KPL: The rise and fall of sugar belt clubs

KPL: The rise and fall of sugar belt clubs

Since its inception in 1963, the Kenyan Premier League has been dogged by sweet and bitter memories. Sadly, it’s the latter which sticks like an eyesore if not a bad smell.

Annoyingly, this was the case at the nascent days of the league when players lacked professional contracts, and 55 years down the line the picture remains very much the same.

What has changed though is that players have come and gone. Others have made transition into coaching, while a few others like Chris Obure(Kisii senator) have gone on to make successful careers in politics.

The very lucky few used KPL as a foundation and went on to establish flourishing football careers in Europe. Mike Okoth Origi, now Belgian, is one such example. Having turned out for Shabana and later Kenya Breweries(now Tusker FC), Okoth is perhaps an emblem of what football should be, – giving a chance to talented youngsters to build a future not just for themselves but their children. In Divock Origi, Okoth’s son now at Liverpool FC, the senior Origi’s tale sums up this narrative.

However, beneath the aura of  the scarce positivity,  lies therein the dark side of things, the painful narrative that has been the dominant force of KPL: lack of finances.

Many stories shave been written but they merely scratch the surface. Painful to note is that in an era when every league across the globe is making major strides to better the quality of their leagues, finances included, there’s a volcano threatening to erupt in Kenya’s football moreso at the sugar belt regions.

At the foot of Got Alila in Muhoroni, some 63 kilometres to Kisumu,  a once promising football club by the name Muhoroni FC  is on its deathbed. When they begun flip-flopping some three years ago, many thought it was an isolated case.

But woe unto Kenyan football, it was just the beginning of bad things to come. Since then Sony Sugar FC, a one time KPL champion in 2006, has since gone under, being relegated to the second-tier league, thanks to the financial doldrums facing the mother company SoNy Sugar Company Limited that made it hard for the football club to honour some of its league matches.

At the end of the day, they gave away three walkovers, and something had to give way,  it had to be them, thanks to football rules.

These clubs – Muhoroni, SoNy and Chemelil Suagr FC – once gave a lot of hope and promise. Hope to aspiring footballers than in pursuit of football  they could climb the ladder of success, change their Social Stratification status, but it seems, it was jut that:hope.

With the tides having changed and the sugar sector badly bruised, these clubs which relied on full sponsorship from the parent sugar companies are on their death bed. Some, like Mumias Sugar FC, became  extinct ages ago .We take a look at some of them.

SoNy Sugar Fc

Sony Sugar FC’s failure to honor  their fixture against Zoo FC at Kericho Green Stadium became the third match they missed this season in KPL after failing to play against Tusker FC and AFC Leopards. It is a dire situation which has seen the club relegated to the National Super League.

According to their coach James Nandwa, Kenya’s footballing problems escalated after the exit of broadcasting giants Supersport some two seasons ago. The South African based broadcast company had been the KPL broadcast partners  and Nandwa cites this as the genesis of the trouble.

“When Supersport exited the league is when the rain started beating us because even the quality of our league went down. They were really marketing us through broadcasting and players were being scouted easily by other clubs and it was easier even for coaches to get teams from outside” he says.

Nandwa asserts that Kenyan players are really suffering, and has since urged the governing bodies KPL and FKF to move with speed and find a sponsor, because the situation has disadvantaged other teams which don’t have capital.

“It is a very tough time for our players. Families are struggling and the situation is getting tougher as days go by because a player cannot play on an empty stomach. When you look at our league, only around two-three teams are stable but that is also affecting other clubs since it is disadvantaging those small clubs which are even struggling to honor a fixture” said the tactician.

Although KPL confirmed that they have been relegated, Nandwa has termed the decision ‘unfair’ and he hopes the petition they filed to KPL is considered.

“The decision was very unfair. We arrived for the match although we had delayed by a few minutes because we had a breakdown and we had made communication. It is a very sad moment for Sony Sugar players, fans and football stakeholders in general.”

Nandwa has also hit out at the governing body KPL, as he believes they are also to blame for the current situation since they should have long-term plans when running the league, and not just depending on sponsors who when exit, the league becomes unstable.

Nzoia Sugar FC

Formed in 1978, the Bungoma based club has been part of the Kenyan Premier League, producing very notable names in the footballing industry with the likes of the late Ken Simiyu, Bandari FC head coach Bernard Mwalala among many others.

Sponsored by Nzoia Sugar Company, the team has raised the brand of the sponsor in the footballing map. Their highest achievement in history is when they won the league  in 2002- 2003, although the win was refuted by the then Kenya Football Federation after the team allegedly joined a rival league, with the title ultimately awarded to Ulinzi Stars.

The team represented the country in the CAF champions league competition, where they were knocked out by Zamalek in the second round after they had beaten Red Sea of Eritrea at the Mumias Complex 4-3 on post-match penalties during the first round.

Nzoia had been nominated to take part in the competition after then Premier League winners Oserian Fastac FC  pulled out citing financial difficulties.

In a twist of managerial disputes, the team was shockingly disbanded in 2006 in what the company termed as ‘financial disputes’, despite the progress they were making.

It was not until in 2013 when the team was later formed again, this time starting from the National Super League which they won in 2016 with a massive 94 points, to earn promotion to the KPL. The financial waves rocking the sugar belt companies has not spared them either, as they are currently facing dire financial crisis, with the game now being more of passion than a career.

Evans Kadenge, who is a former player, coach and team manager of Nzoia Sugar FC acknowledges that sponsorship has been a major problem for the club, especially after the company went down a bit. He also opines that the problem with Kenyan football management has been caused by lack of accountability, where officials are squandering funds allocated for the management of the teams.

“Our football especially in Kenya lacks accountability. Officials who are in charge cannot account for every shilling they are given and that is killing our game because some people are using money meant to run the club for their own benefits,”charged  Kadenge.

With upcoming FKF elections, Kadenge has urged anyone who will be elected to put sponsorship as a priority when they are into office.

” In 37 years, I have been a player, coach and team manager of Nzoia Sugar FC, I urge anybody who will be elected to govern local football to make haste and look for sponsorship because our clubs cannot survive without funds,” he said.

The team manager has also urged county governments to be on the forefront in supporting local clubs, decrying that they are neglecting sports which is an important fabric of the society.

“I was encouraged to see Narok county government looking for a coach to lead their team. But it is saddening to see that is not happening in my backyard. Bungoma county leadership knows the company which is our main sponsor is struggling but they have not made any efforts to support Nzoia Sugar FC yet this team is nurturing talents from this region.  In fact, we are the only team representing the county in KPL,” regretted Kadenge. For now, they stagger on in the KPL, occupying position 14 on the 18-team log with 10 points

Mumias Sugar Fc

The Mumias based club formed in 1977 was one of the most followed clubs especially in Western Kenya, where it produced football powerhouses while plying their home matches in their famous  Mumias Sports Complex.

The team was disbanded in the 2006-2007 season, when the company under the then leadership of former Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero cited financial crisis.

The club won the Moi Golden Cup  in 1996 and 1999 beating Reli FC and Coast Stars. Although they won the KPL title in 1999, it was handed to Kenya Breweries FC (Tusker Fc) after  reports indicated a match fixing scandal  with Kisumu All-Stars, where they beat the latter 10 – 0 in a decisive match to win the league on goal difference and celebrated with their opponents.

Tusker had finished the league with 73 leagues, which meant Mumias, who had not played their match  had 70 points and needed a 7 nil win to be the champions, and they really won the match in a stunning 10-0 fashion,  leading to protests from Kenya Breweries FC(now Tusker FC). The petition by the former was successful and they were crowned ultimate winners.

The team also took part in the CAF competitions in 1997 and 1999, and has produced some notable talents in the Kenyan football which include Nick Yakhama, Evans Alemba, Mark Sirengo, Patrick Mugata, and Steve ‘Kush’ Okumu.

Former Mumias FC coach Yakhama blames the management of the sugar belt companies and the government, whose policies have affected the running of these companies. According to Yakhama, policies such as importation of cheap sugar has killed local industries because their product cannot be consumed.

“You find that cheap sugar is being imported which people rush to buy leaving the one produced by our companies. How will our companies grow if they cannot sell sugar? The government is killing our companies and this is what has adversely affected our clubs,” he reckoned.

On the issue of management, Yakhama says those who manage the industries have had a direct influence on survival of clubs. This, he exemplifies at the time he was with Mumias Sugar, when the team was shockingly disbanded, a move he says was wrong.

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa (R) flanked by Principal Secretary for Sports Kirimi Kaberia addresses the media on reasons why the Country missed out on the 2018 Africa Nations Championships (CHAN) in Nairobi on September 25, 2017. Photo/Kelly Ayodi/
Yakhama is scathing in his views saying that sports leadership; government and federation haven’t done much o change the situation

“I remember the time our team was disbanded, we were just from training when we were informed the team was disbanded. It was a very tough moment and I even remember some of the players died as a result  of stress related ailments. Some of the players had loans and other plans, but they were just ambushed that the team was disbanded,” Yakhama recalls.

Yakhama has hit out at the government, which he feels  is killing talents instead of nurturing. According to him, the government is chasing away the few companies which has interest in sponsoring sports, yet they are not playing their role.

“The government is chasing away companies like Sportpesa and Betin which were sponsoring the clubs, how are they expecting the clubs to survive? How will our football grow, how will our players survive without money?” wondered Yakhama.

The tactician has warned that the many talents will go to waste if the situation does not improve.

“Those upcoming talents especially in schools and grass root clubs, where will they go? How are they going to be accommodated if the top tier league is struggling? This is how our talent will go to waste,” he said.

Chemelil Sugar FC

Also based in Nyanza and plying their home games at Chemelil Sports Complex, the club has been on the Kenyan footballing map for long.

They won the Kenyan Cup in 2003, although the tournament saw many top clubs pulling out due to rivalry with the Kenya Football Federation. They also took part in CAF competition in 2004 and withdrew in 2005, but their current status is appalling, to say the least.

The team has already missed one match, handing over a walkover to Kenya Commercial Bank Football Club and they are likely to follow the path of Sony Sugar if they miss two more matches.

According to assistant head coach Charles Odera, it is a high time that local companies embrace sports sponsorship especially for local clubs.

Participants at a Chapa Dimba football tournament, a competition aiming to identify, nurture and give gifted youngsters a breakthrough.PHOTO/COURTESY

The tactician rekindles the time Coca-cola company and Safaricom had highly invested in nurturing local talents through the Copa Coca-Cola and Chapa Dimba tournaments, which he hopes should return.

On the current state of his team, Odera said it’s saddening state especially for players who depend on football as a career, adding that he hopes a solution comes through soon.

“It is very important that our league gets a sponsor soon. It should be a collective responsibility from the government, governing bodies and all stakeholders. Our players are suffering because they are finding it hard to survive including food, rent, they have families among other issues” Odera says.