Special Feature: How Kits For Africa Is Giving Forgotten Talent A Voice

Jun 10 - by SPN Correspondent for SportPesa News

From Kisii, Githurai and Kibera, talented young players tell their sorry tales of how lack of equipment and neglect is killing their career

STARING INTO THE ABYSS: Eliud Mageka Kamuri, the Riangoko FC midfielder who dreams of one day, playing professional football. PHOTO/SPN/Brian Kinyanjui

  • Former Harambee Stars heroes; Mike Origi Okoth- whose son Divock Origi made global headlines when he scored for Liverpool FC in the UEFA Champions League final- Henry Motego and the late Henry Nyandoro who earned 102 caps for the national team are some of the notables from the region
  • Mageka believed he had caught his lucky break when he played in the annual Safaricom Chapa Dimba tournament but as fate would have it, he had to rush home for a family emergency after only three games, another opportunity to showcase his talent gone
  • At the same time, retired national women’s senior football team; Harambee Starlets striker, Mildred Cheche lauded the programme as a build block to build the foundation of success for aspiring footballers

NAIROBI, Kenya- In decades gone by, the Gusii highlands region in south-western Kenya was a production line of football talent that produced some of the most famous players in the country’s history.

Former Harambee Stars heroes; Mike Origi Okoth- whose son Divock Origi made global headlines when he scored for Liverpool FC in the UEFA Champions League final- Henry Motego and the late Henry Nyandoro who earned 102 caps for the national team are some of the notables from the region.

Richard Otambo, Moses Gikenyi, Shem Nyaberi, Elijah Onsika and Salim Mabrouk are some of the other players who left an indelible mark on Kenyan football from this territory where Kisii town located some 305km from capital Nairobi sits as its main urban area.

The area is the home of the once mighty Shabana FC- the second division National Super League outfit widely considered as the third most popular club in the country after SportPesa Premier League champions Gor Mahia FC and AFC Leopards SC. 

However, football standards in the region have sunk in recent years, epitomised by the struggles of Shabana who were on the brink of oblivion before earning promotion back to the NSL after winning the FKF Division One League play-off last season.

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Eliud Mageka Kamuri and Erick Mosoti may not ring a bell but the two are players whose dreams of professional football lie on both ends of the spectrum.

Mageka, 24, plies his trade as a midfielder for Riangoko FC while Mosoti, 28, is the captain of Kiogo FC with both teams FKF Kisii County League rivals in the fourth tier of Kenyan football.

On a wet Saturday morning in Kisii, the pair received donated uniform on behalf of their teams under the Kits for Africa initiative that also saw teams from Githurai and Kibera in Nairobi County also benefit in the past week.

This is a programme launched by technology and entertainment business SportPesa and their European football partners where players and fans can give away kit that is ferried to grassroots teams in the continent as a foundation of developing the game.

For Mageka, who adores and tries to model his play on Belgium international, Eden Hazard, the uniform that was distributed to 15 teams from the area is a welcome sign that the region that has neglected talent has not been entirely forgotten.

“The truth is if I found someone to support me, I believe I can play at a higher level than I’m playing now. I just need someone to expose my talent and that would make me so grateful,” Mageka told SportPesa News.

Listening to him, it was evident that the talent-spotting and nurturing pipeline that made the Gusii region a football region in the past has broken.

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“I started playing football from Standard Four in primary school and we made the nationals twice. I moved to Chesamis High School in western before St. Anthony’s Kitale poached me and offered me the chance to complete my form three and four for free,” he recounted.

Kiogo FC captain, Erick Mosoti, who turned to plumbing when his dream to play professional football ended for lack of sponsorship and a stage to expose his talent. PHOTO/SPN/Brian Kinyanjui

Respected titans

Chesamis and St. Anthony’s are two of the most respected titans of secondary football in the country and there for a player to make both sides, there was no doubt about the quality of his talent.

However, upon finishing his studies and with no one to give him direction to advance his gift, Mageka who still lives with his parents of humble means in Nyatieko village took a mechanical engineering course.

“I returned home and found my friends whom we started training and playing in local tournaments. The problem is there is no support for us and when an offer comes, you join a team where the technical bench frustrates you,” the midfielder whose biggest ambition is to play in the SportPesa Premier League regretted.

“I joined Kisii Sportiff FC for example and was benched for a long time for reasons only the coach knew. I travelled to Gatanga FC in Nairobi and the situation was the same,” he regretted.

Mageka believed he had caught his lucky break when he played in the annual Safaricom Chapa Dimba tournament but as fate would have it, he had to rush home for a family emergency after only three games, another opportunity to showcase his talent gone.

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Speaking with a voice strained by regret, Mageka revealed for all his talent, he has never earned more than KSh10,000 from the game that remains his only source of income. 

“I remain unemployed and for now, I make a living from playing football. I’m hired to play for a number of local teams for a small fee whenever there is a tournament or competition and that gets me by,” the central midfielder disclosed.

The Riangoko player urged authorities and the national football governing body, FKF to pay attention to the lower tiers of the game where a lot of talent was draining to waste.

“The situation here is not good. We lack basic things like transport to play matches, I have to walk to our games and there are no things like first aid kits. I once got injured and there was no one to help,” Mageka rued.

“What SportPesa has initiated is the right step forward and providing us with uniform for training will help us a lot. The next step should be to give us boots if possible.”

Mosoti on the other hand prides himself as a utility player who can occupy the centre half, midfield or wing saw his chance to enter a renowned football institution for his secondary education curtailed by lack of school fees.

“I was selected to join Riodonga High School that was known for football but I did not manage to get there. I did not have anyone to sponsor me to go there to cater for my transport and accommodation since it was a day school and therefore, I had no choice but to report to Kiogo High School and the best we did was to go to the provincial level,” Mosoti outlined.

After turning out for a number of clubs for pay as little as KSh1,000 after finishing his high school, the Kiongo FC skipper realised he could not continue supporting himself by relying on football and decided to start work as a plumber.

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“In Kisii County, we do not have leaders who love sports and we had no one to spot our talent and advance it to the next level. We have only been invited to small tournaments organised by political leaders.

“I believe I could have made it as a professional footballer because I have the energy. I have to work as a plumber to support my family and as a captain and Team Manager of Kiongo, I buy uniforms and shoes for my team,” he charged.

Playing bare-chested 

Running the outfit sets him back some KSh15,000 per month that comes from his engagement as a plumber and whenever they win prize money, they buy balls, boots and other equipment instead of sharing it out.

“I would love our leaders to encourage the young boys in school to be good in football. Bad management has led to the decline and we hope through SportPesa, we can see our talent improved.”

Mosoti admires Victor Wanyama (Tottenham Hotspur FC), Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus FC), Ander Herrera (formerly Manchester United FC) and Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid FC) and laments the fact he did not get the push to expose his talent on the big stage.

It is through the Kits for Africa initiative that the likes of Mageka and Mosoti who represent hundreds of aspiring professional footballers whose dreams have fallen short for lack of basic equipment and the collapse of the youth football development have finally found a voice to tell the world the pain they are going through.

It is not only in Kisii where grassroots players are finding it hard to get proper equipment that will aid the fruition of their dreams to turn professional.

"Teams like ours are sometimes forced to play shirtless because to differentiate us from the other team in case we have same colour. 

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“And sometimes when training we also have to be shirtless because jerseys are not enough," Gully FC- a team based in Kibera- player, Puyol Totti, who is named after the FC Barcelona and AS Roma icons lamented.

"The main challenge we face on kits is that we struggle to buy them and when we finally do we can only afford one set.

"This has cost us many matches in county and sub county leagues because if you go for an away match and your team jersey is the same colour as the home team, the match cannot be held and the points are awarded to the home team,” Collins Ochieng of Ogase FC that is also based on the same sprawling informal settlement in the Kenyan capital rued.

At the same time, retired national women’s senior football team; Harambee Starlets striker, Mildred Cheche lauded the programme as a build block to build the foundation of success for aspiring footballers.

“We rely on opportunities like this to get kits since they are difficult or expensive to get,” Cheche who now coaches Changes Football Academy based in Githurai remarked.

“I remember it was not easy growing up and what differentiated teams in matches was how they wore; one team had to be bare-chested for that purpose,” SPL side Posta Rangers FC player Joseph Nyagah who was raised in Githurai, added.

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Kiogo FC captain, Erick Mosoti and Riongoko FC midfielder Eliud Mageka Kamuri pose with other grassroots teams from Kisii County with their Kits for Africa uniform. PHOTO/SPN/Brian Kinyanjui