Inside Nairobi Club along Ngong Road is an old, small but well maintained house. The main door faces the Hospital Road and Ngong Road Junction while the rear door opens to the oval shaped cricket grounds. Beyond the outer wooded shutter of the main door is a glass door with a red round logo of Kongoni Cricket Club. This is the logo that attracted me to this club house with the intention of digging into how it ended up on the grounds.
On stepping inside your eyes will catch the simple yet elegant furnishing. The bar is to your left while two cabinets holding cricket memorabilia dating back to 1860 are kept in two cabinets majestically positioned to the left and right walls. There are wooded barrels in two corners that give the house the old English farm house ambiance. On several walls are photos of club officials and visiting teams like 1959 visit of Rhodesian Strugglers’ Cricket Club.
The carpet is simple and grey in colour buttressing the mixture of simple old and new elegant furniture in the bar area. Upstairs is the pavilion that gives one a good view of cricket out in the oval ground, offices and board room. On this day the bar is playing bongo flava tunes in low tone which blends well with the noise from resting players cheering their counterparts in the three club round robin matches going on. I am here to meet current club captain Mr. David Waters, and a former player for Nairobi Gymkhana.
Nairobi Club was established in 1901 while Kenya Kongoni Cricket Club (KKCC) was established in 1927 by H.B. Emley. This is their 90th year of existence and their home has always been Nairobi Club. In 1981 they dropped Kenya from the name and remained Kongoni Cricket Club. The Sports Pavilion cum Club House was built in 1950 by KKCC, but handed over to Nairobi Club as a soft loan and they have been repaying it slowly until about ten years ago when they completed paying for it. From 1932 Kenya Kongoni controlled cricket in Kenya until 1953 when Kenya Cricket Association was formed
Kongoni leased back the house from Nairobi Club and they have an agreement which was signed in July 1966 that gave Kongoni exclusive rights over the cricket grounds. They also use the facility for keeping trophies and memorabilia, a library, meetings and training sessions. This translates to about three days a week. They hold events like dinners but Nairobi Club runs a bar and maintains the facility on a daily basis. Meanwhile, Kongoni sources for services from Nairobi Club and their visiting players and coaches are accommodated at the club. This has led to a symbiotic relationship that serves both parties well.
David Waters is on the grounds playing cricket. I will have to wait until the next rotation when his team will be resting. I take up a seat on one of the elegant couches on one side of the room facing a TV screen showing highlights of Spanish La Liga matches once in a while shifting to another one showing cricket with some young men glued to it to my right. I later learn that these are young boys from the slums who come in every Saturday to learn cricket.
I hear cheers from the grounds and prepare for my interview with David Waters. I see a man who looks busy going into sixties, a stark difference from the younger man he appeared to be while on the grounds. He assures me he will be back shortly. I look at him rush through a door marked Home that I learn is a changing room after noting that I am facing another door marked Away. The men who were resting are talking loudly as they get onto the pitch as a waiter sets up tea and snacks on the verandah to my left.
He comes back and insists we sit at a vantage point where he can watch the match as we talk. Throughout the interview, I had to give him time to clap and shout at the teams through the big window. He tells me that they have 110 members. Their main source of funds is from members’ subscriptions, donations and annual fundraising day. Currently Braeburn Schools sponsors their two teams in the Nairobi Provincial Cricket Association League. They came sixth last year and fifth the previous season which is not good for their long history in the sport. The season is yet to kick off so they are preparing for it.
Kongoni and Nairobi Club have different rules regarding membership and use of facilities. Nairobi Club members can use facilities at the Kongoni Club House but Kongoni members do not enjoy privileges at the Nairobi Club. This is their 90th year and recently they renovated the house to a tune of Ksh. 20 million. They are planning a makeover of the cricket grounds as well. He represents Kongoni on the Nairobi Club Sports Committee as well. The relationship serves them well and my talk with Mr. Ochieng’ from the club confirms that Nairobi Club is happy with the arrangement too.
He tells me as much as most cricket clubs have bases in clubs just like Kongoni, Swamibapa and Stray Lions who came first and second last season are the two exceptions. So having a home with facilities is not a prerequisite for success but good for sustainability of a club because it attracts members who may not be active players. Having a home at Nairobi Club has enabled Kongonis to stay afloat even during tough times. Waters came to Nairobi in 1980 and began his career at Nairobi Gymkhana before shifting to Kongonis.
When he came to Nairobi, Nondies RFC was based at Parklands Sports Club but they were kicked out. The rugby matches were near town and much fun, they have since moved to the ASK Show Ground off Ngong’ Road. With good agreements with mutual benefits, private members clubs can host a number of sports clubs. Currently, he says the hockey grounds at Nairobi Club have not been used in a long time.
He then moves to his East Africa Cricket and Educational Foundation. The foundation partners with Kongoni to run cricket clubs in 18 primary schools in Nairobi slums. They have coaches who are employed by the foundation who go around in these schools. Every Saturday they bring some of children to Nairobi Club for practice too. These children he believes are the future of Kongoni and Kenya’s cricket.
I then push the question that brought me. “Can football clubs and especially Gor and AFC Leopards learn from Kongoni and establish home bases on grounds they don’t necessarily own?” He shifts his face to the grounds for a few seconds then talks to me without look me in the face before turning midway to conclude his statement. “Football has a huge following; Kongoni is a small armature club with only 110 members and Kenya only has about 700 cricket players. They should not be learning from cricket. I think the problem is in the leaders they elect.”
Kongoni has maintained a tradition of annual visits to Ol- Pajeta in Laikipia, Mombasa, Nakuru, Tanzania and England. This July will mark their 86th tour of England that was interrupted for five years by Second World War. They are also planning to tour India next year.
Kongoni Cricket Club is a lesson in simplicity, stability and good leadership.