29 Jan, 12:00
Let’s not hide our heads in the sand. Let’s be serious and talk. No grey areas. Just black and white. No big spoons. It’s a spade, for Pete’s sake!
We live in a nation where we try to ‘caramelize’ everything. Sometime last season, I decided to walk into Nyayo Stadium at about 4PM. Two top (I call them top based on their performance over the years and revenue) clubs were facing off in a weekend Premier League encounter. No one bothered to issue tickets at the gate. There was some eerie silence as I swaggered in. The match was yet to kickoff and as I approached the stands, you could occasionally hear the echo of the ball hitting the advertising boards, or the coach shouting something. The stands were cold and lonely. In less than 10 seconds, you could sum up the number of fans watching the tie.
I joined a bunch of fellows in a corner of the stadium as we followed the proceedings. The stadium felt like an abandoned cemetery. Where is everyone? That was the question. Just why would a City that boasts of over 5 million people, fail to have 1000 souls, just one thousand, attend this match?
Late Sunday night, as I penned this article, Whatsapp football fora were awash with discussions on the just concluded 1st edition of the Mashemeji Derby this term. A key item on the agenda was Jaza Stadi. As two documents circulated, questions arose; Who is Jaza Stadi? Why would they reportedly be paid 100,000 from the derby gate collections? A quick Google search on Jaza Stadi Supporters Group defines it as Jaza Stadi Supporters Group (JSSG) which is working towards bridging the gap between sports enthusiasts & sporting events, fusing sports with entertainment on match day. At heart, we simply are about trying to solve and change the fans perception about our sport and our stadia; and improve on fan attendance during different match days.
Sounds good, doesn't it? After several readings, I bumped into and watched a December 2017 interview with one of the group’s founders. I was impressed as the interview commenced. The founder pointed out that before rolling out their plans, they conducted a market survey and among the reasons put up by those who don't go out to watch matches were; lack of toilets and (in)security. He added that their goal would be to bring in an amazing atmosphere to the stadium so as to attract fans; by bringing in musicians, bouncing castles and all those nice things you see in malls. He then went on to explain why we should treat Kenyan footballers as stars blah blah blah...I braved the interview and hoped the switch would turn, but it got worse.
I am not mean. But will be brutally honest. Why do fans attend matches?
In my village, and this is common knowledge, we host one of the biggest football tournaments annually; The Shimanyula Cup on some dusty school grounds. The tournament runs from late November to December 26th, and each day the grounds are so full to the trees (that is our capacity). If you do not get there by 2 PM, you never shall find space to sit or stand. For over two decades, no fans are ever ferried to come to the village to watch the match. Neither do they serve Kuku Choma at the gate. Nor do the organizers invite the nation’s songbird to grace the event. It’s football. The sweet old football.
Fans want an experience. Every day someone comes to the stadium, they are giving up lots of luxuries and comforts to come to the stadium and pay 300, 500 or 1000 shillings and watch the game. The reason why anyone comes to the stadium is to watch quality football and get entertained. By the players. Not by artists or mall-esque stuff.
Forget the complexities. Anyone will come to the stadium just to watch their favourite player and team; the goals, the dribbles, the saves, the tackle..that adrenaline, that energy. Yes. The quality in Kenyan football is wanting. It is, therefore, foolhardy to imagine that you can sell a bad product with the hope of cashing on it. AFC Leopards, one of the two biggest football clubs in Kenya, could hardly attract more than 100 fans in more than half of their matches last season. Not that the tickets were expensive. Not that isukuti wasn't being played. It is all because the quality of football was terrible!
In as much as Jaza Stadi looks rosy on surface, questions are bound to be raised. Hard and genuine questions. In the just concluded derby, Jaza Stadi had a fair share of publicity within the stadium. How many of those fans were influenced directly or indirectly to attend the contest by Jaza Stadi? As an avid AFC Leopards member and supporter, why hasn't Jaza Stadi worked with any of the clubs legally registered supporters groups or the club in their quest to up match attendance?
If its goal is to fill the stadia, Jaza Stadi is an ill-advised concept. I am sorry. Not unless I missed something...
READ: Old derby, old problems