Fare thee well then, Matiba ‘the football man’


Opposition leader Raila Odinga and the late Veteran politician Kenneth Matiba. PHOTO| COURTESY
Opposition leader Raila Odinga and the late Veteran politician Kenneth Matiba. PHOTO| COURTESY

In Summary

  • On Thursday evening, veteran politician Kenneth Matiba reached the destination of his life’s ultimate journey and so with him laid a little known story of a man who adored sport
  • In his eulogy, former Prime Minister and NASA leader Raila Odinga described him as ‘Matiba the football man’. And fittingly so for a man who devoted himself to improving the standards of local football

On Thursday evening, veteran politician Kenneth Matiba reached the destination of his life’s ultimate journey and so with him laid a little known story of a man who adored sport.

In his eulogy, former Prime Minister and NASA leader Raila Odinga described him as ‘Matiba the football man’. And fittingly so for a man who devoted himself to improving the standards of local football.

Mourners gathered at the Ihura Stadium in Murang’a County remembered him for his advocacy for multi-partism and the business empires he built.

Like the legendary Galileo Galilei, Matiba was unrelenting in speaking the bitter truths and standing up to the then dreaded former President Daniel Moi, but his contribution for sport should never be forgotten.

The 11-time Kenyan Premier League (KPL) champions Tusker FC, whose foundation Matiba laid in 1969 is an iconic example of his work.

He had left a lucrative Government job, where he had served as a Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Co-operative Development from the age of 28 years to join East African Breweries Limited (EABL).

At the EABL, Matiba saw a big gap in Kenyan football, and founded Tusker, then Kenya Breweries, just a year after arriving as the first Executive Chairman of the entity.

He formed the Kenya Football Federation (KFF) in 1973 after he was beaten to the chairmanship of Football Association of Kenya (KAF) by his rival to the post James Ngaah, in the previous elections.

He served as KFF Chairman between 1974 and 1978, quitting after just a term.

It was Matiba’s vision and Zgoll’s structures that saw Harambee Stars win it first CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup in 1975 and later from 1981 to 1983. The tempo he set during his reign saw Gor Mahia win the coveted Mandela Cup in 1987, 10 years after he quit KFF to go into politics where he defeated veteran politician Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano with 20,135 votes to 16,638 votes to become MP for Mbiri (now Kiharu) in 1979.

In his book, Aiming high: The story of my life, Matiba explains how he envisioned Kenya as a global footballing powerhouse, an ambition that would be achieved through training of future footballers.

He appealed to the German Government arrange for a classy tactician, hence the arrival of Bernard Zgoll, whose salray was paid by his native country.

“Zgoll founded Olympic youth centres in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru, and with them a golden generation of players like Wilberforce Mulamba, Ambrose Ayoyi, Bobby Ogola, Sammy Taabu, Hussein Kheri, Josephat Murila, Austin Oduor, Sammy Owino, Mahmoud Abbas and others,” he notes in the book.

It was Matiba’s vision and Zgoll’s structures that saw Harambee Stars win the first CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup in 1975 and later from 1981 to 1983.

The rhythm he set during his reign saw Gor Mahia win the coveted Mandela Cup in 1987, 10 years after he quit KFF to go into politics where he defeated veteran politician Dr Julius Gikonyo Kiano with 20,135 votes to 16,638 votes to become MP for Mbiri (now Kiharu) in 1979.

Veteran polished sports journalist Roy Gachuhi, who covered Matiba’s trailblazer sacrifice in the raising of Breweries, told Citizen Digital of the ‘selfless sports administrator’ he saw at the helm Kenya Football Federation (KFF) some years later.

“It’s unbelievable I’ve not heard any word from Tusker fraternity regarding Matiba. He made Tusker a giant overnight, challenging other giants Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards (then Abaluhya Football Club).

“But, most importantly, was his character when he took over the national football federation. Unlike most of the football chiefs before and after him, his agenda was not to gain fame or to make money. He had money already, and his mission was simple: Professionalizing football in Kenya,” recalled the gifted writer.

‘tool to unite Kenyans’

Kenneth Matiba

Tusker, now the third most successful club in Kenya, was built as an example for corporate institutions to mobilize funds for football growth, and smother the then rising trend of community clubs whose lords were using to cultivate negative ethnicity instead of nationhood.

Besides, according to Gachuhi, Matiba knew creating employment for talented youth from all over the country was easy through corporate institutions football clubs.

Former Minister for Foreign Affairs and Internal Security Rtd. Major Marsden Madoka could not agree more, describing Matiba’s love for sports as innate.

“I got to know him way back in Alliance High School, where he headed sports. Myself being a boxing enthusiast, I found unwavering support from him (Matiba), in my efforts to put Kenya in the international map.

“Though he was keen  see other disciplines flourish, he concentrated more with football, which he would tell me was a major tool to unite Kenyans,” Madoka recalled.

The former Mwatate Constituency legislator further detailed how his longtime friend swam against the tides, that his latter generations at the Kenya’s FA office always succumb to.

“I can authoritatively say, Matiba was for the sportsperson, who goes to the field of play, and not for himself. Most of the football chiefs have failed the vision of this great sporting nation because of their self-interests. I can bet even today, such minds are there, killing the player, who is the biggest stakeholder in sports.

“I dare say, if the current sports managers can draw lessons from Matiba’s leadership, there could be a pragmatic shift in the way they handle their jobs,” averred with a passionate tone, the graciously ageing former boxing crusader.

Like the Bibilical Samuel, the judge of Israel who at is old age asked anyone who had anything against his deeds during his tenure to raise their hands, Matiba called for scrutiny by the public in how he earned his wealth, inviting anyone with a query.

No one has since surfaced, since that account in his book, (Aiming High) to claim any injustice, and Gachuhi underscores this was an element he showed at KFF.

“True lovers of football in Kenya were disappointed when Matiba announced he was quitting after just a term at  federation. No one could understand why, but interestingly, he handed over all books of accounts to his sucssesors in a challenging level of transparency,” he told.

That was a point Raila would poignanltly underline at the Ihura stadium, saying the level of transpancy Matiba exhibited during that  handover speaks volumes of his personal commitment against corruption.

Football in Kenya, having been bedeviled with claims of massive corruption over years, perhaps just lacks that Matiba-spirit, that would have probably found ground with time had he lingered on, the scribe further noted.

When his attempt to land to State House in 1992 failed, (which to his demise many people believe was illegally and brutally denied), the last ray of hope for his mind to influence proper sports management in Kenya was extinguished.

Sadly, in the words of Royal Media Services’ Senior Sports Broadcaster HSC. Mohammed Juma Njugana, some of his destiny killers lived to see his final journey, and ‘mourned’ emotionally as Kenyans who recount lost opportunities his brains would have capitalized on sincerely sobbed.

Njuguna adds, what will be cremated at the Nairobi’s Lang’ata cemeteries on Friday, will not only be a ‘temple’ that housed a political giant, a business guru, an enemy of corruption and a family man, but a true sports gentleman whose place in Kenya’s history is inerasble.

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Story By Jacob Icia
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