Saturday April 22, 2017 remains a special day in Kisii Rugby’s history. This was the day they were promoted to the Kenya Cup after hitting Mombasa RFC 22-13 at an early kick-off at Kenyatta University.
Kisii’s journey to the Kenya Cup has been bumpy. Promotion from nationwide to KRU Championship and eventually Kenya Cup. Then, same path and speed back to square one.
Walter Orangi, a former Kisii RFC chairman, has seen it all as a fan, chairman and a fan again. Orangi was just 23 when he got into management of the club and those who know the club better will tell you how much he invested into the club in terms of time and money.
Kisii RFC, relegated from the Kenya Cup after just one season -in the summer of 2018, played Championship during the 2018/19 and 2019/20 season before sh**t hit home. Their relegation from KRU Championship in the 2019/20 was confirmed just before the season was cancelled then suspended by Kenya Rugby Union.
Orangi says 2016/17 season was “an amazing experience. We had secured sponsorship courtesy of Resolution Health and we superseded their expectations by winning the Championship.”
“That time we were able to recruit because we had structures in place, talk of Insurance for players. The coach was in place, physio, allowances and the club was thriving.”
Just how was it running Kisii RFC during the 2017/18 Kenya Cup season? “Kenya Cup experience was a very good time to us”, says Orangi.
“We were just unlucky to stay there for a very short period because it was the season Kenya Simbas were preparing for World Cup qualifiers so Kenya Cup was shortened and we didn’t enjoy enough home matches.”
“That season we beat Mwamba while Strathmore Leos were very lucky because if we had beaten them, we couldn’t have gone down. Homeboyz also had a close shave,"
“Running a club is not an easy job. Our major budget was going to transport that’s why we opted to leave the ESS side behind. It was super expensive. You’d spend like Ksh300,000 per weekend to attend a game in Nairobi. Remember boys don’t share beds haha.”
Friends of Kisii
Unlike many grassroots sides, Kisii were lucky to land a major sponsorship deal from Resolution Health to run for three years. A number of their peers wondered how they sealed this deal.
“It was out of a goodwill,” Orangi remembers. “We were consistent in sevens tournaments before we gained promotion so people knew us. I met Peter Nduati through Kenya Rugby Union activities so there was that positive vibe and that’s how they came on board. We had a group called ‘Friends of Kisii’ that had the likes of Richard Omwela, Mike Lucas, Auka Gecheo and Nduati who all helped the club.”
Orangi’s time at the club ended before Resolution’s as he fails to understand how the deal ended and why it wasn’t extended.
“I was already out of the club when they left so I really never understood what really happened. The deal was expiring towards the end of the Kenya Cup season and of course we had politics in the office. You can’t meet everyone’s expectation especially with club politics involved.”
“When I spoke to the sponsor the response was their contract run out and they were cutting on rugby budget.”
Life outside Kenya Cup wasn’t easy for Kisii. Orangi called for elections before the Championship season to mark the end of his time at the club.
“Running a community club outside Nairobi is not easy. Some of the guys I left at the club also left after, may be, feeling things were not moving in the right direction. Sponsors were backbone of the club; we never missed a tournament.”
“I can also blame some players for not having the right mentality and attitude after getting into politics. Right mentality was never set out after I left. Players should stick to playing and leave politics to politicians.”
“Some of our best players left the club too; Nakuru came for like three, Homeboyz took the likes of Ochar while players like Charlton Mokua are at Kabras Sugar.”
“To be honest I felt I had reached by boiling point and it was time to leave. Some were insulting me and thought they could run the club better.”
Kisii and Gusii 7s
Kisii 7s tournament was one of the stand-out success during Orangi’s time but also came to a halt after he left.
“This (Kisii 7s) was my brainchild. It was quite successful. I used to have crowd during league matches as I wanted Kisii community to embrace rugby and that’s how we started the tournament.”
“First and second editions went very well and Resolution Health came through for us. Plan was to have a tournament run every year to help the office with finances to take care of the club during the season.”
“When I left, I saw some individuals came up with Gusii 7s which run concurrently with Great Rift 10-aide but I preferred to be in Nakuru that weekend. Kisii 7s was by the club and for the club; not some individuals.”
Orangi believes Kisii can still pick itself up if “everyone has a clear organization structure. Kisii region is big enough to have one or two clubs.”