Nothing to do with Fulham this but it’s one of the most moving football-related stories I’ve read in a long time so I thought I’d share it with our readership.
It concerns a Kenyan team called Mathare United, who won their first league title yesterday afternoon. Now, I can hear you asking, why should I care about Kenyan football. Well, I understand it might not be at the top of your priorities for a Sunday morning – there’s the papers to get, numerous household chores to complete and dinner to get on before you can really concentrate – but bear with me and I think you’ll be rewarded.
You see, Mathare are no ordinary football side. Inspired by a chance encounter between their chairman, a Scots-Canadian baseball nut who moved to Kenya to work for the United Nations and some street children playing football with a ball made of paper, Mathare United is a club for the children from Africa’s largest slum community and their journey from paupers to princes (in footballingly terms at least) is an extraordinary story.
The players have all known each other since they were little and, now that many of them have become national heroes, they haven’t been allowed to forget where they come from. Football is just their job but being part of Mathare United is like being enrolled in an extensive education system.
Each of the first team players has to complete 60 hours’ community service a month coaching Mathare youth teams, running Aids-awareness programmes and even cleaning streets in the slum.
The club has had to get success the hard way. Mocked in their early years for being ‘the slum boys,’ they have had to convince the Kenyan footballing authorities of the virtue of their model. Now, all Kenyan clubs are being encouraged to follow Mathare’s exemplorary work but it has been a long time coming. Players have had to adjust from back-breaking poverty to a disciplined environment where personal development comes first and football is a close second. Corruption and jealously have dogged the Kenyan top flight, with Mathare being denied the league title on three previous ocassions after questionable decisions by the officials – from dodgy penalties, to incomprehensible suspensions for their best players and the docking of points for false offences.
Now they have got where they deserve. For reasons of brevity, I haven’t talked about the new, state-of-the-art library built on the site where Mathare United was founded that now gives education to its ten and a half thousand members or the ridiculously successful and groundbreaking girls teams, who had to fight against tradition and parental opposition to gain their acceptance initially.
I urge you to read the whole piece. So much of what we hear about Africa (and by, extension, the world in general) is negative that this really did brighten my morning.
The club is just one part of the Mathare Youth Sports Association, whose excellent website, deserves a visit.