30th October 2016 – exactly four years back – was certainly a black Sunday, for it was the day Nairobi City Stars received a 3-1 hiding from Kakamega Homeboyz at Kasarani to be relegated from the Kenyan Premier League after 12 straight seasons.
City Stars conceded two goals in the opening half through David Okoth and Hedmond Mauda before Ali Bai sealed the win in the 52nd minute. Gambian Pa Jassey Mulie’s long range cracker with nine minutes left was City Stars desolate consolation as the team suffered its 16th loss of the season.
And the headlines read; “City Stars relegated . . . ”
One starting line popped in a local daily; “Finally Nairobi City Stars have been put out of their misery,”
In the lead-up to the fall into the second tier trap door, City Stars had flirted with the chop for close to five straight seasons. But it was all over in 2016 as the football gods were no longer generous with survival favors. It was time to pack and drop down.
In the 2010 season, the team beat Sofapaka 2-0 at City Stadium in a round 27 game to preserve their place in the Premier with three games to spare.
In the 2011 season, City Stars hit Karuturi 4-2 at Hope Centre on final day to stay afloat. Francis Thairu’s hat trick in that game could have counted for nothing had Chemelil not held Bandari to a barren draw. It meant the coastal side went down by virtue of that draw as City Stars survived.
In the 2012 season, City Stars hang on to their status after squeezing a barren draw out of Posta Rangers at the City Stadium during the penultimate round of matches.
The script on the final day of the 2013 season was a replica of 2011. The team needed a win away to Chemelil Sugar but went down 1-0 only to be spared the relegation red zone after Homeboyz lost 2-1 to AFC Leopards at Bukhungu.
While it was a lucky escape in 2013, the team eventually went down at the end of the 2014 season after being held to a barren draw by Mathare United at Hope Centre.
However, wrangling between the league managers KPL and the overseers of the game in the country FKF meant no promoted teams were fronted to take up the place of relegated teams.
And with that City Stars was reinstated for the 2015 season where they continued with their survival script. Ebrima Sanneh’s goal against Sony Sugar – that forced a 1-1 draw – on the final day ensured another season in the top flight.
But the nine lives fizzled out at the end of 2016 when the team was escorted out by Homeboyz at Kasarani in the third last game of the season.
In the squad that lined up on the fateful day at Kasarani was a quintet that are still part of the team four years on.
John Amboko, the current assistant coach, was the skipper. He partnered Arthur Museve in the heart of defense. Museve is now trainer at the club.
The trio of Calvin Masawa, Ezekiel Odera and Oliver Maloba are still in the playing ranks of the team now christened Simba wa Nairobi. While Masawa and Odera clocked the full 90 minutes on that day, Maloba came on as a second half substitute.
All five have painful recollections of the eventuality at Kasarani on Sunday 30 October 2016.
Jimmy Bageya is one other players still at City Stars who was part of the 2016 squad but did not feature in the relegation game.
“That was the worst feeling ever. I remember we had prepared very well and had hoped to win the match. But we started on a wrong footing by letting in some quick goals and we knew that was the end of it all.” Said Amboko who joined the club back in 2002
“It was painful. We were at a great loss. We had always survived relegation fights but on this day it was all but over. We stayed at the stadium for a while longer pondering into an uncertain future. We were no longer sure of our careers, and the life of the club in the lower divisions. It was a sad ending.” Said Museve who joined the club in 2007 from Kangemi AllStars
Striker Odera, who top scored for the club in that final KPL season with four goals, said;
“30th Oct 2016 was a dark day. After being relegated from the premier league after so many years in the top tier we didn’t know what was going to happen to the club. As players we knew that we had let our management, fans and the club as a whole down. Coming to terms of playing in the second-tier league was a disaster.”
For Masawa, City Stars longest serving player – in the club books since 2011 – that day was coming.
“There was that sad feeling. It was not particularly nice on my end but again it was not the biggest surprise. I had seen it coming after a few years of flirting with relegation. After some few days, weeks of crying I had to accept the reality. I almost quit football but had to put on a brave face and move on knowing that all was not lost.”
For young Maloba, it was too much to take. And after that relegation he was off to Gor Mahia.
“We had done what we needed to do. We were annoyed after that game. We felt robbed, helpless. Worse still, imagine being part of a unit that ended up being relegated. It killed the dreams of some players and some ended up quitting the game completely.”
Chairperson Peter Jabuya, lost to the relegation pain, said it was important for the team to go down to find itself. He vowed that the club would exist rather than die, with a rebrand.
After years of being bedeviled by finances, lack thereof, fortune struck in March 2019 when Eldoret-born Real Estate mogul Jonathan Jackson bought out Jabuya to wholly own the team.
Check one was a quick restructure and application of the survival antics that saw the team stay afloat prior to the 2016 Premiership fall.
At the time of capture, City Stars sat 19th in the 20-team second tier National Super League (NSL) with a paltry 14 points from 22 games. 25 points from the final 16 games saw the team end a respectable 14th.
What followed was a calculated 2018/19 NSL season, with further restructuring that saw the arrival of Eastern Europe EUFA Pro coach Sanjin Alagic and careful player recruitment. The team went on to win the league with a ten-point buffer to regain their Premiership status after four seasons in the cold.
The quintet that fell with the club in 2016 have the exact opposite emotion from the one at Kasarani.
“After four long years in the dark now we are back in the premier league thanks to the support from the chairman Jonathan Jackson,”
“He has ensured the club has excellent coaching staff, quality/good training facilities, hardworking and dedicated playing unit with salaries coming on time. Not to forget our beloved and passionate fans who have been for ever present in good and bad times. Now am happy to say that we are back to where we as a big club belong.” muted Odera who returned to the club at the start of 2019 after a two-season detour
“The feeling is unbelievable, personally I am incredibly happy to be back at the topmost league in the country. This is where everyone wants to be and to make it more interesting, we are coming back with a well-organized team, sponsor, new players and new technical bench. I am just excited and can’t wait for the league to start.” Said Masawa who arrived at the club from Migori Youth back in 2011
Assistant coach Amboko, whose only time out of City Stars was a small detour to AFC Leopards in 2013, added;
“After being out for four years we are back in the Premier League. The feeling is amazing and it’s my hope and belief that we are going to be worthy competitors. With the help of our sponsors, an amazing office, able technical bench, talented players and passionate fans, I know we are going to give our opponents a run for their money.”
For Museve, nothing beats a return to the big league; “It’s a wonderful feeling. I was in the relegation band, and now in the lot that got the team back to where it truly belongs – in the Premier League. It’s such a good feeling.” Added the team stalwart who hang his boots at the close of the 2018/19 season to join the technical bench.
For Maloba, being up means being up, there’s no looking back down.
“Now that we are back, the morale we have is at its highest. We never ever want to go back down. It was trauma while in the lower leagues. We want to give it 200% now that we are back up and stay up there for good.” He opined.
After the relegation loss to Homeboyz, the team forced a barren draw against Ushuru – who also got relegated, before bowing out of the Premiership with a 2-1 loss to visiting Sony Sugar at Ruaraka in their 240th and final top flight game.
The lineups on Sun 30 Oct 2016
City Stars: Victor Odhiambo (GK), Franklyne Osama, Calvin Masawa, Arthur Museve, John Amboko (c), Peter Mwangi (Peter Musiime 61’), Pa Jassey Mulie, Joseph Sakwa (Benson Iregi 38’), Ezekiel Omulo Odera, Festo Omukoto, Robert Ndungu (Oliver Maloba 55’)
Kakamega Homeboyz: Michael Wanyika (GK), Athman Buki, Eric Ambunya, Charles Momanyi, Moses Chikati, Stephen Wakhanya, Hamisi Mwinyi (Andrew Murunga 66’), Ali Bai (Andrew Kulecho 53’), Keiphas Mutuu, Hedmond Mauda (Victor Matete 88′), David Okoth.