By now I am fairly certain that all my readers are blown away by the commitment and pure passion shown by our fellow Gooners in Kenyan. In the 3rd and final piece of Kenyan week on ‘1nildown2oneup’ I am delighted to welcome my 6th Kenyan contributor and second guest blogger Kavit Patel (@kavit_patel) another who has followed my blog since launch and was very keen to be involved. So over to Kavit for a personal journey to shrine AFC….
You may ask “Why would Arsenal have so many fans in Kenya”?
Kenyans, despite being the leaders in long-distance running, are most passionate about football over any other sport. We have a strong passion for the Premiership, more than that shown towards our local Kenyan Premier League. Since the mid 90’s we have had a constantly-increasing access to live matches and can now watch 90% of the matches on TV (including the 3pm kickoffs!), more than what’s available in England! (Okay don’t rub it in Kavit.)
My mid-90’s Arsene/Arsenal introduction:
As I mentioned above, being able to watch the matches here in Kenya became more possible during the mid 90s, which coincided with the beginning of the Arsene era. Before this period the only known names in English football were Manchester United and Liverpool.
In 1997, at the tender age of 12, I started watching the games on TV and was drawn towards this team in red and white who were playing in a charming little stadium. They had the magnificent Dutch duo Bergkamp & Overmars, the suave beauty and beast French midfield combo of Vieira & Petit, supported by the English core of Seaman, Dixon, Bould, Adams, Keown, Winterburn, Parlour, Platt and Ian “179 Just did it!” Wright, and they marched on majestically to a league and cup double.
I was introduced to Arsenal in that season, and I knew instantly that there was just something special about this club. I bought these two books (we didn’t have access to Google/Wikipedia/Facebook/Twitter in those days so I had to do it the old fashion way) to learn more about the history of Arsenal. I learnt about the Chapman era, heroes like Charlie George, Liam Brady, Smudgers, Rocky (RIP), George Graham’s “1-0 to the Arsenal” era, Anfield 1989 to name a few.
I was right; Arsenal was a very SPECIAL club!
PS: To me, the only 3 letters that belong on the front of an Arsenal shirt will always be JVC! (Editors note – Early JVC nit so mini-Camcorder on back of matchday programme sat on Pat Jenning’s enormous gloved hand!)
98-99 to 00-01
During this period, an important (probably the most) factor in attracting the vast majority of Arsenal fans in Kenya took place, the signing of Nwankwo Kanu from Inter Milan in 1999!
Compulsory yet different picture of African Idol.
Kenyan fans, like many others in African countries, totally IDOLISE African heroes whether it was George Weah, Abedi Pele, Amokachi, Uncle Rigobert, or Roger Milla. In 1999 Kanu, the golden boy who made his name in the 1996 Olympics was a fans’ favourite all over the continent. The fact that Arsenal owned this valuable asset helped attract an enormous amount of the fan base in Africa! Ironically Kenya’s ruling political party at the time was also named Kanu (but Kenyans had more love for Arsenal’s Kanu than our own). Since then Arsenal have had many African players who Kenyans have admired like Lauren, Kolo, Eboue, Adebayor, Song, but Kanu was the one who started it all off!
Watching Manchester United dominate the league for three seasons after our double of 98, losing the FA cup to them in 1999, being knocked out by Leicester the following season, and that Michael Owen final in Cardiff, not to mention constant Champions League heartbreaks. It was a painful period for gooners worldwide.
Yep painful is the word!!
Still during this period Arsene was able to introduce the likes of Lauren, Campbell, Ashley Cole, Freddy, Pires, Kanu, Henry and Wiltord to learn The Arsenal Way under the guidance of the legends Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn, Parlour and Bergkamp. Arsene was slowly building a unit that would definitely challenge for honours. The beginning of the “Wengerball” era!
01-02 to 04-05
And so they did challenge for honours, winning 2 league titles (one invincible season!) and 3 FA Cups. Kenyan fans are as guilty as any of being “glory-hunters”, but how anyone can not fall in love with the greatest team the premiership has ever seen (fact!). It was the proudest period to be an Arsenal fan; words can’t describe the feelings felt towards that legendary ‘Invincibles’ team. Winning the league at Old Trafford in 2002 and at White Hart Lane in 2004, surely it could not get any better than this!
No it could not get any better than this!
Unfortunately no it did not. I won’t go into details as we all know why and how painful the past 8 seasons have been for Arsenal fans globally, and it has been no different here in Kenya. Sure we may have lost a few fickle fans to the likes of Chelsea and United (and now City) but who needs them? We still have a loyal fan base that are proud to wear the shirt and have not lost hope that we will be able to compete with the best again.
What is worrying is the effect of a long trophy-less period, not being able to attract kids. Children want to be fans of a team that’s winning things. My 10 year old nephews ask me “Why do you support Arsenal? They will never win anything”. They don’t understand, and I don’t expect them to at that age but worldwide we are losing out on a generation of potential fans in today’s youth.
Is Arsene still the right man for Arsenal? For now yes, but I think we would all like to see more of the old Arsene desire. Less of this “4th is a trophy” nonsense Arsene, we know you don’t believe that. He wont stay forever though, but he has laid a very strong foundation for whoever carries on after he decides his time is up which is truly a great achievement.
Back in 1998-2003 we, in Kenya, had heard about the hatred with Spurs, which we didn’t understand at the time as they were total shite (yes they still are) and were considered as insignificant and irrelevant to us. We only had one enemy in this period, Manchester United! I can’t begin to describe how satisfying it was watching us win the league at Old Trafford in a Nairobi Sports Bar full of Manc supporters, yes on a school night!
Nowadays we share the same hatred for Chelsea, Tottenham, Mourinho, Barcelona, Laporta, Manchester City, Ca$hley, Adebayor and Na$ri!
The only regret many Arsenal fans in Kenya have:
Not being able to attend live matches. I consider myself very lucky to have watched my one and only league game at the Emirates vs Liverpool in 2010-11 season. I went for a few away games while I was at University in Nottingham (2003-07) but never had the chance to visit Highbury as tickets were impossible to get in our last few seasons there and this is my biggest regret in my Arsenal-supporting time.
The reason why you are able to read this article written by me! Blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc have made it possible for us Kenyan fans to interact with Arsenal fans worldwide. I read many blogs and am a frequent commenter on Le-Grove. I have made many new friends who I have never met before, but hope to share a pre-match beer with during a visit to Ashburton Grove one day. Top on that list is Dave, who I am very grateful to for giving me the opportunity to do this guest post on his blog.
Some UK-based Arsenal fans on various blogs may say to us “you don’t go to the games, you don’t sing the songs, you don’t know Arsenal pre-Wenger, how can you call yourself true Arsenal fans?“ to which I can only respond by saying “IF I could go to all the live games I would, just because we don’t doesn’t make us any less of a supporter than those who fill the stadium. We watch EVERY Arsenal match religiously on TV, even those who cant afford a TV and the $80/month satellite subscription find a way to watch the game.“
We feel the same pain as those inside the ground do when we taste defeat, and we share the same euphoric feeling with every goal scored, every victory won. There is no doubt we are separated by geographical locations, cultures, personal opinions, but one thing that unites you, me and millions of gooners around the world – our love for THE ARSENAL!
There’s no Arsenal fan who’s more of a supporter than the other. We all bleed the same red and white.
“Remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent”
Thanks again Kavit and ensure you follow him at @kavit_patel. Brilliantly written and a perfect end to ‘Passionate Kenyan Gooner’ week on this site. I will now be sending all 3 links with all the amazing comments to Jill Smith and Arsenal to see if we can apply some pressure for the recognition of the Arsenal Kenyan Supporters Club, and all its fine work in the inner cities with Kenyan youth.
Until next time thanks for reading and keep supporting the ‘timu ya baba’
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