NAIROBI, Kenya- The cathedral of Kenyan sports- Moi International Sports Centre (MISC), Kasarani- will add the groundbreaking football match between Gor Mahia FC and visiting Hull City FC to its decorated roll of honour on Sunday.
That the eagerly anticipated encounter will be played at the hallowed pitch of the sporting amphitheatre that can hold 60,000 spectators is nothing short of a modern man-made miracle.
Like other facilities managed by Sports Kenya, Kasarani was earlier this year, earmarked for renovations funded by the taxpayer that were supposed to be complete by the start of April.
However, photos that circulated widely on social and mainstream media showed an ugly torn up pitch, with a decaying mould of mud and mortar left in its place. Kenyans lampooned authorities for laxity in finishing the repair works.
At the height of the hullabaloo, reports gained currency that Kenya would play international football matches outside the country as authorities sorted out the mess at Kasarani and little sister, Nyayo National Stadium.
There is no way, critics avowed, that the pitch would be ready for a football match of any kind, let alone a potential encounter of the ages between Gor, the biggest club in the land versus an English team that has existed since 1904 within a month.
They were all wrong. The pitch at MISC Kasarani will be ready for the Gor versus Hull rumble, but only just.
On Wednesday, SportPesa News spoke to Riyad Maamatou, the Project Director at Gregori International, the French-based company contracted to ensure the playing surface will be ready to host Sunday’s clash and other international games beyond.
Maamatou conceded that despite the challenges they faced and steep deadlines, Gor and Hull will enjoy a good football game.
“We started planting the grass on April 17 until April 27 and from there, it was intense maintenance, levelling the field, top dressing it with sand and adding imported fertiliser to the grass so that the roots can grow faster,” Maamatou who revealed the Kikuyu Grass variety was selected for laying the pitch told.
“We chose this grass because it is grown in Kenya and it is good for the weather in the country. We did a lot of tests and settled on this variety. After this game, we shall come and plant Suzuina and regular varieties to ensure the pitch lasts for long,” the Director explained.
Scientifically known as Pennisetum Clandestinum Kikuyu Grass got its name, as it is native to the region of East Africa that is home to the Gĩkũyũ tribe. Because of its rapid growth and aggressive nature, it is categorised as a noxious weed in some regions but ranks as popular garden lawn.
“These grass has only taken two weeks to grow to where it is now and we added sand to make it grow quickly. We have levelled the pitch and all areas around it according to FIFA standards.
“The slots are perfect and the top dressing helps us to keep the surface level. It was a big challenge to get here with the game coming. We stopped work for three days for example when there was an athletics event and later a concert by a comedian here.
“However, the pitch is in a good shape and we will continue to improve it until Sunday. Once the teams play, we have a lot of work to do to fix it since it is young grass,” Maamatou who has had similar experience in Jamaica underscored.
Kasarani’s original turf was uprooted to put in place the surface required for field athletics when it hosted the Nairobi 2018 IAAF World Under 18 Championships in July last year.
The new pitch is supposed to revert its use for football and it only took the partnership of Government, Football Kenya Federation and leading gaming firm SportPesa to realise it when State funds towards the project stalled.
“It is my wish to see Kenya build many big and nice fields for her citizens. We can host big things here and I hope this can be done in other big cities in the country. Hosting such big events as the Gor and Hull game will be good for developing sports,” the Project Director stated.
On Wednesday, Principal Secretary for Sports, Ambassador Peter Kaberia, paid an impromptu visit to the stadium and stamped his seal of approval after engaging with the project managers and engineers.
“We are now ready to host international football and we are pleased with the work done so far,” the bureaucrat underscored after touring the facility.
MISC remains one of the prominent permanent marks of Chinese architecture in Kenya when it was built for the 1987 All Africa Games on a 1000 acre piece of land, 16km from Nairobi’s CBD.
Over the years, it has witnessed memorable football and other sporting moments in its three-decade existence none bigger than when the late Ken Simiyu planted a header past Nigeria keeper, Peter Rufai in a 1998 World Cup qualifier that ended 1-1 on January 12, 1997.
Atlanta 1996 Olympic champions, the Super Eagles, brimming with fearsome talent such as Nwankwo Kanu, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi, Celestine Babayaro and Tijani Babangida et al were saved by a Jonathan Akpoborie equaliser in the 50th minute in a result that reverberated throughout Africa.
On July 5, 2003, Kasarani was the scene that sparked national euphoria when Dennis ‘The Menace’ Oliech, now retired sent the entire country into orbit.
Oliech fired in an unstoppable 84th minute hammer of a shot that proved to be the winner for Harambee Stars against Cape Verde after receiving a lofted pass from Titus Mulama, not even allowing the ball to bounce on the turf.
The 1-0 results sent Kenya to the Tunisia 2004 Africa Cup of Nations finals; the last time the country has dined at the high table of continental football.
On Sunday, history is there for the making when K’Ogalo lock horns with the visiting Tigers thanks to a latter day man made wonder.