NAIROBI, Kenya- It was billed as the biggest UEFA Champions League tie of the last 16, stoking a storm of local interest in Kenya and the SportPesa ‘Stadium on Wheels’ duly transformed Nairobi West into Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
The atmosphere in one of Nairobi’s busiest entertainment hot beds was electric as the state-of-art commentary and viewing truck brought its unique stadium experience to cheering fans who watched English Premier League champions, Chelsea FC take on LaLiga giants FC Barcelona in West London.
Having produced plenty of life and excitement in other parts of the country, this was the state of the art truck’s maiden visit to the usually packed Nairobi West and the reception it received was overwhelming to state the least.
The truck was set up around four hours to kick-off, the process itself enough to cause crowds to gather around for one reason or the other. Some wanted to get a front row seat early while others had their eyes set on the variety of SportPesa merchandise to be won.
The hype surrounding this particular fixture was sure motivation to make hundreds of people leave their homes just to get the chance to get the stadium feel with their friends.
The SportPesa staff engaged the crowd with questions regarding the match in a bid to get them in the mood for the mega encounter and also win from an array of branded shirts, football jerseys, mugs, caps and hoodies.
“This is the first time I’m seeing something like this in my life. I can’t thank SportPesa enough for giving my friends and I such an opportunity to witness something of this magnitude.
“I am a Manchester United FC fan but for today my money is on Barcelona,” said John Mwangi, a vendor in the neighbourhood.
Many people from the crowd were eager to share and discuss who they had all put money on, hence a constructive argument ensuing, bringing even more attention to the already lit up truck.
The questions continued until half hour to kick-off when everyone’s attention turned to the huge screen for the pre-match analysis.
“This is a huge fixture. Chelsea have a good record against Barcelona in the past and that is why I have played on them to win,” Ken Kamau offered.
“Chelsea do not stand a chance tonight. Barcelona have a better squad and they are favourites. After the game we shall see who will be smiling looking at the congratulations message from SportPesa,” another fan, Dan Ouma countered, setting the stage for the battle at the Bridge.
By the time the match was beginning, there was hardly a place left to sit with the venue filled to capacity. The neighbouring night clubs were pleased as their Tuesday was suddenly bringing more customers than usual.
After a cagey first half that saw Chelsea’s Brazilian winger Willian hit the woodwork twice, the second half began with a few more chances than the first provided.
It wasn’t until the 62nd minute when that man again, Willian, put the hosts ahead with a brilliant low right-footed shot after an assist from Belgian Eden Hazard.
Chelsea continued to defend well, keeping marksman Lionel Messi out until a quarter of an hour was left in the game. A lapse in the Blues back line allowed Andres Iniesta to pounce onto the ball and cut back for Messi who slotted calmly past Thibaut Courtois.
This was Messi’s first goal against Chelsea FC in nine attempts.
Both sides pushed hard for a winning goal but it was not to be as they settled for a 1-1 draw to take back to the Camp Nou in three weeks’ time.
“Though I didn’t win tonight, the game was such a great experience. The fact that it’s free for all and I could come with all my friends from the hood and enjoy the game on such a huge screen was amazing,” Ouma added after the game.
The one of a kind truck will be at the same venue tonight for the Champions League fixture between Sevilla FC and Manchester United FC.
Lots of prizes to be won and an exhilarating experience beckons, so those who can make it for a second successive night of fun should not miss out.