Mathare United may be based in the slums of Nairobi, but they will compete on the prestigious fields of the CAF Champions League next season after winning their maiden Kenyan Premier League crown. Francis Kiamnzi's side finished three points clear of Sony Sugar, and while the guile of Kevin Ochieng and prolificacy of Francis Ouma played obvious roles in their triumph, it was most indebted to an undercover source.
The Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA), part of the Football for Hope network, was inaugurated 21 years ago and helped nurture a majority of the United players into the sportsmen they are today. Founded to help youths become responsible citizens and develop healthy bodies and spirits, it involves them in leadership training, HIV/AIDS and awareness programmes, environment clean-ups and other community service activities. The organisation has grown to include over 60 staff members and 7,000 volunteers, among them several members of the club's staff.
The MYSA was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, and won the streetfootballworld festival during the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Mathare United's conquest is further vindication of the admirable work of an organisation that is part of FIFA's Football for Hope movement. "I'm so happy that we've finally won the title," enthused Ouma, the competition's leading marksman.
His coach was equally euphoric. "Winning is a great feeling," said Kiamnzi. "We have waited for a long time and now we can celebrate this victory. It gives us a lot of motivation. It's an awesome feeling after fighting for so long. You achieve your goal, though at the back of your mind you understand that this is the start of more challenges. We're looking forward to the Champions League."
The MYSA helped launch Mathare United in 1994 and five years later, they earned promotion into the Premier League, where they have since remained. Last season they finished as runners-up, three points behind Nairobi rivals Tusker.
Mathare made a stuttering start to this campaign, winning just one of their opening five fixtures. They quickly found their rhythm, however, and with Kenya internationals Austin Makacha, Edgar and Kevin Ochieng, and Ouma thriving, they stormed into pole position. Sony Sugar maintained the pressure, but the Ghetto Boys stormed home on an eight-game unbeaten run to seal an historic triumph.
Mathare will now line up alongside recently-crowned and record six-time African champions Al Ahly, Cameroon's Coton Sport, Asante Kotoke of Ghana and Tunisian giants Etoile Sahel in the CAF Champions League 2009, which will serve as a qualifier to the following year's FIFA Club World Cup.