Disclaimer: I did this article without any input from any official from Vihiga United Football Club, using resources from the web and other independent sources.
Vihiga united Football Club is one of the most unique football clubs in the Sportpesa Premier League. In a league where most of the clubs are usually owned by state corporations (Nzoia Sugar, Sony Sugar, Chemelil, Bandari), wealthy benefactors (Sofapaka, Kakamega Homeboyz), private businesses (Nakumatt, Tusker) or are community-based (AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia), Vihiga United is owned by a county government.
It might be the only football club in Kenya that boasts of this kind of ownership.
Vihiga United Football Club (@VihigaUnitedFC) was Established in 2014 by Vihiga County as a social project to keep the youth of Vihiga County off unemployment, idleness and provide them with economic opportunities. it is unlikely that the County Administration of the time imagined that one day, the team would be brushing shoulders with the very best footballers in Kenya’s professional Sportpesa Premier League.
This short interview that KBC did on the team before the season began is very educative.
Vihiga County, with a population of just above 600,000 people, is located in the Western part of Kenya, and its capital is Mbale town. Studying in Maseno University a few years back, which is right at its southern tip, on its border with Kisumu County, I would explore the Southern parts of Vihiga County, enjoying its rocky hills with great views.
Vihiga County has a very high population of young people, according to the official county government’s website; its youth population is 25% of the total. With the majority of Kenya’s youth not being employed in the formal sector, youth unemployment is an issue successive governments have grappled with since independence. The policy decision that Vihiga County took, forming a football side, to absorb some of these youth, is definitely one of the most creative yet.
Barely three years after being formed, in 2017, Vihiga United FC had already made it it to the second level of Kenyan football, the National Super League. It had a remarkable season that year, collecting 80 points from 36 games and finishing comfortably first and gaining promotion to the Sportpesa Premier League.
It seems the County Government wasn’t ready for this, to some extent. A tiff with the influential, greatly experienced head tactician Edward Manoah, led to him quitting the club. A seeming unwillingness on the part of Vihiga County to finance a spending spree to improve the playing squad is said to have been at the root of the conflict. Fortunately, he was back after one month, reappointed at the end of January 2018, just before the premier league started, looking forward to leading the club to Sportpesa Premier League stability.
According to the Daily Nation, he stated:
“I will work hard to ensure the team performs well in the Kenyan Premier League. My target is to finish among the top five teams,” he said.
The club did not manage to achieve their lofty targets, however, a solid 12th place finish (10 Wins, 11 draws, 13 losses) at the end of the 2018 KPL season saw Vihiga assure themselves of a second season at the top.
There are intriguing questions to be asked as the team looks forward to the second season in the top flight. How much money is the Vihiga County Government willing to spend to maintain the Sportesa Premier League status, when there are so many competing interests that also need attention in the budget, such as education, infrastructure and health?
I would imagine, the management will be hoping to get sponsorship from outside sources, but usually in Kenya this has proven easier said than done.
The second season will be one of reckoning for Vihiga United Football Club. Can it survive in the Sportpesa Premier League while still remaining strong to its principles, helping the youth of Vihiga county gain employment, while giving them a platform for them to showcase their football talent?