Crazy football we played growing up

After AFC Leopards lost three nil to Gor Mahia in their latest derby, their fans had all sorts of excuses for the loss.

One hilarious one was on the high price of maize flour, with some fans saying most of the Leopard’s players had not been eating enough ugali because they could hardly afford it.

The mentality that the energy supplied by ugali is necessary for playing and winning soccer matches says a lot about our general, erroneous perceptions about the world’s most loved game.

To some of us, the only qualification for playing football well and winning is muscle and mass, not skill and flair, as the English, to whom the game traces its origin, intended.

I mean, we get it all twisted from the word go as children. Small wonder then, that, we never grow up to play well, from club football all the way to the national team.

We - for instance - never get right the various styles of play, formation and even basic rules.

Little wonder then, that, when Kenyans play soccer, the ball is forever in the air. You at times get worried for birds that risk getting killed, just because Kenyans are playing football!

Ever wondered why when watching a local soccer match, “Weka ball chini (bring down the ever airborne ball)” chants always rent the air?

First of all, as kids we never time the game. We just play, play and play and only end the game when darkness sets in.

It’s never 11 vs 11, as the rules stipulates. We simply half the number of those present, even if they are hundred and start running all over the place like headless chicken, kicking the ball around, with everyone trying to score. Formation, style and tikitaka my foot!

Little wonder then that of our clubs, including the national team, have a disorganized play, which my cynical dad calls “to-whom-it-may-concern type of football”.

At children’s play grounds, anyone can come on the pitch and leave, without necessarily seeking the referees permission. The game always ends the moment someone insults or maliciously tackles the owner of the ball. Most of them always sulk, grab the ball and walk away, as the rest beg him to take it easy and play on.

If you convince him to come back, the ball is always started at the opponent’s goal mouth, with the opponents letting him score, to massage his fat ego! The game would also be temporarily paused if the owner of the ball is called by his mother to run an errand because he goes with the darn ball.

What’s more, we grew up mistaking ‘injury time’

— the three or so minutes awarded by the ref to cater for time wasted throughout the match on, say, treating the injured

— as time meant to break an opponent’s leg! You always see people aim karate and kung fu chops at each other during ‘extra time’, only to brag about it after the match. “I injured so and so, whom did you injure during injury time?” The youth always ask each other after a soccer match.

But if you thought this nonsense ends when we grow up, think again. As grownups, we do the same, especially in high school and at times in village football teams. I witnessed this as a student at Musingu High School in Western Kenya. We had these once in a while soccer matches that pitted the rest of the school against Form Fours.

Masquerading as ‘elders’, the Form Four set the rules, which, of course, favoured them. There was this scarily hairy, beefy Form Four boy who, like the owner of the ball during our childhood soccer matches, doubled up as the referee and player. You only tackled or dribbled past him at your own risk.

Tackling him, pulling off that tomfoolery of passing the ball through his legs (chobo) or over his head (kanzu) and laughing about it sheepishly was penalised. If it was necessary that you did all those things, you had better do them and act as though they were by accident; otherwise you risked being sent off the pitch for lack of respect for an ‘elder’!

The referee always blew the whistle when there was a goal-mouth melee at the Form Four’s goal, declaring it a foul against the rest of the school. When Form Fours rattled the goal post, it was counted as half a goal! When a player from the rest of the school handled the ball anywhere on the pitch, the ‘elders’ insisted on it being a penalty.

Form Fours played dirty. A Form Four would get into a tackle or goalmouth melee and by the time he jogs out of it, five boys would be down writhing in pain, as five others limp away crying “Aiyayayaya!”

Then there was a special formula, only known to the referee, which he applied to convert certain number of corners into a penalty for Form Fours. Any goal against the ‘elder’ that put the rest of the school ahead was canceled as an offside. The game only ended when form fours were leading!