05-07-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
Kenya is a country of fans.
Not just football fans, mind you.
Here people cheer for everything.
All it takes is a fistfight at the market over an argument over the price of an avocado, and already there is a swarm of screaming people around and someone taking bets.
If the Kenyans of the Rift Valley are marathon runners and middle-distance runners, those of the city, Lake Victoria and the coast are all footballers, at least until their late teens.
Poor, but football-worshippers. Out of millions of attempts to imitate African stars such as Weah, Drogba or Eto'o, only three professionals have made it to Europe to play in the top flight, and two of them were brothers (Mariga, at Inter and Parma, and Wanyama, in Scotland and England).
On the other hand, the beer, couch and gambling fans are numerous and furious.
Two years ago the government decided to tax online betting platforms in order to recoup at least part of the money that Kenyans throw away in their dreams of becoming millionaires by guessing the results of Liverpool, Manchester City, perhaps combined with a Norwegian team whose name they cannot pronounce ("Strømsgodset idrettsforening" is not easy even for me...).
This year, due to the pandemic, the fervour of ultras in flip-flops has increased, also because the pubs, where people meet to go wild over a goal cancelled by the VAR, close before the evening games.
During the ongoing European Football Championships, cheering has been limited to private homes, but Kenyans can be found the next day talking about the games, at work, in the street and wherever else they can meet without restrictions.
It is usually the 'lucky ones', the well-to-do, who report on the match to those in their modest homes who could only follow it on the radio.
Between Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 July, it will be decided who Italy, Spain, England and Denmark will play in the final on Sunday 11 July.
We hope for an England-Italy final, but I won't tell you who I will be cheering for," says the fruit seller from Malindi, Mwambire. "I managed to watch the match against Belgium and Italy deserved it. Then here there are many Italian friends, but in England there are many players from our favourite teams.
Yes, because it is well known that despite the love-hate relationship with the former British colonialists, the real league to follow for Kenyans is the Premier League. Any football fan will split his time between Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. Liverpool and Manchester City are further away. The strongest teams, of course.
England will win," says Francis Kariuki, a trader from Nairobi, "also because the semi-finals and final are played at Wembley. I hope they play against Spain, because I also cheer for Barcelona, but I think Italy deserves it more.
If the players of the Albion national team are well-known (the "coloureds" Rashford and Sterling are the most idolised), the Kenyans interviewed show more hesitation when they are asked about the Azzurri's line-up.
"Is Buffon still playing?"
"Then come on Roberto Mancini!"
by Freddie del Curatolo
by Freddie del Curatolo
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