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History of Kibera Celtic Football Club

If You Know Your History

A football team, born out of the ashes of turmoil and violence, now stands as a beacon of hope for peace.

In late 2007 and early 2008, almost 1,500 lost their lives in what is referred to as ‘the post-election violence’ in Kenya. Politicians representing their own tribes paid gangs of young men to attack, maim and murder mostly innocent members of opposing tribes. The majority were hacked to death using machetes and pangas.

Many of those killings were in the slums of Nairobi and most of those in Kibera. Two gang leaders, feared by all, led the violence. They were known as The General and Deputy General, real names: John Oyoo and Bernard Ngira. They led a gang of over two-hundred youths who roamed the sewage-ridden alleys of Kibera, high on drugs supplied by the politicians, looking for potential victims.

Both men are Luo and the targets of their wrath were mainly members of the ruling Kikuyu tribe. As the violence escalated, Kikuyu businesses were destroyed including the largest market in all Kenya which was controlled by the Kikuyu, the Toi Market.

It was at this point that John and Bernard’s lives were to change forever.

They had led the attack on the Toi Market, driving small business owners out of Kibera. Suddenly, there was a shortage of even the most basic commodities and, in particular, food. As local charities began emergency distribution, the gang surrounded the trucks carrying flour and demanded the cargo be handed to them. Local women of all tribes got in the way insisting that they would die before letting the food into the hands of the gang. They knew that their families would almost certainly perish from starvation should they not act.

According to John: “We understood for the first time that everyone was the same; that they, like us, were just fighting to survive poverty and that when anyone died, the colour of their blood was the same as us.”

Just a few days later, as the Toi Market still smouldered, the two young men were set a challenge. If they would help rebuild the market and provide security from looters, it would be ensured that they and other members of the Luo community would be given the opportunity to set up their own businesses there. Within three months, the market was not only restored, it had expanded to include not just Luo but many more tribes. And John and Bernard had created a thriving business building metal cases for storing books and documents in schools across Nairobi.

Film-maker Jamie Doran had been in Kenya producing a documentary about slum-dwellers when he came across them at their base on the perimeter of the market. The three had one thing in common – football. Kenyans are fanatical followers of the English Premier League due to extensive coverage on television. But John, an Arsenal supporter, and Bernard who roots for Liverpool were riveted to the spot as Doran regaled them with tales of his adventures following Glasgow Celtic around the world. But it was when he explained why Celtic had had begun in the first place that recognition of a common cause spread across their faces.

That the team had been set up to help the poor of Glasgow’s East End struck a chord, and there began an almost conspiratorial collaboration between the three men which was to lead to the most extraordinary outcome. The aim: to build a football club along the same charitable lines as Celtic, but with an additional, crucial purpose. This must be a club which united young men from the rival tribes of Kibera.

Kenyan teams are split along tribal differences, the major clubs representing their own ethnic heritage. The dream, an impossible one most people said, was to create the country’s first football force for change – something to catch the imagination of youths brought up in an atmosphere of hate and mistrust.

They were in a race against time, knowing that with new elections planned for 2012, the violence would almost certainly return. They had to build something great that the poor of all tribes could rally to.

Building The Dream

A team had dropped out of the Nairobi 2nd Division and John and Bernard decided to apply to replace it. It was a long shot, as teams are normally required firstly to play through the lower leagues and gain promotion over a period of years, but the sudden chaos caused by the defunct team provided a unique opportunity and Kibera Celtic became the newest member of Division II.

Early in 2009, the team ran on to a bone-dry, strutted sandy pitch in front of the proverbial one-man-and-a-dog. Mostly barefoot and wearing Celtic tops with sponsors names dating back up to 20 years, they surprised everyone with their incredible skills, self-taught in the slums using rolled-up cloth as a ball and tree branches for goalposts.

By the end of 2009, the slum of Kibera had awakened. Now playing in brand new football strips and boots donated by businessman Jim Mullins, a friend of Doran’s, they had taken the league by storm. Despite having to play two matches per week (to make up for fixtures missed by the defunct team) they came fourth to win promotion, watched now by crowds in their thousands.

In March 2010, Kibera Celtic played their first game in the Kenyan 1st Division (Nairobi). Today (March 2011), against unimaginable odds and far richer teams, they are the champions of Nairobi, winning Division 1 by twelve clear points and have been promoted to the Kenyan Nationwide B League. The ultimate goal the Premiere Division beckons, but first the team needs to gain promotion to the Kenyan Nationwide A League.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

Only a men’s team was established in 2008 when Kibera Celtic was founded. In very direct fashion, young women approached the organisers of the mens’ squad demanding that they should have a team of their own. This stemmed from a rumour going round the slum that the men were being provided with a meal prior to games at the weekend.

Proper meals are a rarity in Kibera. When the provision of food was confirmed, a large group of young women and girls turned up at the Kibera Celtic HQ demanding equal status, claiming that they also played football and deserved their own team (and meals, of course). Suffice to say, they got their way and promptly won their league, qualifying as champions of Nairobi for the Kenyan Premiere League beginning March, 2011.

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