Just a mention of the word Naivasha to sporting fraternity in Kenya and beyond evokes memories of a town that football was its second biggest attraction after the multi-million flower industry.
Unknown to many Kenyans, the dusty town popularly known for floriculture and tourist sites was also the home of football made in Naivasha.
It had some of the best private stadiums such as Oserian Stadium and Karuturi “Old Trafford” Stadium which were used as slaughter grounds for top guns such as Gor Mahia, AFC Leopards, Tusker among others. But a spot check of these facilities shows a sorry state of neglect.
When it rains Karuturi is converted into a small lake with over spilling water from Lake Naivasha submerging the once smooth playing surface.
“The management of flower firm Sher Agencies and later Karuturi were in charge of the stadium but since the flower firm went under things have never been the same again,” said Humphrey Karega a football fan in Naivasha town.
At Oserian Stadium things are not better either as the pitch that was well maintained with sprinklers splashing water on the lush green grass are no more.
The overgrown grass thanks to the current rains pounding the area has seen the once sparkling stadium lose its shine and is a big contrast to what was once a smooth playing surface.
The withering flower industry is ravaged by the effects of Covid-19 pandemic that has thrown many companies into a dire financial strait as exports to European markets are reeling under lockdown.
The once famous Oserian FC is the first club from Naivasha to qualify for the prestigious Premier League in 1998.
Two years later the Oserian put the flower town of Naivasha in the soccer limelight after clinching the league crown. The following year, they finished second and qualified for the Caf Confederation Cup.
The teams’ fairytale run put in check the dominance of the eternity rivals Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.
The supporters of the two teams feared visiting the fortress Oserian Stadium as the Naivasha based soccer club showed scanty respect for the two top teams.
Fans were, in many occasions, left licking their wounds as the prowling Oserian mauled them at will. For the Oserian diehards who never missed a match, it was time to do a jig.
“We loved Oserian and never failed to show up whenever the stepped on the pitch. The team was all rounded and full of quality players,” remembers a fan, Paul Kihara.
Reaching the finals of the East and Central Africa Club in their debut in 2001 showed the club’s growing stature as a soccer powerhouse within the region.
With internationals Sammy Simiyu, Mike Muiruri and current Bandari coach Ken Odhiambo, the team was a joy to watch.
The backline consisted of the towering Francis Baraza and the heavily built Anthony Lutiku, the current tactician at the Naivasha based Vegro FC.
Lutiku joined the team in 1998 from Brooke Bond and walked straight into the starting lineup.
For four years, he plied trade at the Naivasha based side and has vivid memories of the indomitable club.
“My most memorable match was against Etoile du Sahel in 2001 when they won 4-I and had earlier lost 2-0 only to lose 2-1 to the famed Al Ahly SC of Egypt only a step away from the money bracket,” he recalls.
The Oserian wound up in 2001 after the club sponsor Oserian Flower Company pulled out, citing financial constraint. “When the club folded, we were in the course of winning the third league title” remembers Lutiku fondly known as Don.
Some of the top cream players who featured for the team included the Ambani brothers, Fed and Boniface, lethal striker John Baraza, flamboyant goalkeeper Noah Ayuko, midfield maestro Moffat Amoyo among others.
The fall of Oserian saw the rise of Sher Agencies that was under the sponsorship of the parent company by the same name.
The company dominated the global cut flower market with the ripple effect tricking down to the playing unit led by then prolific striker Jacob Omondi.
Exporting a million stems a day, it dominated the industry having been established in 1986.
“We were one of the best funded clubs then, with players earning hefty bonuses for wins,” said Omondi a former Kenya international footballer who played for Sher Karuturi (then a Kenya Football League club).
The player donning the club armband was supported by an able cast that included the ageless Ayuko, David Odhiambo now plying trade in the Zambia league giants Zesco.
Others who played for Sher later Karuturi FC included the experienced Dan Matengo and Nigerian import Emmanuel Chimaroke formerly with Rangers FC.
Others who nested at the Naivasha based flower men were John Kiplangat formerly with Sony, Andrew Murunga who plied trade with Tusker, Tyrone Owino, Rangers, Francis Masiga, Finley, and Kennedy Ouma of Nairobi Stima.
In the Karuturi roster were Ahmed Umar from Kase FC and light framed former Oserian player Joseph Kariuki.The closure of the company sounded the death knell for the Naivasha based club, joining the famous Oserian FC into the oblivion.
The dipping fortunes of the flower sector greatly affected the Naivasha based team with only a few flower companies managing clubs that mostly play in the lower tier league.