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Anything to do with a lost claw?

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on August 28, 2009

Recently I bumped into an old schoolmate on the streets of Nairobi. It was the first meeting in about twenty-seven years and we had plenty to talk about. I remember quickly inquiring what happened to his football skills? Since he looked as fit as a fiddle, I presumed he must have pursued a career in sport…he explained to me that he played for two clubs but realized he could not make enough to support his family. He gave up the art and became a matatu driver in Nairobi which was meeting his financial needs fairly well.

Later as I sat in my little home, I thought about him. He definitely belonged to a class of soccer players who had talent but no chance to exploit it. They never got the necessary exposure at the right age so as to be noticed or even supported to reach full potential… I digress. He is a sturdy man of average height, fast on the ball,unleashes an accurate “lightning bolt” with his right foot and working together with two other boys; one short and industrious and the other lanky if a bit slow, but a wizard with the ball, they tormented defenders and goal keepers of other teams. Hardly could the game lapse without them scoring a few goals.

So it was, that one day, a school that had no soccer reputation came to the sports ground at the market centre which served as our home ground for a critical qualifying match for District finals. It was a fragmentary match for the first twenty minutes. No neat passes, players were not clicking. Then the coach, a man with a quiet voice and the temper of Vesuvius decided to make a substitution. He replaced a mid-field player who was busy trying to score goals by himself, thereby denying the attackers the ball which they needed to come alive. The change was dramatic. The trio mentioned above made foray after foray into the opponents’ goalmouth. There were numerous goalmouth melees in the next few minutes, but no goal! A shot that looked destined for goal just drifted off into the horizon, followed by another and another! Everybody stood up in amazement. Then, the referee, a man who broached no nonsense blew the whistle. It was half-time and so both teams had fifteen minutes to take a breather before resuming. Whoever wrote football rules must have been a bad teacher because they never thought about certain logistical challenges…for instance, the players are allowed to rest and take light refreshments, even visit the loos. What should occupy the mammoth crowd of fans for the whole quarter of an hour given their systems are saturated with adrenaline? Are there enough toilet facilities for all the masses of people seen in soccer stadia? Anyhow, at the end of the first forty-five minutes, Mr. Sturdy noted the goal-keeper of the opposing team stealthily pick up something carefully wrapped in a piece of cloth. He kept cool and decided to observe what he finally did with the object.

Soon after they resumed, Mr. Industrious took the second kick at the ball, and blasted it towards the opponents’ goal. He did not bother to pass it as usual. As the defenders and mid-fielders scampered to get to the ball first, Mr. Wizard feigned an injury close to the box. The attention of the whole field was riveted to the lanky, young man. During this lapse in concentration, Mr. Sturdy dashed and snatched the object from the base of the opponents’ goalpost where it had been buried by the goalkeeper. He quickly threw it to the assistant coach who disappeared into the crowd with it safely tucked in his inside coat pocket. The goalkeeper and defenders realized too late and the opposing team’s efforts to protest at the loss of the object were unsuccessful. The match resumed after a few minutes of arguments and name calling. The referee was indeed a man not given to arguments. He wanted the match played to the full.

Away from the field however, the object was duly “undressed” and lo and behold! It was a freshly “declawed” claw of an antbear (“eguto” in Ekegusii). The aardwolf must have been killed recently because the claw had pieces of flesh and blood on it! As if on cue, the next fifteen minutes saw three elegant goals being scored yet the second half of the match had just began. In the final analysis, the match was won hands down. As I drifted off to sleep in my little bed in Nairobi that day, a smile crossed my face as I remembered that I had asked myself twenty seven years back, if the result had anything to do with the absence of that claw?

-Tony Mongare


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