Flashback2017: After KPL survival, Sofapaka soar on and on

Sofapaka FC players celebrates Humprey Okoti's goal against Tusker FC during their SportPesa Premier League ...
Sofapaka FC players celebrates Humprey Okoti's goal against Tusker FC during their SportPesa Premier League match at the Ruaraka grounds on November 11, 2017. Photo/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha.

That Sofapaka FC achieved a second-place finish in the 2017 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) season counts for one of the most remarkable team performance of the year.

Before champions Gor Mahia FC, who finished an emphatic 21 points away from the rest had pulled away, Sofapaka were considered among those with a genuine chance of winning the KPL title.

That statement is testament of the Batoto ba Mungu’s spectacular revival from a club that came to the brink of relegation in 2016, braved financial adversity before surviving the CAF/FIFA club regulations purge.

Caretaker coach and former skipper John Baraza was chief engineer of the ‘Great Escape’ as Sofapaka won three of their last four matches including an emphatic 5-1 win over Thika United that all but ensured they survived on goal difference at the expense of Ushuru FC.

“It had reached a point where everyone gave up on us. There was no money, and motivating players also became difficult.

“As a player in the club during my time I never experienced such a difficult time, but there was that feeling within me all was not lost. It is only God who knows who we made it,” the former KPL Golden Boot winner said.

Veteran Noah Abich, signed from Mathare United, and youthful striker Ezekiel Okare had provided some clutch performances as Sofapaka defeated Muhoroni Youth, AFC Leopards, drew at Mathare United before sealing survival against Thika.

Before the team could savour it all having secured their KPL status, they were relegated to the second-tier having failed to comply with club licensing requirements adopted by Football Kenya Federation (FKF).

Muhoroni Youth and Thika United also suffered the same fate although the latter lodged a successful appeal against their relegation.

With unrelenting backing from KPL Limited, Sofapaka and Muhoroni were retained in an expanded KPL that accommodated two extra teams from the National Super League (NSL) in a deal brokered by the Sports Disputes Tribunal.

Having tasted how it felt like to live on the edge, Sofapaka and Muhoroni were involved in the busiest transfer business among the country’s top teams.

According to a list of sanctioned KPL transfers from the FKF in the year, Muhoroni completed the most deals than any other club with 20 players joining their team with Sofapaka signing 15 during the window.

A sense of optimism had been clear as club President Elly Kalekwa paraded the signings including a new coach Ugandan coach Sam Ssimbwa.

They were given a timely shot in the arm as they secured a partnership deal with a local gaming firm to boost their financial muscle.

“Definitely there was money problem. When I came we made several changes bringing experience and talent in the team.

“Sponsorship is a major challenge with some of our clubs in this region. Without money you cannot keep good players, and those who remain are not motivated. That’s how a very good team was almost relegated,” Ssimbwa said.

In Umaru Kasumba, the side also produced one of the finest strikers in the season with the Ugandan who arrived during the June transfer window finding the back of the net 12 times – just five adrift eventual top scorer Masoud Juma – despite an injury setback in the season homestretch.

Before Gor disappeared into the distance, Ssimbwa believed his charges were capable of lifting the KPL trophy and will definitely carry it into the 2018 season.

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