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Kenyan soccer fans may turn to local league

21 May 2013, 13:39 Ben Ochieng

Nairobi - With the English Premier League (EPL) having ended on Sunday, will Kenyans now revert to watch their own Kenya Premier League matches?

That is the question on the lips of pundits who have blamed local football fans of being over-possessed with a foreign league to the detriment of their own.

Though the title winners had been known a week earlier, the championship concluded Sunday with a match between Chelsea and Everton.

Manchester United's 20th title was settled by the certain finishing of Robin Van Persie, whose first-half appropriation of the match-ball took him to 24 goals in the Premier League.

It was jubilation and disappointment for local followers of the EPL, depending on which side of the coin one belonged.

Although the local Kenyan Premier League also receives television coverage, entertainment joints in Nairobi and other major towns in the country will register a slump in business owing to the absence of the English football action.

Consequently, questions linger on whether Kenyans will come to appreciate their own league which is already showing sparks after decades of uninspiring performance during which there was nothing to write about local football.

"The incessant wrangling for control of the game in the past saw the emergence of two parallel offices claiming to run football, a factor that contributed in no small measure to the poor status of Kenyan football and in the process drove spectators from the stadia," leading football coach Bob Oyugi told Xinhua.

"The wrangling was brought about by insatiability on the part of football administrators, many of who were not in the federation for their love of the game, but what they could get out of football like springboard to wealth or parliamentary politics."

Another contributor to the sorry state of Kenyan football was the gradual decline of social clubs like Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Re-Union, Shabana, Abeingo and Coast Stars which all drew fanatical following among their fans.

The premier league is currently dominated by corporate clubs that are well financed but lack the fanatical fan-base that can create intense rivalry among the clubs and in the process heighten competition.

In their heyday, Leopards and Gor Mahia had a tribal base. This was tribalism put to good use as it was not necessarily a negative force because the rivalry between the two clubs was intense on the football pitch that inadvertently raised local standards.

Whilst Kenyan teams struggle to attract fans to the stadia, the foreign clubs continue to enjoy fanatical following among Kenyan fans, who will readily engage in debates and are quick to come to fisticuffs with friends and relatives who support different teams from them.

Others have ended long-lasting relationships while happy marriages have tottered on the brink of collapse.

"The way forward is for the government to encourage corporate organizations to sponsor social clubs instead of sponsoring own teams to participate in the league, while concentrating on their key functions like South Africa's brewing giant Castle," says football administrator Chris Aluga.

As Kenyans continue to fight over English clubs, local football has remained in the doldrums with most premier league matches being played in empty stadia, except when Gor Mahia and Leopards, who have still managed to maintain their fanatical fan-base, play.

Even though a local brewing company sponsors a team in the premier league and is even the leagues sponsor, the company at the same time organizes a major competition where winners have a chance to visit England and watch an EPL match.

The lack of a comprehensive youth soccer development program in Kenya that would ensure talent is identified and nurtured early and which would be a feeder to the senior side, has also undermined local football.

As matters stand today, Kenya's hope for fresh talent is through the school system whereby by the time the players are identified, they are already in their twenties.

Brother will fight brother of the EPL teams, but when will the same loyalty be transferred to local football?

- Xinhua

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