardened Munro put on a brave face by sitting on the concrete benches at Nyayo Stadium to watch his boys play. At some point, word leaked out that players were given replica jerseys to sell so as to raise cash.
Kalekwa’s Sofapaka FC has struggled financially for two seasons now. The Congolese came into the picture with a “money bag” image. He was the first person to pay players sign-on fee and even pay clubs transfer fee for acquiring their players. Previously, players used to change clubs over lunch with some brokers pocketing undeclared amounts of money for facilitating the process.
Ironically, Sofapaka still plays in jerseys branded with cement manufacturer Blue Triangle logo. Meanwhile, the situation has grown from bad to worse. It seems Kalekwa believed that the club would be self-sustainable in a few years. After winning the league on their inaugural season at the top flight 2009, Sofapaka has maintained a top four finish despite the challenges.
Another point to note is that unlike Kaizer Chief’s, which went with disgruntled fans from Pirates and another club – (Moroka) Swallows – to build one of the biggest fan bases in South Africa, Mathare United and Sofapaka have only managed a handful of fans so far. This is another problem with local football: lack of proper public participation beyond Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards’.
Talk of the devil… The two biggest clubs in Kenya are currently also experiencing tough times. Leopards’ have problems on and off the pitch while Gor Mahia leadership and fans somehow have managed to shield the players from their financial problems to clinch this season’s KPL, for the third time in a row.
The two clubs have nothing to boast of for their years in existence. Gor Mahia has been around for 47 good years while Leopards’ has 51 years under its spots. The only thing the two clubs can boast of as a constant is their fan bases. There are no functional structures and fully operational offices for the two community clubs.
Rethink operation model
This is a good time for the fans of the two clubs to rethink the operation model. Though it has worked elsewhere, like in Germany and FC Barcelona as well as Brazilian clubs, the fact is that like with the Orlando Pirates before 1991, it is not working in Kenya. The failure of Sofapaka and Mathare United should not be an example as their leadership operates in a one man “Super Man” show. Kalekwa and Munro must bring in people who will take the clubs to the next level.
One thing that is required for our football fortunes to change is for clubs to change. When clubs begin to get it right, then KPL and FKF will also change as clubs will demand or offer good leadership because their stakes will be high. As it is now, clubs have nothing to lose in the body running the league or the federation. This has left people without direct interests in clubs to decide on how football is run.
Until Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards’ get it right especially in the basics, our football will remain in the woods. FKF will hold elections this month; meanwhile clubs are not organised, and so the sharks will pour in money and run away with the federation for their own selfish ends.
First, before the two clubs get a Khoza and Kaizer, they can spend some time and visit Yanga and Simba across the border in Tanzania. Leadership, they say, makes or breaks everything. The fans can make noise – they still throw words at Irvin Khoza to date – but someone with a clear vision, means and expertise to achieve it must lead from the front.