By Ogonyo Sarah
Women football in Kenya is one subject that has been given a wide berth in various platforms, everyone seem to shy away from it for reasons best known to themselves. Taking a look back when I started playing serious soccer, there was no official women’s league. In most cases we depended on tournaments that were a thing to reckon with those days. The first tournament that any veteran woman soccer player will think of beforehand is definitely MYSA tournament. This was one of the most exciting of them all. The ability to attract many women’ s team from almost all over the country made this one of the best avenue ever for women’s teams to show off what they got.
The very first sight of the giants at that moment during the tournament would make your legs wobble and your entire body sweaty. Mathare Youths from Nairobi, Galactico from Kisumu, Kisii Youth from Kisii, Mombasa Railways from Mombasa, Makolanders from Nairobi and MOYAS from Nairobi. These are just but a few teams I can mention. The first thing that would happen is knowing whom you were paired with in the pool. This would be the onset of winning or losing in the tournament. Some teams even made it a taboo to speak or even shake hands with the opponent, this was viewed as a game winning strategy. Of course we all understand that this was just away to freak out the opponents because the real action was in the playground.
One thing was certain, there was potential and ladies were ready, willing and available for this beautiful game that some people thought and still think is a “man’s thing”. It was amazing seeing that ladies can dribble, make those dangerous shots, and challenge one another with those sleek moves. Of course this still happens and we don’t really have and see the likes of Man City’s Carly Lloyd or even the highly decorated Brazilian forward Marta Silva who presently plays for Orlando Pride in the NWSL to believe that we too got talent here at home. The only thing anyone could have sympathized with at that time were the grass in the filed if the foot works were anything to go by.
Bit by bit the tournaments began dwindling with biting financial constraints and eventually almost died out. Luck seemed to have been watching from a distance as UNICEF swung into action soon. We shall forever miss this league. Played on provincial basis then, this league helped a great deal in bringing back on track women soccer and sparked hope for survival of the massive talents we had then. UNICEF may have not given the best but did set the pace for future women’s league in this country upon which we have borrowed a leaf or two.
However, as fate would have it UNICEF could only be here for long. This league brought a ray of hope to women soccer fraternity and the greatest wish was to have it here for as long as possible, nonetheless this couldn’t be so due to reasons best known to some of us. Eventually we were left with just one option, to painfully watch the downward trajectory of our league, a sight so painful to behold.
UNICEF league was a pace setter and provided a stepping stone for other leagues that would follow thereafter. With no or little financial support teams had to pick up themselves and get back in the pitch. Eventually the federation then took over the organization of the league. Of course the teams were responsible for everything including paying match officials, theirs was to have the women’s league running and nothing more. Despite all these challenges it’s amazing that our hopes in women soccer were never dimmed. The league was played in tournament format and it was enjoyable. Needless to say, injuries and fatigue became the order of the day as a teams were required to play three matches in one weekend, so much for the ‘strength of a woman’ being put to test. At some point the league was actually abandoned along the way and the credibility factor was put into test.
Eventually the ‘savior’ or so we thought came aboard. It’s sometimes confusing to credit or discredit the ‘savior’ on various grounds. The league structure would be one of the few crediting areas of the savior. Of course we still don’t have sponsors on board and the talk of non-existent product in WPL is surely an understatement that would stimulate your teary glands if you truly have WPL at heart like I do. It must be understood that women’s soccer talent is like the life a perishable product, its time is limited and by all means it use must be maximized as much as possible and this is a fact we all tend to sweep under the carpet.
I have to admit that sometimes we make dangerous promises and failure to have these fulfilled proves rather disastrous to our plans and strategies all together. Before their tenure, the present Football Kenya Federation (FKF) office was on the front-line against WPL being played without sponsorship and at some point this almost sabotaged the league. A quick thinking however enabled to have the league on its feet. In any fair competition especially a premier league every team has that desire to test the depths of its opponent’s waters. Imagine playing a unified league where Oserian would lock horns with Thika Queens, Spedag would square it out with on form Vihiga Queens and heaven knows what will happen when Mombasa Olympics will go head to head with Eldoret Falcons whose performance has been impressive lately. The list is endless, that is the kind of league we all want.
Sometimes what we want is not what we’ll get. WPL teams are struggling to keep up with the league and it’s beyond reasonable doubt that this is true. The big question is would teams rather sit and wait until the grass is greener to step up or would rather start somewhere hopping for the best? I am personally not comfortable with the current league situation and I am entitled to my opinion. What I agree with however is that we may be taking smaller steps but we are in the right direction. Every journey starts with a single step and that’s where we are. We carry with us the burden of nurturing women soccer for generations to come, as much as grass may be greener on the other side if you don’t water yours you will forever live admiration.