Tuesday marked a historic day in the world’s most followed football league; the English Premier League. More significant it was to Liverpool FC supporters and relatives of those who lost their loved ones in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
The disaster, that saw 96 fans die and 766 others injured, occurred as Liverpool played Nottingham in the FA Cup semis. The match was played at a neutral ground. In the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history, it was determined today that the match commander Supretendent David Duckenfeild’s actions amounted to gross misconduct, while the police were also found guilty of planning errors that caused or contributed to the dangerous situation.
Well, for those who followed football closely in those days, four years before the Hillsborough disaster another disaster had occurred with 39 fans losing their lives in a Europe Cup final match pitting Liverpool against Juventus. Hooliganism in those days, was so bad, and was referred to as the ‘English Disaster’.
Incidentally, it is onTuesday that FKF announced measures to curb hooliganism in the local scene. Sportpesa too took the opportunity to suspend the Gor Mahia/ AFC Leopards sponsorships that Kenyans biggest clubs have been enjoying since the league kicked off. This comes in the wake of incessant hooliganism incidents that have clouded that league, with just 10 matches into the season. FKF through president Nick Mwendwa announced what many have termed ‘stringent laws’ to curb the vice, with Sportpesa’s actions being termed ‘harsh’ considering the two clubs have no solid financial backing.
From a layman’s perspective, the measures are sure to bring sanity to the local league. However, is there any real hope that hooliganism will soon be a thing of the past in the local league? Kenya, just as was the case in England 27years back, is experiencing a ‘real disaster’ that needs a thorough approach, in addition to total goodwill and commitment from all stakeholders if we hope to uproot hooliganism.
FKF and Sportpesa have opted for the shorter mitigation route, and the one that appeals more to the eye, something that could only worsen Kenya’s case. In the duo’s address to the press today, AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia featured prominently.In fact, FKF has directed KPL to submit findings on the Gor and AFC cases by May 3rd. In the last two weeks, AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia have witnessed hooliganism cases in their matches, with the club’s players and stewards guilty of fueling violence.
FKF’s measures are good for the game, however they have chosen to ignore the root problems and instead gone for the branches. First things first. Hooliganism has been here for sometime. Years on. President Nick Mwendwa and his office have experienced hooliganism first hand in our local stadia. Hooliganism is not tied to Gor and AFC alone.
In 2013, Kenyanstar while speaking to the then Kakamega Homeboyz coach Fred Serenge on hooliganism, he said,
“We are currently experiencing rampant hooliganism thanks to poor officiating.”
A week before that interview, Kakamega Homeboyz fans had severely beaten a referee at Bukhungu stadium. It is also in the same season, that referee Hadji Adede had been attacked baldy. Kenyanstar further sought to know from Serenge if Leopards and K’ogalo were solely responsible for hooliganism cases.
He noted, “Absolutely no. We witnessed hooliganism here in Kakamega. In some areas in this country, including Muhoroni, Chemelil and Awendo there are planned goons who always sit behind the technical bench. They come from sugar plantations,,some welding pangas. The situation there is dire.”
AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia have in a number of occasions clashed badly with opposing fans in this areas, forcing KPL to direct that their matches against these sides be held in Kisumu. Just this season, Bandari were treated to some serious hooliganism incidences in Muhoroni with Bandari asking KPL to halt hosting matches in Muhoroni. Clips from the match had some Muhoroni players assaulting Bandari players, as fans stood dangerously on the pitch.
FKF must first change the notion that hooliganism is a reserve for the two clubs. When Muhoroni players assaulted Bandari players, was any action taken? FKF should direct all the local clubs to have an anti-hooliganism policy.
Earlier this year, when two of Kenya’s senior and top players Arnold Origi and Victor Wanyama accosted the match officials as Kenya lost 1-0 to Guinea-Bissau, FKF went mum. No statement was issued to that effect in spite of the match failing to proceed thanks to violence that rocked the stadium. All FKF did, was join the local football diehards in waiting for CAF’S verdict on her issue. That in itself, raised doubts on FKF’s willingness to tackle the menace.
Officiating has gone to the dogs, with head of referees GMT Otieno admitting in a recent interview that majority of match officials are not qualified. Otieno added that most officials have been app to their positions in a reward scheme, rather than competency. In just 10 matches, referees have been committing high school bloopers something that has been pointed out as a catalyst for violence. The situation seems to persist, with neither FKF nor KPL pledging to handle the situation same.
When Sportpesa took up the responsibility of sponsoring Gor and AFC, CEO captain Ronald Karauri promised that they would closely with clubs to tame hooliganism. One issue that they pledged to handle was ensure match stewards were well qualified and had certificates of good conduct. Well, the best that these stewards have to show for it are newer reflector jackets. Their mannerisms are at an all time low. Match stewards can wall into the pitch at will, assault any journalist, player or match officials and walk away scot free. Journalists will tell you that they dread match stewards more than they do to local cops.
Stewards wield lots of powers and that is the reason it has been difficult for either KPL or the federation to boot them out. The clubs that employ them, can’t even think about it. Why? All of these stewards are usually the club official’s clansmen. They form part of the strong voter base, and kicking them out, would be like voting yourself out. Many at times these stewards have doubled up as carriers of ‘special tools of trade.’ Often before kickoff, you will spot them making deposits in goal posts or around the technical area. Whatever they carry has been rumoured to be ‘juju.’ And it’s special stewards who undertake these roles. A good number of stewards have a say in what players to sign, what to coach to stay etc. Most of these stewards, infact, as has been the case at Ingwe some seasons back, believe they own the club. Whoever has them on their side, has the club on their side. It is claimed. It is these fellows who incite fans, beat up players, match officials and at times journalists in the full glare of cameras. This has happened in previous seasons and as late as last week. Any action? None. Who are these stewards? Fellows we know by face and names. Why not any action isn’t taken against them remains the jig-saw puzzle. Can FKF then convince us that serious action will be taken against stewards?
One of the major problems stems from the cops. This writer while speaking to a cop after Gor Mahia fans engaged police in running battles at Nyayo, he said, “..unajua hawa watu wana ujinga. Mtu anatoka kwake anakuja amevuta bangi. Unaweza shindana na huyo mtu? Kwa nini uhatarishe maisha yako?” The cops words were true. Normally most of these cops are not trained to handle hooliganism. A season ago, at the KPL awards, Sports CS Hassan Wario noted that the Government would undertake measures to curb hooliganism as he dismissed the then FKF president Sam Nyamweya’s request to have a special unit to tackle hooliganism. It is normal to witness police officers hurdled in a corner, as fans hurl objects into the pitch. Who deploys these cops? What is their responsibility? Are they trained on crowd control? In a number of occasions, police have hurled teargas recklessly hence worsening the situation on the pitch. What does FKF plan to do to deal with otherwise lazy and clueless cops?
Sportpesa have taken a bold step in suspending the sponsorships, but if social media is to believed, majority of the fans hold strong opinions that the betting giants are arm twisting Kenya’s biggest club. Infact, some fans have dared Sportpesa to pull out completely, with a number pointing at other betting rivals as quick options. On their part, Sportpesa should invest in serious security in local matches. Or else, they are in for worse incidences. Remember the trouble that befell Kenya Power? The power company had a prestigious Charity cup tourney that they cut short, after they had invested millions only for goons to loot and cause massive chaos in that tournament. Kenya Power had invested millions in the football and entertainment but little in security. The damage was evident that day.
Hooliganism is a larger issue that FKF should be prepared to handle head on and effectively, not just through knee jerk reactions. Get players trained, qualified stewards hired and the proper stadia used. Further, IDCC should formulate,min conjunction with KPL and FKF clear laws to deal with unruly players and clubs. Otherwise, we could be playing ostrich politics; hiding our heads in the sand, and waiting for danger to pass…