Saturday, March 3, 2012

FKF, lipa Mariga!

Events this week before the Harambee Stars vs Togo match, which culminated in McDonald Mariga walking out on the team because he felt FKF was trying to do the runaround on him, had me drawing analogous comparisons with my former school.

For my secondary education, I had the privilege of attending AGS, one of the more prestigious schools in Western Kenya. Cosmopolitan in nature, AGS attracts the brightest students from all over the country, such as Najib Balala, Dennis Oliech and this guy...

For an institution of its calibre, gaining admission to the AGS's hallowed halls was of course not the stuff of a day's work. To acquire the right to wear the institution's penguin uniform and be taught Physics by Mr. Minishi, one had to do enough in their eight years of primary education to answer at least three quarters of their primary leaving examination questions correctly. In other words academic dwarfism was a sure-fire guarantee of one NOT gaining admission to AGS.

But this is not to say that academic dwarfs never found their way to AGS. Hell, I remember one particular Christian Religious Education class when I was in Form 2 where one Ezekiel Oduori, my then desk mate, said "Mangoes, Passion Fruits and Bananas." without batting an eyelid when Mr. Oluoch, the CRE teacher, asked him to list three fruits of the Holy Spirit. There were academic dwarves at AGS, alright.

But how did such dwarves slip past the cast-iron intellectual gates which stood between the institution and intellectual dwarfism?

Easy. Football.

You see, AGS had arguably the strongest football team in the region, with an impressive record of teaching other pathetic excuses of footballing outfits from other schools very painful lessons in the game and instilling in them the kind of fear usually reserved for events of terrible import, like say a nuclear Iran.

AGS's reputation as a football powerhouse was maintained through having players on the school team who actually knew their way around a football field.However, getting such players was a perennial problem for AGS, because let's face it: intellectuals who make it to schools like AGS on academic merit tend to make very lousy footballers. True geniuses in the game, such as Ezekiel Oduori, more often than not tend to possess intellectual capacities almost equal to that of a stone in the middle of the Sahara.

This of course presented the AGS administration with a complication: They had an academic reputation to maintain, which meant they had to admit only the brightest students; but they also had a footballing reputation to maintain, which forced threw that principle into all sorts of disarray. In the end, the problem was solved by simply overlooking the academic angle and letting a few academic dwarves with footballing talent slip through.

All the tinkering made the AGS fraternity an odd, almost dysfunctional family. On one hand, we had intellectuals, who could critique Einstein's theory of relativity entirely in figures without the aid of a calculator, yet couldn't score a penalty from six yards if their lives depended on it. At the other end of the spectrum, we had the Ezekiel Oduoris, who couldn't tell you where Indian elephants are found because they didn't know whether elephants even got lost to begin with, but could score a spectacular goal at the end of a match and claim they actually meant to thread a pass to a teammate at the other end of the field.

But dysfunctional or not, the AGS fraternity was, for all intents and purposes, a family. The administrative system ensured that everyone followed the school rules and was treated fairly and equitably.  footballers never got nor expected preferential treatment in the school.

 This is not to say footballers didn't receive preferential treatment. They did, but on merit or when it was absolutely necessary. Tests were sometimes specially re-arranged for football players whenever tournaments clashed with the academic schedules, they had their own special meals during the football season, and they were allowed to skip preps after training. And nobody begrudged them this, because in the end, everyone understood that when the team won, the school's image was enhanced.

In many ways, the structure at AGS reminds me a lot of the National team set-up. Just like the AGS fraternity comprises different students of diverse abilities, Harambee Stars is made up of different players of exceptional but diverse talents. In the same way AGS boasts a mix of veritable academic giants whose examination marks are weighed rather than tallied and others whose intellectual credentials are mediocre at best, some players in the national team are international stars while others aren't even known by fans of the local teams they play for.

But when the Harambee Stars face an opponent, these diversities are only significant in as far as they aid the team as a whole, because in the field, all players are one and the same. A goal by Dennis Oliech is a goal for the Stars and by extension Kenya, just as a spilled shot by Boniface Oluoch is a goal against the Stars and, by extension, Kenya.

And just as the balance at AGS during my time there was held in place by recognition and respect for everyone's status, the administrators at FKF need to understand that the balance in Harambee Stars will only hold if individual players are treated with the respect they deserve, and everybody gets what is their just due by merit.

Which is why I'm with Mariga on this present saga. Everybody in Kenya with even the most basic knowledge of Kenyan football understands one thing- McDonald Mariga is a star. That is his status, and he has earned it.

For the good of the team and out of common decency, the least FKF should do is treat him like one.

1 comment:

  1. But you know something? That pratice of admitting daft footballers to star schools is probably why we don't have that many footballing stars. We the intellectual students in whose midst they were supposed to grow their talent, had so many loud laughs about their two brain cells that most of them had zero esteem in themselves and football by the time we left school.