By Duke Omole
Umeme Sports Ground in Nairobi`s Ziwani Estate is a place of contrasts. During sunny days the ground is dusty and a brown cloud of dust sitting on the boots of players is considered normal. When the heavy rains come, the pitch gets muddy making running a struggle for the players. This Ground holds great significance to residents and has become a place for recreation, an escape from daily life pressures and where talents are nurtured.
Often you will hear residents say “Tukutane grao” which means let’s meet at the ground, in reference to the football pitch. For Daniel Maloba, a football coach Umeme holds a lot of memories. Popularly known as Rama, he started playing football at 8 years. During his teens he played football in these very grounds and progressed to achieve a notable career as a professional Football player. In the height of his career, he played for the local league in Sofapaka FC and abroad for Al-Tilal in Yemen for the 2010-11 season.
At the age of 52 he is still active and spends his time in the grounds offering guidance and mentorship on Football to budding talents. Spending time at the football ground offers solace from the pressures of poverty within the neighborhood. It is where children, youth and even adults escape from the harsh realities of illicit brews, petty crime, khat chewing, family squabbles and violence.
“The reason I decided to give my knowledge and time to these young athletes, even when I sometimes lack motivation is because I know of the numerous distractions within the neighborhood. At the same time, I know how passion in football can see them go places, ” says coach Rama. Rama offers football training for kids between the ages of six to eleven on Wednesdays each week and three days a week for the adults, with weekends dedicated to friendly matches.
Spending time at the Ground offers more than just an opportunity to grow talents but also imparts social skills, provides free entertainment, physical exercise and gives a sense of belonging. In playing at Umeme, players feel a connectedness to players such as former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Victor Wanyama, Kenyan football legend Dennis Oliech who would play from Kamukunji Highschool, which is a short distance away and current Tusker FC midfielder Humphrey Mieno. All these players once played at Umeme and that serves as inspiration for young players.
Every December, `Koth Biro` tournaments are held offering residents an opportunity to improve their football skills and get amusement in the muddy pitch of Umeme grounds. The tournaments which derive their name from a Luo phrase that translates to rain is coming, offer the community a chance to bond and stay physically active. These tournaments have played a big role in nurturing talents.
Edwin Ochieng, AFC Leopards U23 player credits the coaching sessions at Umeme and the `Koth Biro` tournaments for the success in his career. The 21 year old started playing football when he was aged 8. He started training with Coach Rama when he was fifteen years before being scouted by AFC Leopards when he was nineteen. “ I gained a lot of experience and confidence needed to play at the big stage from playing for a local club in the Koth Biro tournaments. I am happy that I received this opportunity to train and play at Umeme and I am proud of my achievements,” says Ochieng. He hopes to play professionally in Europe.
Despite Umeme offering hope to budding players, Ochieng notes that other challenges persist. “At times it is difficult to get money to buy soccer shoes or even bus fare to travel to matches,” he says. Ochieng adds that he would like to see more support from players who have made a name for themselves and are now playing abroad or in the local leagues.
Coach Rama adds that minimal support from families of young players is one of the major hurdles he faces. But despite the challenges, the charm of Umeme grounds is not lost to locals. It remains a place where football careers have taken off and an effective stress reliever.
says coach Rama while speaking on the matter isisting that support from the families of young players is still one hurdle he faces as a coach.
bus fare to travel to matches, adding he would like to see more support from players who have made a name for themselves and are now playing abroad or in the domestic leagues. He has hopes of going pro and playing in Europe.
This is what the local football fans refer to as “Koth Biro” which translates to rain is coming in Luo. But this obstacle cannot be compared to the boredom lurking within the now squeezed once open inroads of Ziwani Estate, after residents had put up illegal structures. It’s an opportunity for the residents to earn money being in close proximity to the central business district, Gikomba market and Eastleigh areas.
We meet up with coach Daniel Maloba popularly known as Rama. He started playing football at a young age of eight years old. He’s 52 now and is still active, giving guidance and mentorship as part of the game. The football ground has been an enabler of realising the pressures of poverty within the neighborhood. It is where the children, youth and even adults find solace from the illicit brews, petty thievery,khat chewing and even family squabbles and violence. ” The reason I decided to give my knowledge and time to these young athletes, even when I sometimes lack motivation is because I know what dangerous distractions may present themselves outside the pitch and I know how passion in football can see them go places” says coach Rama while speaking on the matter isisting that support from the families of young players is still one hurdle he faces as a coach. Having played at this very grounds throughout his teens to achieving a notable career as he himself played professional football in the domestic league for Sofapaka FC and even abroad for Al-Tilal in Yemen for the 2010-11season.
Most life social skills are learnt at the “ground”. Apart from providing free entertainment, exercise and a sense of belonging where players such as former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Victor Wanyama, Kenyan football legend Dennis Oliech who would play from Kamukunji Highschool, which is a short distance away and current Tusker FC midfielder Humphrey Mieno serves as inspiration for young players as they all once played on this iconic ground. Showcasing of one’s skill is free and learning from coach Rama who is an experienced player himself having had a professional career in football is an opportunity for most players as he offers football training for kids between the ages of six to eleven on Wednesdays each week and three days a week for the adults, with weekends dedicated to friendly matches.
The “Koth Biro” tournaments at Umeme grounds make for a lasting strong social bond within the community. It is a place to release positive energy while safely exercising and it has become a part of growing with a free physical active routine for life. So whether you’re looking to improve your football skills or just out for a little entertainment in the muddy pitch of Umeme grounds, this might just be the perfect destination for you.