Poor Millionaires: Why Own a Football Club In Kenya?

Did you know that eight of the 18 top Kenyan football clubs are owned by individuals? Well – now you do.

The eight clubs have created employment to hundreds of youth who now live off their talents. On the other side of the fence, however, some owners of these clubs are silently fighting the emotional trauma that comes with investing in Kenyan football, unless you have deep pockets.

Cases of players going for months without pay has been part and parcel of Kenyan football since time memorial. From Sofapaka to Wazito, to the sugar belt of Muhoroni back to Kawangware – delayed salaries is one common song whose tunes has been played over the ages in Kenyan football podiums.

It is no doubt that we can’t quote such figures, or anything close to a trillion when we talk about football business in Kenya. No wonder it has become the ultimate dream of every Kenyan to play in Europe, America and Asia.

Muhoroni was once Kenya’s football powerhouse, but the Nyanza club was relegated to the National Super League and eventually the nationwide league after it forfeited three consecutive league matches. Photo/Citizen

Is there money for local investors in an industry that for a long time had enjoyed the burden of paying taxes until the recently enacted tax legislation?

“There is money in Kenyan football, but only for those clubs that are posting good performance,” Moses Adagala who has run Muhoroni Youth during the glory and the gloomy days says.

Muhoroni was once Kenya’s football powerhouse, but the Nyanza club was relegated to the National Super League and eventually the nationwide league after it forfeited three consecutive league matches. Adagala, though, insists that bad politics is to blame for Muhoroni’s predicament.

“As young people in this country, we invest a lot of money in clubs but sometimes we get knocked down by bad decisions and bad politics.

“There is money, but you must play your cards right. If your club is not performing then it can become a bit of a challenge because you’ll have to be footing most of the bills from your pocket,” added Adagala.

When Swedish investor Ricardo Badoer bought Wazito in 2018, most Kenyan football fans thought that the end of delayed salaries at the club had come. That no Wazito player would trek to the bus stop or even skip a meal because he has no money in his pocket. But for two months now, Wazito has gone back to the default setting of Kenyan football where players are even thrown out of their houses because they cannot afford to raise the rent.

Gor Mahia, though community owned, has made poor millionaires with their officials, that include former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga – the club patron, often come to the aid of the club every time they need financial help.

Ben Omondi, who served as Gor Mahia Secretary between 2016 and 2020 admits that football, especially in Kenya, has no money.

“Officials end up using their resources on these clubs most of the time. There is no money in football. You can’t live on football if you are an official of a club because you always give and nothing comes in,” Omondi said.

AFC and Gor Mahia
Gor Mahia, though community owned, has made poor millionaires with their officials, that include former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga – the club patron, often come to the aid of the club every time they need financial help.

Vihiga United chairman Indimuli Kahi put the blame on stagnant growth of Kenyan football on “Kenyan culture” that he says doesn’t encourage growth.

“Football should be a good investment, but only when the league is competitive and when fans pay to watch the games but in Kenya we hardly fill the stadium.

“Popularity of Kenyan football is all time low compared to the Tanzanian Premier League. In Kenya, clubs cannot survive on gate collection and sale of merchandise because we don’t attend games at the stadium and cartels are also eating into the review from sale of fake replica jerseys.

“This Kenyan culture doesn’t encourage growth. I can’t say that there are good returns for an investor,” said Kahi, a high school teacher who admitted that sometimes he’s forced to commit personal resources to fund the team’s activities.

Other Kneyan clubs in the hands of individuals are Sofakapa (Elly Kalekwa)  Mathare United (Bob Munro), Zoo Fc (Ken ochiang), Kariobangi Sharks (Nick Mwendwa), Nairobi City Stars (Jonathan Jackson) and Kakamega United that is owned by Cleophas Shimanyula.

All these clubs have one thing in common-delayed salaries among the playing unit and staff.

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