By Kenn Okaka
Once an epitome of Kenya’s football culture, Nairobi’s City Stadium, which is the country’s oldest modern football stadium lies in shambles.
For eons now, what was once upon a time a bedrock of Kenya’s football culture, city stadium -fully owned and run by the County Government of Nairobi- is today not only a pale shadow of its former glory but a God forsaken, irreparable ground, only left to remind those old enough to remember the good old days, of a glorious football era.
Allan Thigo the High Priest of Gor Mahia, the charismatic Peter Dawo, Charles Otieno “Engine”, John Okello Zangi, John Bobby Ogolla, Sammy Onyango “Jogoo”, Paul Oduwo “Cobra”, Austin Oduor: Kenya’s most successful team captain, Abbas Khamis Magongo, captain Peter Otieno ‘Bassanga’; the list cand endless and indeed nostalgic.
It is a list of household names who, with no television or FM Radio stations providing football commentary, Kenyans of all walks of life from nearly every corner of the republic, well resonated with. These were a generation of football stars who never inked but rather engraved their names into the books of records in Kenya’s football History. One thing in common with the erstwhile legends, they all played for Kenya’s most successful football club Gor Mahia.
The dalliance that is Gor Mahis with Kenya’s football legion was brewed at Nairobi’s City Stadium. Nicknamed Tok K’Omwanda which means behind Omwanda’s place – Omwanda was a famed Gor Mahia fan who lived next to the stadium) by Gor fans I yesteryear, City Stadium bears a rich history that belies its disrepair today; but not anymore.
Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja has rolled up his sleeves to bell the cat that has escaped the City’s two past county Governors Dr. Evans Kidero and Mike Sonko.
In a move not much surprising to those who have interacted closely with the youthful county boss, Sakaja has moved to bring back glory to the old good City Stadium with a revamp of the stadium scheduled to begin after the ground breaking ceremony was done at the stadium. Sakaja led in the ground breaking at the county’s woodly grounds in Kibra constituency before heading to the Joe Kadenge stadium which is commonly referred to a City Stadium.
Under the planned reconstruction, the county government of Nairobi will among others a FIFA standard playing pitch; a running track and 10,000 capacity roofed siting stands making it a model stadium able to host international matches. In the past, several other county governors have made attempts at constructing what they christened international stadiums but ended up constructing shambolic structures which cannot host any football match worth its salt.
The county government of Nairobi will now have in its fold, the Dandora stadium which is complete awaiting its opening, the woodly grounds along Joseph Kang’ethe road in Kibra and the landmark City Stadium allowing teams in Nairobi to access three quality facilities for their league matches.
For starters, City Stadium had been the home of Gor Mahia over a long period of time. The 15,000 seater stadium attracted more than its fair share of fans on any given Gor Mahia Match day such that the foot bridge just outside the stadium along Jogoo road was at some point taken to be part of the stands in the stadium. It was a football arena like no other in the country, probably, in the region, before it hit its sell by date, got dilapidated and was neglected by is owners, the former City Council of Nairobi.
Under the devolved system of governance, Nairobi’s pioneer Governor Dr. Evans Kidero rode on a promise to reconstruct the stadium as did Nairobi’s second Governor Mike Sonko but whoa! That was just that, empty promises. The stadium was fitted with an artificial turf with funds from FIFA but there was never a will to maintain the turf, now an eyesore.
The current generation of players who have had a chance to use the facility may not be aware that it used to host the Gossage Cup, currently the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup, in the 60s when Kenya and Uganda dominated the championships.
Today, I am a football stakeholder in Kenya but as well, I had the privileged to engage Governor Kidero, who i was very close to, on the matter of City stadium telling him that the facility bears a rich history for the people of Nairobi and therefore, building the stadium to international standard was likely to guarantee him a second term something which unfortunately never happened, I don’t know whether he remembers my advice after his two failed attempts on the gubernatorial office both in Nairobi and his Homabay home county but that is a story for another day.
I also had the opportunity to engage Governor Sonko on the same issue before he was elected Governor but upon his election, the story ended there. Fast forward to the day, I have looked at Governor Sakaja and his intentional will to develop sporting infrastructure captures me with awe. Indeed, if the governor never knew, this is my advice to him; City Stadium might just be the Signature project that could guarantee his re-election in 2027.
Sakaja, while on the campaign trail ahead of the 2022 elections, promised to make City Stadium now renamed Joe Kadenge Stadium, and many of us believed he might be the one with the magic to do it and by the look of things; it seems that the long dream could finally be a reality.
I am born and bred in Makongeni, the same ward hosting City stadium. As I grew up, people around my locality adored the stadium.We would go to watch matches there every weekend and the environment was awesome.
The area is well known to produce prolific footballers such that growing up in the area; it was common knowledge that you would most likely be a great footballer, a boxer or a thug. Life was difficult, and was only livened by weekend football at City Stadium. We passed school exams but parents were not able to take you to colleges, however, football and boxing opened up the world for majority of us.
Unlike the past two governors, Sakaja is the first Governor who grew up in the city and could therefore be the only one who well understands the nostalgic feeling that comes with Tok K’Omwanda Gor Mahia home ground for years.
The decision to reconstruct City Stadium could not have come at a better time than this when the country looks at an eminent closure of both Kasarani and Nyayo stadiums for renovations as Kenya looks to host the 2027 African Cup of Nations.
Football teams in Nairobi will now have a place to call home with the Governor having steered the construction of the new Dandora Stadium and now the reconstruction of City Stadium. It is an eye opener for other governor across the republic to ensure that they take seriously the development of sports infrastructure since it is now common knowledge that sports is a multi billion industry globally and Africa has the youngest population in the world so why not create facilities for the youth to explore their sporting talents to not only eke a living for themselves, but as well, market the country at the old stage. Thank you Governor Johnson Sakaja for this noble initiative of bringing back the memories of City Stadium.
Kenn Okaka is a Nairobi based communications strategist and football stakeholder