Sunday, August 17, 2008


(The Final Sequel to ‘Football Was My First Love’)

“Where I am from, there are two kinds of men; us and them…” ;proclaims the beginning line in the all too familiar commercial for the beer brand that officially sponsors the broadcast of the English Premier League matches on pay TV. The advert, which am sure all armchair English football fans know very well, is about two rival estate teams which we are told, in typical male chauvinism, have an annual practice of engaging in fierce football battles on a dusty estate play ground.

Then one day, something extraordinary happens, some guy over-hits the ball which goes flying right into the back of a bypassing distribution truck for this particular liquor brand. Predictably, the immediate reaction of the perplexed testosterone-pumped men is to give chase with the sole intention of retrieving the ball and getting on with the game as quickly as possible. What follows are scenes of a huge gang of grown men frantically running after the ramshackle of a truck through the mazy backstreets, estate cafeterias and all.

Finally they catch up and succeed in flagging down the runaway truck but upon opening the backside, where the ‘precious’ little ball is safely laying, their eagerness is emancipated by the irresistible sight of crates upon crates of the cool rich dark drink - whence, a football match turns into a binging spree! Its only when the truck driver pull away again that the men are jostled back to reality and a fresh chase ensues, “….there is a drop of greatness in every man…”, so concludes the voiceover at the end of the commercial.

Other than my special affinity to the particular brand of brew in question, [and I suspect its by design and not by default] for some time I kept scratching my head over the advert; there was something about this commercial that I couldn’t just place. Then there it was glaring right into my face. The setting, of course! The advert in its entirety was actually shot at the famous ‘Dezza’, that dusty play ground in Eastland’s California where I and my big bro Ted grew up in. How could I have ever missed to notice the white blocks of flats in the background, is the question I keep asking myself.

For those who are not privy to the story behind ‘Dezza’, I have previously recounted here the special attachment that I and Ted have to this nondescript playing ground. But then this is just something else all together – a reenactment of the many football matches that we watched in our boyhood at the very same venue.

Conveniently, back then, there used to be a few creative chaps in town who were thoughtful enough to organize mini-tournaments in the neighbourhood during school vacations. [I particularly take pride in the dubious distinction of having been born and schooled during the preschool holiday’s tuition era – whatever that means - that so heavily weighs on the shoulders of the miserable present day generation of primary school-going kids that I bump into 365 ¼ days of every single year]. One such lad was a guy who simply went by the name ‘Masanta’. Curiously, Masanta was not such an old lad (he must have been in high school by then) but his great acumen in the organization of two-week tournaments drawing teams not only from ‘Calif’ but also from other Eastlands estates like Majengo, Eastleigh, Ziwani, Biafra, Kimathi and Shauri Moyo is something that I still marvel to this day. Somehow, almost single-handedly, the guy always managed to run well organized events with proper fixtures, highly reputed match officials, winners’ trophies and prize money to boot.

One of these highly reputed whistlers was a certain Ali, who despite being physically challenged (he used walk around the pitch with a pronounced limp) was both a well accomplished and favoured referee. Probably so because of the professional way that he handled matches, he was accorded reverence akin to the retired Italian referee, Pierluigi Collina. In the same league with Ali, was one other referee who usually amused us with his theatrics of frequently blowing his whistle accompanied with wild gesticulations in a fervent attempt to stamp his authority on the field. We never really got his real name right – so Ted and I simply christened him ‘muborana’ for his Cushitic countenance.

But then of course the main attractions were the competing teams and the players themselves. Back then California happened to have been a neighbourhood with a considerable Muslim population and naturally our favourite teams in the senior category (over 18) used to be California Terrorists and Al-Shabab - the two home teams. The Terrorists were the more illustrious and popular yet Al-Shabab also boasted some real talent within its ranks. Notably, child prodigy Salim and his elder brother Rama stood out from the rest. In the junior category (under 16) we were spoilt for choice because there were so many good teams here, but the popular ones were Rangers (a highly talented though grossly indisciplined team), Blackout and Lucky Strikers (under the tutelage of coach by the name Lameck). But more significantly a small class of players who would go on to take their game to the highest level indeed honed their skills on this platform. The two examples of Asman Ngaiywa (Monnie) and Ezekiel Akwana (Lefty), who both later turned out for Mathare United, will suffice.

All was rosy though, more often than not, Terrorists’ arch-rivals, Bash (Majengo) and Eastleigh Sportiff would break the hearts of the partisan home crowd. There were also those odd moments of insanity on the pitch when things would go haywire. One such incident was when the Rangers players, led by their flashy goalkeeper Vin, completely lost their heads after being knocked out at a very crucial stage and descended on the opposition with blows and kicks; in the aftermath, a few bruised faces and some broken goalposts lay scattered on the ground to account for the unsporting behaviour of Rangers and their unruly fans. On yet another occasion, one notorious chap by the name Fred (he happened to be Vin’s kid bro) smashed countless empty bottles on the pitch in an ill-advised act of vengeance apparently in a bid to disrupt the competition after his team suffered a similar fate. In the end it took the intervention of event organizer, Masanta, who literally chased him around the estate and upon laying his hands on him forced him to clear up his mess.

In the final analysis, amidst all the high and low of our daily indulgence, we relished every single moment of it; for that was when we reached out for greatness…
For Redondo,
who shared much of it with me

1 comment:

Redondo said...

Wow.De'stefano, i have literally relived my most cherished childhood memories through your marvelous rendition of those golden times.
Is it just my imigination or could it be true that kids dont do it like we did it anymore? The heavy workload at school allows them no time to play.
Kudos De' Stefano. You are a true 'shabik'. You embody the true spirit of shabik.