Why I banned football talk in the staffroom

Mwisho wa Lami

Just like every other staffroom in Kenya, a common discussion in the last few weeks has been Manchester United.

Photo credit: John Nyaga | Nation Media Group

A few weeks after being confirmed to be a senior headmaster for Mwisho wa Lami Primary School, I decided to drink from the cup of my brother Pius’s wisdom, a man who has lots of experience in people management, strategy planning and execution. As he was visiting last weekend, we met at Kasuku Bar and Restaurant.

“Congratulations my brother on the belated promotion,” he started, once our first order of beers arrived. “Thank you,” I said. “It should have happened long ago, but we thank God it happened.”

He shared with me his experience at the workplace, and how he got promoted every three years. I took the opportunity to seek his advice on how to be successful in the workplace.

 “The most important advice I can give you is that you need to be the same but different. Your juniors should see you as human, one they can speak to, but also, a higher person, someone different from them.”

He gave me many examples of how he would drink with his juniors until late but if they got to work late the next day he would punish them – like he was never with them.

That was real good wisdom and I decided to implement it in my management. Just like every other staffroom in Kenya, a common discussion in the last few weeks has been Manchester United.

At tea break last Monday, there was a heated debate on Man U in the staffroom.

“Manchester is now giving me pressure,” started Saphire, a Manchester United supporter who had come to school for the first time this term.

“That is why it is called Man Useless!” Kuya said laughing.

Come Wednesday, and there were more discussions about Man U’s match that night. “It is when people think we will lose that we win,” said Saphire confidently.

“Those are dreams,” said Kuya adding that if Man U won, he would give his entire salary to us. “How can a team that cannot beat Brighton, a team that is less than three years old, beat Bayern?” he wondered.

“Football doesn’t work like that,” I joined in. “You can be beaten by a small team, only to go beat a big team,” I said. My contribution made everyone talk openly.

“That I trust, but that can never happen to Manchester United,” said Sella, adding that Manchester would be beaten by more than three goals.

The conversation went on and the staffroom split down the middle, and before I knew it teachers decided to bet. It was suggested that if Manchester United wins, the opposers will each give Sh2,000 and if they lose the fans will each give Sh 2,000. I say it was suggested because I did not agree with the decision.

That evening, Kuya sent to the staffroom WhatsApp a picture of a cock on top of a hen. The cock had a Bayern logo next to it, while the hen had a Manchester United logo next to it. “Leo ni leo,” he said. The WhatsApp group became busy with everyone typing something, including Mrs Atika and Lena.

“Iko!” Kuya wrote within a few minutes of the match beginning.

“Hehe! Another one!”” Sella wrote a few minutes later. When Kuya wrote “Mambo ni matatu!” half an hour later, I switched off my phone and went to sleep.

There were more than 100 unread chats on the staffroom WhatsApp group when I woke up the next day. I read none of them. I arrived at school at around 10.30am, and found teachers very loud in the staffroom.

“Bring your 2,000,” said Sella, smiling broadly when I arrived. Mrs Atika, and Lena had given and it was Saphire and I who had not given. It was time for me to be different.

“Why are we not in class?” I asked everyone. “Is it not class time?” Mrs Atika accepted that it was class time and left. I ordered everyone else to go to class.

At lunchtime, the Manchester United Opposers tried to re-start football discussions, but I stopped them in their tracks, saying that I would not entertain soccer discussions, and even ordered Sella to return Mrs. Atika and Lena the money they had given.

“As head of this school, I have, with immediate effect banned any discussion that may cause differences in the staffroom. I banned politics last year and I am now banning football. Period!”