Over the past weekend, football lovers from across the nation descended on the impeccably refurbished Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega County to witness the culmination of the Chapa Dimba na Safaricom football tournament. Indeed, and this is no exaggeration, in attendance was a tapestry of passionate football faithful; young and old, boys and girls, men and women – simply a sight to behold.

Talking about passion, as they say, the game is about passion. The crowds were as raucous as it gets. They sang their preferred teams’ praises, coming to a climax in the boys’ first semi-final on Saturday pitting the ‘hosts’ Mukumu Boyz against Gor Mahia Youth in a mini Mashemeji Derby. The Gor section in the stands would belt out a forceful rendition of ‘Kidi Nitie’ which loosely translates to ‘we have stones should the referee screw us over’ as the Mukumu fans responded with a vigorous jig of one of the Esukuti tunes. The vociferous Kapenguria Heroes legion too weren’t to be left behind. To put it bluntly, they were loud, and a huge part of why the Heroes eventually vanquished all to become champions, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

It just goes to show how thirsty the masses are for the game of football so much so that throngs hitherto rarely witnessed at a level as high as the national league are turning up and doing so hours before kickoffs to watch and cheer on prodigies who are still making baby steps in learning their trade. Then again there’s just this appeal that youth football enjoys – the protagonists are raw and so give everything, uninhibited. And this is not just an abstract theory, it actually happened and was witnessed. It did help a great deal that the playing surface was almost pristine and the main dais was all-seater, which was a major selling point to the crowds that turned up. Kudos and thumbs up to Kakamega County residents for bringing colour to the show.

The Final Before the Final

Now on to what really matters and the entire reason for the showpiece, the actual Chapa Dimba na Safaricom football. The two final days, Saturday and Sunday were reserved for the business end of the competition as evidenced by the participating teams raising their games to give justice to the occasion. Gor Mahia Youth rained on most of the local spectators’ parade, showing quality and maybe a bit over the top street-smart to knock out Mukumu 3-1 and book a place in the final. After going down 1-0 midway through the first half, Mukumu composed themselves, shed off a stage fright bug they had suffered to hit back barely 5 minutes on resumption. The leveller gave them renewed impetus but the feeling did not last long as just over ten minutes later, Gor got a second after a lapse of concentration in the Mukumu backline and in effect, the goal snuffed the life out of Mukumu. Gor would grab hold of the game and add a third just before the final whistle. Even then it is easy to forget that Gor actually played the last 10 minutes or so with a man down after a sending off. Such was their dominance at the time.

Gamesmanship much?

Obviously, the main objective (sometimes the only one) of any team in a match is to win, but Gor’s 3-1 victory came with an asterisk. Essentially what the players’ did (most likely on instruction of their coaching staff) was to stretch the rules of the game as far as they could. The players made it a habit whenever they were in the lead (which was for vast periods during the game) to go down at the slightest contact and in the process eat up as much time as possible receiving treatment, real or otherwise. Of course, strictly speaking, that’s not breaking rules, but such behaviour is certainly not in keeping with the spirit of fair play, that the game’s governing body FIFA advocates for. At times it was so blatant that a majority of the fans in the stands would heckle animatedly as a show of disapproval. The Gor boys may be firmly versed in the dark arts of the game but the result is that their overall game takes a hit. No need to look further than in the final against Kapenguria Heroes when the game was barren throughout and thus they could not employ their time wasting antics resulting into them being unable to conjure up any meaningful openings.

Comeback Kings

Aside from the gamesmanship exhibited, the boys’ champions Kapenguria showed great resilience throughout and in so doing added a much craved for and appreciated gloss and sheen to proceedings. In their semifinal contest against Ombek Red Devils, they twice had to come back from the dead to salvage a 2-2 draw and drag the match to penalties which they went on to win. For much of the period when they trailed they looked well beaten, dead and buried but came back for some reason, be it the fans who kept the stadium buzzing or their inbuilt mental strength, and it was refreshing to see something akin to a Cinderella story play out. For tourneys like that, it is such moments that linger long on the fans’ minds and leave them going back home with something to reminisce and chatter about. Even more, telling both of the Heroes equalizers were put away by David Majak, a skinny and lanky number 10 whose physique betrayed the sheer amount of technical ability and match awareness at his disposal. It sure does seem like Kenya Premier League outfit Kakamega Homeboyz have gotten a diamond in their hands after news filtered through that they had convinced Majak to put pen to paper and sign up with them.

Queens putting on a Show

Plateau Queens from Nyanza claimed the ladies’ crown in a pulsating final, edging out Tar Tar Girls from the Rift Valley 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw at full time. For the win, they owed much to their goalkeeper, Judith Osimbo, who doled out a master class in the art of shot-stopping, with the cherry on top in the shootout. We fully expect that she will be a permanent fixture in the national team’s Harambee Starlets squad for years to come. For Tar Tar Girls it was maybe a bit gut-wrenching for them how the whole tie turned out. They conceded an own goal midway through the second half and fought hard to level matters, which they did in the 88th minute and at the time it seemed as though all that momentum would carry them through to the promised land of victory but it wasn’t to be. They say you learn more through losses and near misses than from triumphs, and it is the hope that it will be the case with them.

Plateau Queens Goalkeeper Judith Osimbo goes for the ball against Tar Tar Girls player Sylvia Baraza (in blue) as Akinyi Winnie from Plateau Queens (in orange) tries to defend during the Safaricom Chapa Dimba National Finals at Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega. Plateau won the finals after winning post match penalties 4-3.

The inaugural edition came to a close amid fanfare, jubilation, cheers and tears. The winners bagged the prestigious prize of KSh 1 million and a trip to London, UK to train with Kenya’s national captain and Tottenham Hotspur midfield ace Victor Wanyama in what will be, to those youngsters, a trip of a lifetime. How I (and you too) would wish to trade places with them in a heartbeat! For main sponsors of the tournament Safaricom it was a huge success and for the finals hosts Kakamega County through Bukhungu Stadium, the flying success of the tournament is a huge vote of confidence on their organizational abilities and preparedness. For the thousands who braved sometimes extreme weather conditions to attend, it has been an event they will not forget in a hurry! I guess, see you then at the next bigger and better edition of the Chapa Dimba na Safaricom bonanza as more talent is unlocked and new gems are unearthed.

By Fabian Odhiambo and Levi Orero at the Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega County

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