Here is an idea for the Kenya Tourism Board: In these times when there are worries that some tourists may stay away post-Westgate, they should launch an advertising campaign telling English tourists to come to Kenya because they can watch an unlimited amount of English football while on holiday there.
A little known fact in Kenya is that Kenyans watch much more English football on TV than the British.
I had always heard that there are some matches that are not shown live on British television to encourage fans to go to the stadium.
But I had not realised that all matches that kick off at the same time on Saturday typically 3 o’clock (6pm in Kenya) are not broadcast live.
The reasoning behind this is that showing football on TV would reduce attendances at stadiums and increase the popularity of the “sofa set fans” branch. As many football fans in Kenya and beyond will know, a proper fan’s weekend is organised around the serious task of watching football. So two Saturdays ago, I carefully scouted the neighbourhood and identified the joints which have plenty of large screen TVs at convenient angles.
On Saturday at 2.45pm I turned up in good time and took up my space preparing to watch Victor Wanyama’s debut at Old Trafford as his team Southampton arrived to play Manchester United.
By 3pm there was no sign of action and the restaurant was suspiciously empty. The waiter was amused when he learned my mission and informed me that by law all broadcasts of such matches are banned. I went off to listen to the match on radio instead.
Following football on radio, as many fans that were on the scene before DSTv became commonplace in the early 2000s will know, has its own thrills. On that afternoon, I was envious of Arsenal fans after the BBC commentators delighted in describing their wonder-goal against Norwich.
“Wilshere around the halfway line, now Cazorla, Wilshere, Cazorla, Giroud! Cazorla again, Wilshere, Giroud, Wilshere! Gooooaaaal!!”
To get around the ban on live broadcasts, fans usually watch the match on pirated streams on the Internet.
I tried to access these but turned up on funny sites which demanded my details and gave up. Instead, BBC radio was the only option and, fortunately, they broadcast an earlier interview with Wanyama.
He told his interviewer that he was a big fan of Manchester United and he grew up admiring Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. He also narrated tales which will be familiar to most African boys. He told how he won his first pair of boots as reward for being the best player at a football tournament.
But when he pulled them on before his next match, he found it too difficult to keep his balance and removed them after a few minutes and stuck to what he knew best. I remember having the same challenge with boots but the biggest kit-related crisis we had was when a Spanish priest, Father Henry, brought us full kits from Madrid and, for the first time, the keeper had to wear gloves.
We had already gotten used to boots at that point but the goalkeeper found the experience of wearing gloves too weird and after conceding several goals in quick succession, he gave up and dumped them.
Wanyama had a fairly challenging start to life at Southampton. There were some fans who wanted an old favourite, Jack Cork, to retain his position ahead of him.
But the midfielder has grown into his new role and has been especially impressive in the last few matches.
He is now a fans’ favourite and the media has taken to him, too. The most fulsome praise for his performance against Man U came from the Soccer Lens writer Gareth McNight, in a blog headlined, “Should Manchester United have bought Wanyama and not Fellaini?’. “No other player typified the afore-mentioned effort better than Victor Wanyama. The Kenyan midfielder moved to St Mary’s over the summer in a £12 million deal, and is quickly looking to be well worth the investment.
“Looking at Southampton’s miserly rearguard efforts this season, in which they have only conceded three times in eight games, a key reason must be the African enforcer.
“Wanyama patrols the space in front of his back four with regimented vigour, and against United he made timely interceptions, broke up opposition attacks and closed down space.
“The former Celtic charge was relentless in his work-rate at Old Trafford, harrying opponents and looked relatively composed on the ball, despite coughing up possession on a number of occasions in the second half.” Let’s hope Wanyama keeps up that form!
Ghanaian and Nigerian footballers are notorious for claiming to be younger than they really are and their age is a sensitive issue.
Another player interviewed on the same programme as Wanyama was Ghana star Sulley Muntari. When the BBC interviewer put it to him that Inter Milan had a very young squad and asked if he was helping to guide them as one of the older players, Muntari, who is officially 29, interrupted him and said: “I am not old”.