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Youth Football: The Unappreciated Gem Right Before Our Eyes

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Football Action as opponents clash
Getting it on: Action in County League match at Njukiri Grounds, Embu | Photo: File

…football has a great responsibility today. ~Arsene Wenger, speaking of his new role as FIFA Chief of Global Football Development.

The words of Professor Arsene could not have come at a more timely period for me. Fresh from attaining another football coaching badge, I have been mulling all week about what it all means. And one answer keeps coming back to me time and time again ‘the role of football is greatly undermined in this country.’

As a person with daily hands-on interaction with grassroots football, I have made an interesting observation. There is a general lack of interest in drug and substance abuse among young players. These budding talents have great hope that they can become professional players; that football can become the means by which they put food on their tables in the future.

They go out every weekend and spend the few coins they have to pay for two or three TV matches. Besides the loud cheers for the teams they support, they also have a fire in their bellies to become like the stars they adore. On Sundays, they have a game to play, so they keep off ulevi on Saturday evenings to enhance performance on match day.

I have also witnessed an active effort to stay away from trouble that would get them arrested. Funny enough, they speak more of the effect that getting arrested will have on their team than the personal consequences.

Training Week

Within the week, they show up practice for three or four days. They leave the pitch late and, more often than not, worn out. They don’t indulge for they do not want to ‘kuharibu zoezi.’ So, basically, they have very little time to get absorbed in abuse and petty crime. And that really is something remarkable, especially for kids coming from the ghetto.

Same old, or perhaps not…

But there is nothing new about all that, many would say. Well, there is some degree of truth in that. Growing up, this catchphrase remark appeared in every post-match talk I attended. ‘The game keeps our boys and fans busy so they don’t get lost in drinking dens.’ I’d bet my licence the statement was the same in pitches across the country.

Except the abstinence is remarkable now more than ever. The national census has revealed we are throbbing close to 50 million – and most of the population is youthful. That unemployment is already a crisis should mean that anything that limits social vices and crime should be embraced. I feel football is missing out on this deserved embrace.

Photo of Nick Mwendwa, the man who has been making cries for football support.
FKF president Nick Mwendwa speaking at former football administrator Hussein Swaleh’s memorial. Nick has been embroiled in a tussle with the Sports Ministry over support for football | Photo: Mugambi Muriuki

Moreover, the current generation of talent has big dreams. As pro footballing slowly grows in Kenya, young players aspire to earn from it. They are ready to take the purity vows and sacrifice the outrageousness of puberty to achieve these dreams.

If you go through many young (and other) football players’profiles, you will notice that they are full of spiritual captions. Phrases like ‘Mungu Mbale,’ ‘Ipo Siku’ and ‘Be Humble’ are just a few of the confessions these young fellas make. It helps you to see what lies in their hopeful souls.

Dennis Magige, a towering defender who has grown through the humble ranks to the top level of Kenyan Football | Photo: Courtesy

Absence of support

Sadly, there is a telling absence of structures to help them reach their goals. We can talk about the federation and the government, but this article does not seek to lay blame. That we will do later, appropriately and in a dedicated article. In this one, I seek to just call attention to the role football is playing in moulding young boys in Kenya. I speak of boys specifically because it is them that I have handled so far.

Even sadder is that these young ones eventually sink into the trap they have been avoiding for such a long time. Well, it can’t be more than three years that they sacrifice, but that is a long time for teenagers. And in a football career.

Without seeing any notable progress in three or four years, many of them give up. The many unsuccessful trials and the inability to attend others does not help matters. So our players end up in the very dens they tried to avoid. All the work we do at the junior level ends up in the gutter. And it becomes even harder to train the younger ones because we really have no end result to show them!

The Bottom Line

What am I saying in so many words? Football is a gem lying just in front of our eyes and most of us don’t see that. It is a major reason why crime has not reached unbearable levels in many areas.

It is because of football that you can park your car outside and not need to buy side-mirrors the following morning. The energy that these young athletes direct to performing on the pitch could easily go to robberies. With a little more support, petty crime could even go lower.

So, while we wait for the federation to do its part, why not start with small bits ourselves? Attend those matches and cheer those boys. Help your local team with small costs like transport and training kits. Post appreciation messages, pics, and videos on your timeline. Encourage your company to form a football team and rope the young players in.

However small, Do something. Believe me, it matters!

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