WOMEN FOOTBALL IN KENYA: HOW DID IT START?

By Hillary Mukasa

Women 1
Coach Habil Nanjero (extreme left) with Nyayo Stars before a match in the nineties.

We cannot talk about Habil Nanjero and not talk about women football in Kenya and neither can we talk about women football history in Kenya and not talk about Habil Nanjero. Born in 1964, Habil Nanjero is married to Florence Adhiambo and they are blessed with 3 Children all who are footballers. His wife Florence Adhiambo was a footballer for the national team and Eastlanders. Florence has also coached the National youth team for women. Habil played football in his youthful days at Kariobangi North primary school and Parklands high school before joining Government Printer’s football team where his father worked. His parents like many other Kenyan parents preferred education to football but Habil was not for the idea of quitting football. After high school he joined the National Youth Service (NYS) and played for them.

The birth of women football

In 1986, Habil and Gilbert Selebwa encouraged women to play soccer at NYS.  Selebwa was also in the NYS as a trainee at that time. After completing his studies at NYS the dedicated Habil Nanjero formed a women football team called Eastlanders. Eastlanders was among the first five teams to be formed in Kenya in the mid-eighties. The others teams formed were Nairobi City Council, Standard Chartered Bank, Utali College and NYS. During that period Nyayo Stars from Kakamega and Eregi Teachers College also came up. These teams trained and every year participated in the Nairobi International Show football competitions for women.

Women 2
Makolanders FC in 1996: Standing from right to left Habil Nanjero (Head Coach), David Arika (supporter), Night Lugalya, Salome Oketch, Veronicah Achieng, Rose Anyango (RIP), Beatrice Awuor (GK), George William (Team Manager), Willis (supporter)
Sitting from left
Janet Namukuru, Benta Auma, Florence Adhiambo, Agness Wamere, Judy Akoth and Jane Khasenye

The Pioneers

In the early nineties a committee to organize women football in Kenya was formed under the stewardship of the Late Albert Arum who had travelled to the USA in the early eighties and seen women football teams. The Kenya Women’s Football Association (KWFA) was established in 1993 and formed a committee that comprised of two superwomen Fridah Shiroya (Chairperson, and Rebecca Olela the Secretary General. Rebecca Olela was a prominent netball player and arguably the best in Africa by then. The committee include:

  1. Fridah Shiroya
  2. Rebecca Olela
  3. Solomon Kilasi
  4. Albert Arum
  5. Salamba Amienda (RIP)
  6. James Sianga (RIP)
  7. Habil Nanjero

Selection of senior team

In 1993/94 a senior national team was selected. The women National team was first called Nyayo Stars then Nyayo Starlets and now Harambee Starlets. They played friendly matches against Uganda and won both home and away. Some of the players in this team included Phanice Ndakala, Captain Madina Hassan, Phoebe Kuya (RIP). Phoebe was a great midfielder. Others were youngsters Mary “Busu” Adhiambo, Florence Adhiambo, Salome Oketch and Benta Auma.

Women 3
Nyayo Stars in Uganda in one of the friendly matches in 1994

Others in the team were budding stars Mary Adhiambo “Busu”, Florence Adhiambo, Salome Okech and Benta Auma. Also in the team was Evelyn Obat.

International exposure

In 1992 the women national youth team participated in the Aberdeen tournament in Scotland. The committee approached Orbit Sports to sponsor the women national team to travel to Scotland to participate in the youth tournament. A team of the under 16 year old category was selected to participate in the tournament and the Head Coach was the late James Sianga. Coach Habil was dropped because of lack of funds.

In 1993 the Nyayo Stars also participated in a tournament in Wales.

In 1994 the women National team toured Uganda for a series of friendly matches and played in Mbale, Jinja and Kampala and never lost.

In 1995 the National team travelled to the USA to participate in a tournament. Before travelling to USA they trained at Makolanders pitch popularly known as Shepherd Junior Academy playground. The team camped at Shauri Moyo (YMCA). The team fed at Buruburu Secondary School. The headmistress supported a lot. From USA the team gained a lot of invaluable experience. The team was funded by well-wishers and institutions. Habil Nanjero was the head coach while James Sianga was the Technical advisor.

Women 4
Kenya’s Nyayo Stars in the Aberdeen tournament in Scotland in 1992: Standing 4th from left is Coach James Sianga (RIP), (10th from left) is Ian Rush former Liverpool striker, standing extreme right is Rebecca Olela (representative in women football).

The Nyayo Stars participated in a series of matches in the Yale Connecticut University in 2002 but the Head Coach Habil Nanjero was unable to travel since he had got a new assignment of acting coach in KPL team Pipeline FC.

Local Football Tournaments

“Women teams in the nineties participated in tournaments sponsored by organizations such as KFF, Orbit Sports, banks like Barclays, MYSA, media houses like NTV and Citizen TV. Different teams countrywide participated in these tournaments and were played in Ruaraka at Utalii and KCB grounds”. Points out Benta Auma a former Harambee Starlet’s player in the yester years.

MYSA tournaments attracted countrywide teams and East African teams from Uganda. These tournaments were annual and had both senior and junior categories. From these tournaments Kenyan players were selected to play International tournaments and friendlies and usually camped in places like Moi sports Complex Kasarani, Nyayo stadium YMCA in South C or CID in South C.

Elections      

In 1997/98 football elections, KFF insisted that the KWFF was an independent body and it had to be part of them in accordance with FIFA demands. Lena Leopol was elected as the Chairperson. This change brought a decline in women football.

Early 2000

UNICEF came on board and supported women football. The selected committee sidelined the Federation and mismanagement was inevitable. UNICEF pulled out because of wrangles that caused failure in the league.

Women 5
Nyayo Stars (Green) pose for a photo with a team from Sao Paolo (White and Blue) in the Dallas tournament in 1995. Standing (extreme right is Kenya’s Coach Habil Nanjero

Unsung Heroes

When Habil Nanjero started women football he was abused by men who asked him what he wanted in women football. After success in Uganda the skeptics wanted to join Habil for they could not beat him. Habil reveres his mentors James Sianga (RIP) and Edwin Achoch (RIP). Edwin Achoch paid for him his first basic football coaching course. He also supported Eastlanders financially. Early years coaches of women football are:

  1. Habil Nanjero- Eastlanders
  2. Philip Mwakio -Mombasa
  3. Alex Aguyo – Bata Bullets Women Football Club
  4. Omari- Kakamega Nyayo Stars

Makongneni youth was formed by George Alado former Nairobi Mayor and current MP Makadara. The best players in the Habil Nanjero coached Eastlanders were Phanice Ndakala (Captain), Phoebe Kuya, and Everlyne Obat. During the early years of football in the mid-eighties high schools didn’t play football apart from colleges such as Eregi Teachers College that was the best.

Sponsorship

 When the women national team travelled to USA in 1995 the Federation only provided a letter to allow them to travel. The team relied on funds from well-wishers. Orbit Sports sponsored the National team with Uniforms when they travelled to USA. Nike sponsored the team with bags, uniforms and shoes. In 2006 the federation came on board and offered track suits and uniforms to the team.

 Training Men versus Women

 When coaching women Habil states challenges such as human anatomy and physiology of women. Women are different from men and need to be handled keenly, carefully and consciously. He says a man not performing can be sent away from a pitch and back after 20 minutes. A woman is the opposite. He explains that some drills for men are not appropriate for women. Some drills can be done by both genders but the intensity for women regulated. Some of the drills can cut across. He admitted that men are more consistent in a period of 5-10 years. A percentage of women have to decline within that period because of factors such as child delivery. Men are more consistent unless factors such as injuries are encountered.

Challenges of Yester years

 “During the early days of women football in the mid-eighties commitment from parents in supporting girls to play soccer was minimal. Parents requested team officials to leave them with their national identification cards as a means of security. We are unable to maintain players and coaches for a long time. Inconsistency is a great challenge. A country like Cameroon maintains its squad for a long period. I can give an example of the Cameroonian coach of 2006 who was retained until recently when he was promoted as the Technical Director. (2018) Cameroon systems run from primary school, secondary school to club level. Orange company in Cameroon sponsors women football a lot from the grass roots. Before Cameroon played Kenya in the CAF Championship they played a friendly match against the Netherlands and camped there. This was a morale booster for them. While Cameroon team was composed of professionals who beefed up the team, the Kenyan players were mainly locals. Hiccups between the current office and the former office were another interference with the team’s preparation in 2006. Hate speech from some football stakeholders was another challenge in 2006.

Lack of proper documentation has been a challenge in the past. Most of the players did not have the necessary documents hence possibility of inclusion in the team was 50-50.

Media coverage in yester years was very poor. Teams would play a league to whole season without publicity Omole Asiko of KBC and a few other reporters gave publicity to women football. When there weren’t a lot of news of retired president Moi, a clip would appear on women football. Now there are more forms of Media for outreach.” Habil Nanjero.

 Way forward

 “FKF should do more like proper identification of players to aid to nurture and groom their talents at an early stage. Clubs should have a youth team to feed the senior team. The federation should nurture a youth team like in the under 14 and under 16 categories with specific professionals to handle the team. Select a bunch of like 30 players for a period of around 4 years. So that at least 20 can be selected from the pool to make a strong team. Women footballers should be educated about administration e.tc and leadership”. Suggests Habil.

 

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