I'm living my dream at Kariobangi Sharks, says Juma

Juma spent his formative years playing football on the dusty fields of the populous Kariobangi slums in Nairobi’s Eastlands while attending Kariobangi North Primary School

In Summary

• My interest in football grew at a tender age when I would accompany my brothers to games Juma.

• Juma says his best match ever was when he featured as a right wingback for Sharks against Mathare United in their 2019 KPL Slum Derby at Kasarani.

Kariobangi Shars' Erick Juma battles for the ball with Mathare United's Roy Okal during a past Slum derby
Kariobangi Shars' Erick Juma battles for the ball with Mathare United's Roy Okal during a past Slum derby
Image: /FILE

On July 7, 2019, Kariobangi Sharks ingrained themselves in the Kenyan football Hall of Fame when they humbled English Premier League side Everton in an entertaining international friendly match at the Moi Stadium, Kasarani.

Sharks won 4-3 on post-match penalties, making an indelible mark in the books of history as the first Kenyan team to conquer an English top flight side.

The feat was a dream come true especially for Eric Juma, a boy who grew up playing football barefooted in one of the sprawling Nairobi slums while clutching on to the dream that one day, he’d be brushing shoulders with the high and mighty of the EPL.Juma was born on November 15, 1994 in a family of 10 children.

He spent his formative years playing football on the dusty fields of the populous Kariobangi slums in Nairobi’s Eastlands while attending Kariobangi North Primary School.

Juma says that he developed a keen interest in football while accompanying his two brothers, Babu and Polly, to competitive matches. The two used to turn out for their local team called Kariobangi Sports which featured in the FKF Division Two league.

The current national team assistant coach Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno together with the incumbent FKF Technical Director Michael Amenga, guided the side at that time.

“My interest in football grew at a tender age when I would accompany my brothers to games. They used to play for Kariobangi Sports who were once coached by Zico and Amenga,” says Juma.

His brothers didn’t scale the heights of top flight football as he has done himself.  One of them dropped out along the way while the other only went as far as playing in the National Super League for Mahakama FC.

“One of my brothers hung his boots while the other wound up his career as a player in the National Super League.”

Juma says that out of the nine siblings he initially had, only seven (five boys and two girls) are still alive today.

His admiration for his two brothers propelled him to pursue football as a career. He felt he also wanted to do what he had seen them doing. He immediately enrolled as player in the school team and joined a team in the neighbourhood, African Heroes, who participated in the Mathare Youth Sports Association-organised U-12 league. It wasn’t long before he started bagging awards, twice as a top scorer and once as the best player.

“As a budding player, I played for a team in my neighbourhood called African Heroes which I once featured for in a tournament where I won the golden boot award,” says Juma.

He adds that he hasn’t always been a defender. His youth coach, Isphan Waite, first deployed him as a striker because of his diminutive frame that gave him the advantage of sneaking in front of opponents for goal-scoring opportunities without easily being noticed.

“I started out as a striker because my coach found it convenient to play me upfront where I could easily sneak and stab in goals without being easily noticed by the opponents because of my small built,” he says.

In 2009, he landed a chance to travel with MYSA Under-16 side to Norway. It wasn’t a mean accomplishment considering that there were many players competing for the few slots available. The squad included his teammates at Kariobangi Sharks, Harrison Mwendwa and John Oyemba as well as the current AFC Leopards captain Robinson Kamura. Juma says he will forever be indebted to their primary school games teacher, Bassanga, whom he says has always had his back since his school days.

He eventually sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations in 2007 and joined Uhuru Secondary. No sooner had he enrolled as a student than he was drafted to play for the school team. Little can be said though about his years in high school as a footballer, because they never got to achieve much as a team apart from 2008, when they made it to the provincial finals of the Copa Coca-Cola tournament, where they lost to Ofafa Jericho.

“We didn’t have a strong team that could take us far, but I remember there is a year we went as far as facing off with Ofafa Jericho in the Nairobi Province finals,” he says. Juma first got to feel the heat of actual competitive football in 2006 when he penned a deal with Kariobangi Sharks in the Super Two league. Contrary to the widespread street gossip that places him as one of the team’s pioneers, Juma says he was never part of the original Kariobangi Sharks squad.

“I’m not among the pioneers. Kariobangi Sharks was founded when I was still very young,” he observes. It was the current Football Kenya Federation (FKF) President Nick Mwendwa who invited him to join the side. He put pen to paper after the coach, Robert, recommended him.

“Nick would always attend our matches. He’s the one who spotted me and signed me up as a Sharks player,” says Juma.

It took him a whole year to secure a first team slot but still he wasn’t that regular. He attributes this hitch to his tiny body frame.

During his first years at Sharks, he was deployed as a midfielder. In 2017 Sharks got promoted to the Kenyan Premier League (KPL). He, however, had to wait until 2018 for his  cameo appearance in the league coming on as a second-half substitute for Vincent Wasambo in their match against Posta Rangers at Camp Toyoyo. That was after he had fully recuperated from a surgery he had underwent.

“We were forced to play at Toyoyo given that the traditional venues, Moi Stadium, Kasarani and Nyayo Stadium had all been booked for other purposes,” he says

Juma says his best match ever was when he featured as a right wingback for Sharks against Mathare United in their 2019 KPL Slum Der by at Kasarani.

“I can comfortably say that the 2019 slum derby was my best ever in the Kenyan Premier League and in my career in competitive football. I scored once and provided two assists,” he says.

He says he can’t really put a finger on any particular match that turned out to be uncompromisingly difficult for him. “So far, I can’t recall any difficult match I have encountered.”

Juma, however, says that he has been finding it challenging to cope well on some playing surfaces, including Chemelil and Ruaraka. He received the armband back in 2013 after Steven Patrick Otieno left the club for Posta Rangers, by which time he had already served as an assistant captain for sometime.

Juma relives his experience against Everton at Kasarani when they beat the odds to become the first Kenyan team to defeat an English Premier League side.

“I actually felt elated because all along, I’d always dreamt of a game against an EPL side. It also gave us an opportunity to gauge our local standards,” he observes.

What was running through their minds minutes before kick off? Did they have the confidence to overcome Everton? Juma says they did not feel overwhelmed with pressure. To calm nerves, he reminded his teammates that this was simply an exhibition match and that they should make use of the golden opportunity to display their strengths on the field.

“We entered into the match with a lot of confidence since we had nothing to lose because nobody really expected us to win. I told my teammates to simply enjoy the game and view it as an exhibition match,” he reveals.

Coach William Muluya was equally reassuring. He asked the lads to go out there and show their character, devoid of any pressure.

“He gave us a pep talk to cheer us up before kick off, and told us to show character,” Juma recalls.

Is there a specific player that he usually feels timid to come up against? “I can’t place my finger on anyone in particular because they all have different talents and abilities, but if I were to really mention someone then I would pick Patilla Omoto and Sven Yinda.”

He carries alongside him a wealth of achievements. In 2009 he was in the Nairobi Province select-team that won the national Copa Coca Cola tournament under coach Stanley Okumbi. He was also part of the team that lost in the 2010 finals.

After the 2010 tournament, he captained the national squad that was selected to represent the country in the international Copa Coca-Cola edition in South Africa. Meanwhile, he had earned a call-up to the junior national team that was being guided by coach Sammy ‘Pamzo’ Omollo. He was again invited to join the team in 2010, this time under Okumbi.

Has he ever received any call-up to the senior national team? Yes. In 2019, former national team head coach, Sebastien Migne invited him to join the Chan squad.

Juma has guided Sharks to substantive titles as a captain. He wore the armband when they silenced KPL veterans Ulinzi Stars in the finals of the FKF SportPesa Shield as well as when they lifted the title in Tanzania to book a date with Everton as East Africa’s representative. On Shark’s unimpressive outing witnessed last season, Juma is quick to jump to his team’s defence.

“We didn’t experience any major challenges which we could have blamed for our poor results. In all cases, we always scored ahead of our opponents in all our matches, only that the final outcome never turned out in our favour,” he says.

Juma says he has always trained his sights on the English Premier League. He draws his inspiration as a player from former Kenyan international midfielder Jamal Mohammed as well as French great Zinedine Zidane who currently coaches Spanish La Liga side Real Madrid.

“I used to admire Zidane’s style of play to an extent that he influenced me to wear jersey number 5. I’m equally inspired by Dani Alves,” he reveals.Any word of advice from him to the young ones who wish to become future KPL stars like him?  “Playing at this level calls for a lot of hard work, discipline and obedience,” Juma warns.

His parents, John Juma and Jennifer Juma have been supportive throughout his football career. They would provide bus fare and buy him equipment anytime he was in need of their help.

“They would take care of my bills in hospital when I got injured. They also used to buy me football boots,” he recalls.

Juma says he is father of four children Wayne ( 9 ), Miles ( 2 ) and one-year-old twins Riley (boy) and Miley (girl). He says his wife, Yvonne, has always been there for him ever since his days in the Super League.

What does he do during his free time? “When I’m not training I’m spending time with family and friends.”

He also loves music and movies.