Who owns Kenyan football?

THE search for the right methods to manage Kenyan football so that it can become increasingly attractive and achieve its full potential growth continues. MARTIN K NKAARI of the management company, Ticket Masters Limited, which consults for the Kenyan Premier League, argues that a turn away from bad attitudes can be made if examples from the past can be used as a learning yard-stick. This article was first published in a leading soccer website,

WHO owns Kenyan Football?

Is this a legitimate question and if it is, what are its implications? Let us explore. In the 1970s and 80s, English football was in a state of crisis with declining attendance, hooliganism, racism, minimal television income, lack of commercial awareness, underdeveloped merchandising and sponsorship, poor financial management and a chronic lack of investment in grounds. Sounds familiar?

In 1985, disaster struck when a flash fire lit up a stand in Bradford killing 56 people and injuring 265. In 1989, the more infamous Hillsborough Stadium disaster happened when Liverpool were playing Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup semi final; 95 people were crushed to death. These are just two of many British football disasters.

But one would say Hillsborough was the thunderbolt that turned around British football. Lessons from the Lord Taylor Commission, which made an enquiry in to the disaster contained in the Taylor Report, helped shape British and particularly English football to the spectacle the world and so many Kenyans worship today. But what does this have to do with ownership?


A sense of responsibility is the least we need

The Taylor Report was actually the ninth official report into crowd safety and control at football games in Britain, with each previous report necessitated by a disaster, but what made this one report make all the difference?

It was bold in its mandate and recommendations and for the first time, football authorities and the British Government took responsibility and ownership of the report. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was particularly involved as much as she knew very little to do with football.

That ownership opened way for the bold reforms that took place in English football, its most evident being the formation of the English Premier League. The all-seated and no perimeter fence stadiums were born at this time. Have you ever noticed all fans in England are seated unlike in Germany where some stadiums have huge all standing areas?

So in that way, taking responsibility and ownership for the situation actually made all the difference. For a long time the British had been saying what they would like to do with their football; Hillsborough sprung everybody into immediate action.

Kenyan Football is a free for all

In the first days of Ticket Masters Limited [operations in the Kenyan Premier League] back in 2009, one of the most revealing things about the attitudes in Kenyan football was a question we often got from people previously in charge of ticketing. “Kwani hii pesa ni ya nani? Hii club si ya mtu, wewe wacha tukule! [Whose money is this, no one owns this club so let’s ‘eat’ the money!]

It is easier to deal with a mistake than it is to deal with an attitude; especially when it is widespread, hugely accepted, entrenched and unchallenged.

And I am not saying that it is gone either; bad attitudes are set in their ways and they come a dime a dozen in our football. This attitude is one of Kenyan football’s problems; Kenyan football belongs to no one…so in a way it is a free-for--all. You ‘eat’ when it is your turn.

One of the practices we embraced right from 2009 was declaring attendance and gate collection after a game. This now-almost-taken-for-granted practice made a huge difference in fans’ perception of accountability; they could now see their money after they had parted with it at the gate.

The sense of being part of a greater achievement for fans was phenomenal in changing some attitudes.

Back then, collections of Sh 240,000/- merited headlines in the dailies. This is the point where fans started taking ownership of their clubs, most importantly for Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.

Then came the replica jerseys and fans now completely took ownership and identity with their clubs. It was a huge leap forward. Fans started to demand accountability for the affairs of the clubs they own.

Our football house has many broken windows

But fan ownership can only go so far especially where those in charge of day-to-day running of football still have the old attitudes. There is a theory in criminology called the broken window theory.

In a nutshell, it says that that if problems are not dealt with as soon as they occur, they become much worse than they would otherwise be. The usual example given is the broken window on a house in a neighborhood. If the window is not fixed as soon as possible, the bad elements in that neighborhood think that no one cares so they continue with the vandalism.

On the contrary, if it is fixed immediately, the bad elements know that people are aware and active in their neighbourhood so they keep away. In Kenyan football, because no one really cares, what started as a broken window has led to the state of utter ruin and devastation we find ourselves in.

Everyone is watching

So while some few people in the industry really try to do a good job, there is a vast majority that does not care at all or with little if any sense of ownership. They let things just be and the ruinous cycle continues.

So it is almost impossible to do a good job at ticketing when the uniformed police who are in charge of security at the gates are taking bribes and getting people in at a cut. Or after paying Sh1, 000 shillings for a VIP seat you and your family find these bhang smoking foul mouths that were let in free on complimentary basis, sitting next to you.

It just won’t work!

Football is an ecosystem and by its nature, people are always watching; when one part does not work it becomes evident for everyone and respect for the rest of the system goes down by association. This results into a feeling that no-one really cares, creating an explosive situation where passions are high snowballing into disasters within the span of an injury time!

Kenya has had enough football disasters, indeed we are in a disastrous state, and we do not need such carnage as Hillsborough to learn.

- Martin K Nkaari


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