Whenever schools close for the holidays, a group of young boys meet up early morning for a routine warm-up exercise before heading for football practice at the Karisa Maitha football grounds in Kilifi town.
Their day usually starts at 7am, sometimes 8am, for the warm-up sessions, and then they break for breakfast at around 9am before resuming their practice until eleven o’clock.
Their coach is former national team Harambee Stars player and goalkeeper, 70-year-old Mohamed Salim Magogo, who believes the boys are going places. And the boys, believe in him and give their all.
Born in Mtaani estate within the Kilifi Township, Magogo says his focus is on helping boys from the locality to enhance their soccer skills through discipline.
No idle boys
Football is important and keeps the young boys busy and away from crime and other immoral activities, and the county should take sports issues seriously to engage the youth and prevent idleness that leads them to commit vices, Magogo says.
David Nyinge ‘Fadi’, 16, a candidate at the Seahorse Dockers Academy in Kilifi, said he used to idle at home after school and during weekends when his parents were away at work. He is now training as a striker.
“Since I discovered that I was talented in football, it has become my favourite sport and every time I am not at school, then I am at the pitch practising with my teammates,” he said.
Musa Sabwri, 14, a form one student at Majaoni Secondary School, said he was on the verge of becoming a criminal before joining the team. He plays at position 2, a striker.
“I was always at the beach with my peers or roaming in the villages until late at night. Sometimes I would go to disco matanga, and my mother was always mad at me, but I was not ready to change until I met some of my other friends who asked me to join them for football lessons,” he said.
Sabwri said football had instilled discipline in him, and he stopped associating with bad company.
“From the practice, I head straight home, do my school assignment and retire to bed. No more unnecessary movements,” he said.
Sabwri gets his inspiration from Luke Shaw of Manchester United. He is also a fan of the team.
“Our coach always encourages us to focus. He provides breakfast and lunch for us and the attire and equipment to empower us to play professional football,” he said.
James Ndaa, 13, from Kibaoni within Kilifi township, said Mr Magogo had taught him to value talent and education.
“I now have two options to focus on—nurturing my football talent to be a professional footballer and performing in school to be safe in future. I thank our coach Magogo for changing my life,” he said.
Ndaa disclosed that he had reached a point of using drugs out of peer pressure. He no longer uses them nor has time for pressure to do wrong, he says.
“I used to pass by and see a team of boys playing but I was not aware that Magogo was a coach, but I heard from my friends and decided to look for an opportunity,” he said.
Magogo mainly trains boys under 15 years. Many of these boys are orphans and from single mothers, and are usually vulnerable especially as some are left home alone when their parents are out working.
And sometimes, families accompany the players to the field and cheer them in their games, fostering closer relations and can therefore be a great tool of nation building, the trainer says.
“Kenya can also be like other countries abroad where families embrace sports amongst their children, but it becomes a challenge because we are not ready to invest in sports,” he adds.
Magogo attributed his success to Nasir Dohran, former Harambee Stars manager Mohamed Alahwy, and Sharif Abdalla, former footballer who is now deceased. He also acknowledged Mr Ramadhan Mafedha for being part of his growth.
“He used to come to my home every morning, take me to the field for practice and then buy me meals. He would then take me back home. I am giving back to the community by supporting the vulnerable since I am where I am because of the help from other people,” he added.
Magogo supports football teams in the county under the Magogo Foundation that receives sports equipment from his friends abroad to support local talents.
Every year, the foundation holds a sports tournament after Ramadhan at the Karisa Maitha grounds to encourage love for the game. He brings together teams in football, basketball, volleyball, skating, and swimming, and the best teams win trophies.
Hope for better facilities
Unlike in his hey days, there is not much help to tap talent in the county as many young people undergo challenges and hardships in their quest to nurture their skills. In Kilifi, skills are honed the hard way, Magogo says.
“The environment to play football is shocking and pathetic. When the ball bounces on the ground, a player must take his time before kicking it back. It is affecting the quality of our football. The teams cannot compete well because of the lack of conducive playing grounds,” says Magogo.
The legendary footballer stated that he has unsuccessfully pleaded with the county government to improve the state of the football pitches.
“It is unbelievable that the nearest available football ground that is pathetic is in front of the Kilifi Governor’s office. Every day, for ten years, as he goes to his office, he sees the poor boys in the field but has never taken action,” he says.
Magogo hopes the county will one day have a modern stadium and the football pitches in a pathetic condition will be revamped and maintained.
The fields are full of potholes, bumps and stones, which cause injuries to the players, most of whom play bare feet. Other fields are sandy and become unbearable for the youth to practice in, in the hot weather, he explained.
And it is not just in Kilifi where sports facilities are in dire shape, but countrywide. Kenya should invest in and maintain sports facilities, Magogo added.
“There are many things Kenya would learn when it hosts major football games that would even open doors to players, but the push and pull in the sector will not take the country anywhere,” he said.
Sabwri, one of Magogo’s trainees, hopes the government will construct a stadium where they can feely practise and play.
“We have no stadium, and mostly, we go begging for a playing ground when the Karisa Maitha ground is hosting other events or big teams for sports. If we don’t get access to the playing ground, we come back here (Magogo’s home) and practice at this small pitch,” he said.
But there is hope and the country can revive football, after all “footballers are being born every day,” Coach Magogo added.
Recently, during the Mashujaa Day celebrations, the football legend broke into tears as he narrated the challenges youth are facing and demanded audience with Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung’aro to discuss the pathetic status of sports in the county.
“Not all of us will secure white-collar jobs as governors, lawyers and doctors. Everybody is talented differently. Why do you suppress sports?” he asked.
“I ask you, Mr Governor, to allow us to meet with you. Many people in sports are suffering since there are no stadiums and the existing playgrounds are in poor condition, full of potholes and soil.”
Magogo attended Kilifi Primary School and was among the first players of the Lucky Boys Football Club. He also played for Nyundo FC and Liverpool FC (Mwenge) in Mombasa.
He later joined the Kenya Breweries football team in Nairobi.
Magogo also played for the Luo Union FC that won the Raila Odinga trophy when he was the patron.
After one year, he joined the Harambee Stars National team, where he played for eight years.
He later went to Qatar and was a player and then a football coach.
“I retired in 1978 and went to Abu Dhabi in Qatar to play professional football. I am back to nurture talents among vulnerable boys and youths in my county.
“I decided to leave my family in Qatar and come back to Kenya to support football in my home county.”
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