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TBT: Scenes from Mombasa’s ghetto football tournaments

Editor’s note: Jack Conqueror shares thrilling throwback scenes from ghetto football tournaments of Mombasa.

COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the worst thing that has happened to humanity in the past 100 years. What’s more, those of us who rely on Premier League matches to keep boredom at bay have been badly hit, to say the least.

But the boredom has led me to feed on the memories of the rudimentary football I grew up watching back in the early and mid-90’s in Mombasa.

 Nothing beats memories of drama that characterised football matches played at Chaani Primary School grounds, Mwijabu, Bomu within Changamwe, and on the rugged football of Kisauni.

As a little rascal, I immensely enjoyed watching the matches for their edgy nature characterised by the eclectic display of karate, drunken master Tai Chi and of course a pinch of soccer skills; all which I hoped to employ in future as a professional soccer player.

I still recall how a referee would be “disciplined” if he messed the game. I remember like yesterday how a fellow called Job was notorious for storming the pitch with a twig to whip a referee at the slightest suspicion that the latter had been compromised to favour a rival team.

Rumour had it that Job had a double bone somewhere in his arm and picking a fight with him was viewed as nothing less than courting a dislocated arm, a sick leave from work (from the beating of course) or even death itself.

As such, a referee officiating a match which involved Job’s favourite team – and which he suspected Job did not like the results – would blow the final whistle at a strategic corner of the pitch and would only return to exchange the post match pleasantries after making sure Job had left.

There was also another character by the name Bakari aka Beka who whenever he sensed his team was losing would tackle players of the rival team with a Kung Fu kick without minding the decision of the referee.

After all, which referee would be so stupid as to issue red card to a player of the team being supported by the likes of Beka and Job?

If a rival team persevered Karate kicks from Beka and went ahead to beat them, intimidation would follow outside the pitch.

Beka would approach the stockiest player of the rival team and challenge thus:

“ Mmetushinda uwanjani sasa nataka nione kama sparring pia mtatoboa,”  Challenged Beka. (you’ve defeated us in the game, let’s see if you can beat us in a physical sparring)

But it was a useless casuistry trying to stop the fists exchange as a player would most likely be reeling on the floor with pain from Beka’s devious blows by the time he was completing the statement.

I remember how goal keepers would “sell” their teams whenever Beka was tasked with taking a penalty kick for his team. Most feared the consequences of arousing Beka’s anger with a save.

In those days of wanaume ni kuonana (men fight in open challenge), Beka, Job and co were a law unto themselves which left referees and rivals with only hope that the former will one day lose while playing against GSU or Ulinzi Stars.

But Beka’s team, headquartered at a huge tractor tire at a place called Cairo Base never made it to the premier league, rendering the GSU and Ulinzi hope invalid.

But it is an experience from Kisauni that has remained ingrained in me to this date in the clearest pictures.

In one of the matches, I witnessed players sip Dundu (coconut brew)  and a few puffs of something stronger than tobacco ostensibly to boost morale during half-time.

A few minutes after the second half had kicked off, one of the players walked to the touchline and urinated as if he was at the urinal.

And when the referee reprimanded him for behaving in such a crude manner, the player in a fit of rage warned the referee against overstepping his boundaries.

“ Mi nakojoa nikiwa ndani ya uwanja.. haya nambie nimefanya makosa gani?” posed the player in a slurred speech .

(I’m urinating while within the pitch. So tell me what wrong I have done)

The referee’s efforts to reach his pocket for a card to book the player were thwarted after players and supporters of the drunk’s team booed amidst warning chants of “jaribu kutoa kadi uone”.

The clever referee, having read the mood of the crowd reached for his handkerchief instead.

The first incident seemed to have set the pace as players from both teams would stop at the touchline for a few puffs of Stuff Stronger Than Tobacco or few sips of Mnazi in the same way players of top leagues stop for quick advice from the team coach or a sip of water.

And because bhang is not mchicha and mnazi is not uji, I remember the goal keeper of one of the teams ducking in the opposite direction of the goal post and therefore gifting the rival team with a goal.

The goalkeeper who was called Gorilo (from a dubious corruption of George) would later disclose he had dived in the opposite direction after seeing ” an approaching head of a lion” – what sober people call a soccer ball.

During the post-match analysis, the opinion was divided among the players but the coach backed Gorilo saying he had along suspected his rivals were into the black science aka witchcraft.

” You never know what could have happened if you didn’t duck the ‘lion’s head’” he said as he received a smouldering joint from one of his players.

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