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Ugandan football on a higher plane than Kenya

By Aldrine Nsubuga

Added 18th March 2020 10:20 AM

The first shock was the quality of football.

Ugandan football on a higher plane than Kenya

The first shock was the quality of football.


Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to watch the biggest game in Kenyan football.

It is the Nairobi derby built on a tribal rivalry between the Luo and Luhya - AFC Leopard vs Gor Mahia live at the Moi International Sports Center (Kasarani stadium).

Set to host the World Athletics Continental Tour in May and World U-20 Athletics Championships in July where close to 30 world nations have already confirmed participation, the 60,000 seater stadium - to be renovated at a cost of US$ 3.22 million - is not East Africa's greatest sports wonder, but it matches its reputation.

The only team from East Africa to ever have won on the continent; the Africa Cup Winners Cup in 1987, Gor Mahia, is also Kenya's most successful club having won 18 league titles and 10 Kenya cups.

Leopards are the second most successful club in Kenyan football history with 13 league titles and 11 Kenya cups and the two are the most popular clubs.

It is why I couldn't resist the lure of a fixture that historically puts the nation on tenterhooks.

It was the perfect setting for a memorable football experience if you are a football man who hails from Uganda - at least that's what I thought.

On my agenda were the following; what keeps Ugandan football so far ahead of her neighbours at both club and national level despite the histories?

If the infrastructure is the guarantee of football development and success, how can Kenya be so behind Uganda in this respect?

There are 28 stadiums across the country all built with government resources and 18 football academies which have produced international superstars like Victor Wanyama, Ayub Timbe, Johana Omolo, Michael Olunga.

Within minutes of the start of the highly billed match which ended with Gor Mahia winning 1-0, I had my answers.

The 60,000 capacity stadium had less than 15,000 fans and yet, Gor Mahia, a community club based in Nairobi, is by far the best-supported team.

As any football fan would have it, I didn't want to be neutral so I chose to root for the underdog, that is the Leopards side.

The first shock was the quality of football.

If I hadn't known the teams on the show before, I would never have guessed they were the two biggest teams in the land with the best support and also the best records.

There was no distinct identity or philosophy. No patterns, no shape, no structure.

For 90 minutes I struggled to pick out an outstanding talent worthy of a poster or billboard.

The technical quality was so poor, the eyes at times got sore.

The little chit-chat I had with neighbours in the stand as I tried to investigate the reason for such low-quality football between the two biggest teams in the country didn't help either.

Kenya, like Uganda and Tanzania, qualified for the recent Africa Cup of Nations finals.

If this alone, is the gauge for determining the level of football development or growth in a country, then football is doomed.

By comparison; Uganda, with hardly any stadiums to talk about, never mind the ones built by the government, has a much stronger league and the quality of club football is better.

Today, there's a real sense of competitiveness, rivalry, and passion when the big teams KCCA, Vipers, Express, and Vipers face each other.

How a game involving Gor Mahia and Leopards can attract less spectators than Vipers and KCCA defies wisdom.

The distance from Nairobi main city to Kasarani, could partly explain the poor turn up but it is not any further than St. Mary's Stadium in
Kitende from Kampala.

I used to wonder what it is, that was attracting Ugandan players to the Kenya Premier League but I have been thrown into more confusion.

That the KPL, unlike the Uganda Premier League lacks a title sponsor could be a reason, but they do have a television broadcast sponsor on Free To Air television.
This creates a larger audience which markets the league even better.

For now, Uganda is clearly in front and that is something to write home about.

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