You give your life to football and then it forgets you. Football clubs have a habit of taking players in, making the most of them and then vomiting them up once they are too old or injured… – Malcolm MacDonald
The words of this famous ex-Arsenal, Ex Newcastle, ex-Fulham and Ex Luton marksman best describes the life of a footballer whose got nowhere to run to when finally age catches up and boots have to be hanged. Malcolm MacDonald might have been able to do slightly under 11 seconds over 100 m in 1975 but as age caught up, it was extremely difficult to push the body to previous competitive limits.
A footballer’s career is averagely shorter compared to other disciplines. During this short competitive span, the push to get the best out of the body constantly exposes a footballer to numerous hazards and increasing attempts to make sacrifices. Once talents are discovered, the formal path other professions take is often ignored. Many a footballers are, as a result, forced to abandon education as they chase the dream. When this dream is over, or – as in many instances – cut short by injury or medical condition, the footballer is cut loose with no financial fallback. And since few football clubs have a scheme to support their fallen heroes, footballers not in this select few category of clubs are forced to resort to unconventional means to eke out a living, or rely on support systems in the family or community around them. The fall from grace is neither palatable nor acceptable, few footballers cope with it. Many disappear into oblivion, almost all die from neglect and desolation.
In Kenya, the number of fully professional football clubs doesn’t even account for 20% of total clubs. This statistic thus points out to the fact that an average Kenyan footballer who probably sets foot on a pitch for around 15-20 years of his life may never enjoy the fruits of his labour – post football. With no proper channels in the past, the onus has been on footballers to engage in other jobs as they play or in the event of not being able to ‘make it’ in football- the option of degrading into societal laughing stocks and beggars embraced them.
I’m trying to look at the best ‘football’ countries in the world and one thing stands out, there seems to be a smooth transition from the ‘active football’ days to the post on pitch action in every footballer’s life. In Kenya, the cry that has been- the government needs to embrace our former stars, has been well documented in the past. So much has been seen on TV of ex-sportsmen who’ve resorted to doing odd-jobs for a living when what they have done for the country and the respective sport is nothing but good.
Look at it this way- the main reason always given by these sportsmen is that the government has neglected them- always sometimes in detail pointing out the ministry/agents/federations for not paying them or outrightly exploiting them. A few honest ones, though, would look back at the wasted years/money spent with wrong company or just sheer lack of advice.
In this blog last week, the Centre for Sports Law in Kenya correctly pointed out that, most Kenyan sportsmen rarely come out and ask for advice. The few who at times do so, end up disregarding the advice citing fear of exploitation by the perceived ‘adviser’.
It is for this reason that a group of current footballers, ex-footballers came up with a brilliant idea that if correctly implemented would seek to put to bed such uncertainties. Coupled by a strong legal team, they finally have a reason 1. To smile way long after they last grace the pitches.
2. To get sound legal advice regarding issues of contracts, club/federation v player disagreements, rights and privileges.
I was lucky to attend their official launch last Friday and among the many things I learnt was that, while we complain too much about the federation, the systems – it’s an undeniable fact, players have not done themselves any justice in the past. With each footballer pulling in his own direction and the federation/agents/clubs pulling in the other- it’s easy for a few players to be manipulated and since they’ve got nowhere to run to, the end result is a frustrated, used and dumped individual.
Kenya Footballers Welfare Association (KEFWA) is an association registered under societies Act 1968 (rule 4),section 10 and was formed in 2011 by a group of players led by Nicholas Ndubi Muyoti (AFC Leopards) and James Omondi Oduor (Mathare United) all former Kenya internationals. The welfare is currently on a recruitment drive seeking to have on board as many players (both current and ex) as possible.
To learn more about them, kindly visit their website www.kefwa.org
We’ve got a responsibility to help each other when we are still alive – Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee