Very few things evoke more emotions than football. Some football fans boldly proclaim that football is their religion. They may not be atheists but they are so much attached to the sport that they can not do without it. During the off season or on international match days, when there is little or no competitive football to watch, you will hear them yawning that the weekend is boring.
For those who love Kenyan football, such has been the mood for the past three months or so but now the Kenyan football season is just about to start. It was evident that they had missed the fun and excitement that comes with watching their favourite teams play if what I saw on Sunday is anything to go by.
Sunday is a day of worship for majority of the Kenyan population. It is a day when many people attend churches for a mass or a service, depending on the denomination but the people I saw walking briskly early on Sunday morning were not going to an ordinary church. They were heading to a football temple, so to speak. Some were driving or in hired vehicles. One would be excused to think it was a religious pilgrimage complete with song and dance on the streets. They were clad in green or blue replica jersies. Some were in groups while others were individuals blowing vuvuzelas, almost running as if they were getting late for an important event.
It was an important event indeed, in the football calender. The second annual Kenya Power Charity Cup was taking place at the Nyayo National Stadium. The first match was scheduled for 9:00am but hundreds had arrived as early as eight.
The one day football tournament is held to raise funds for charity through fans voting for their teams via SMS and gate collections. This year, the four clubs that got the most votes and a chance to participate were AFC Leopards, Mathare United, Gor Mahia and Sofapaka.
As it would turn out, the football gods denied the fans the much anticipated final between AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia as both lost their opening matches. What started as a colourful and well organised event turned ugly when sections of the crowd turned rowdy when their teams failed to perform as expected. Leopards were beaten 3-2 in post-match penalties after being held to a goalless draw in normal time by Mathare United who were regarded as underdogs before the match while league champions Gor Mahia suffered a 3-1 humiliation at the hands of Sofapaka.
If football is a religion and matches are masses, then fan trouble is a ritual. Maybe hooligans and police officers are the altar boys in this case. No sooner had some fans started causing chaos during the first two matches than the police lobbed tear gas canisters at them forcing tears out of the eyes of almost everybody in the stadium. The white clouds that rose several times in the course of the day were perhaps from burnt sacrifices or incense offered to God-knows-who. It was a familiar scene. A season hardly ever ends without havoc, mayhem, hell and tear gas in our stadiums.
A section of Ingwe and Kogalo fans, the two most notorious sects, were not amused by their teams’ failure to reach the final, many leaving the stadium early with disappointment. Sofapaka’s drums never went silent and their Beauties never stopped dancing save for the period when they were leading Gor Mahia and the match had to be delayed temporarily for the crowd to be controlled. In the end, in a virtually empty stadium, Batoto ba Mungu won the cup for the second year in a row, beating United on penalties after the final had ended in a 1-1 draw.
It was an anticlimax to what had started brightly but drastically progressed into a dull spectacle. Kenya Power had switched on the lights but the forces of darkness and hooliganism took over bringing the extravaganza to a near black out. Even the broadcaster pulled out at some point fearing injuries and damages. The good thing however is that funds were raised. Even though more could have been collected had everything gone to script, the amount that was raised will do something tangible. The essence of all religions after all is love and charity and many of them believe that both good and evil spirits exist; light and darkness.