•Unlike many current players, Awuor had the backing of her parents who were aware that football was becoming a commercial venture and those with talent could live off it.
•“My role model and favourite player was Victor Wanyama but in goal-keeping management, my role model was Christian Enlah (PSG),” said Awuor.
The conveyor belt of talent that is Vihiga Queens continues the trend of producing and nurturing young footballers. The latest sensation is undoubtedly 21-year-old shot-stopper Lillian Awuor, who at this tender age, football-wise, has already been part of Harambee Starlets African Women Cup of Nation squad.
Unlike many current players, Awuor had the backing of her parents who were aware that football was becoming a commercial venture and those with talent could live off it.
“I started playing in an academy called Suba Lakers. I had supportive parents and they were very happy of my talent. So I never had any problem playing football,” the Siaya-born shot-stopper recalled.
With female football having just taken off in Kenya when she was not even a teenager, the now 21-year-old did not have many female players around to emulate. She looked upon current Harambee Stars’ captain Victor Wanyama and as she became more aware of the happenings in the women’s game across the world, she found her true inspiration.
“My role model and favourite player was Victor Wanyama but in goal-keeping management, my role model was Christian Enlah (PSG),” said Awuor.
The youngster has already enjoyed what most of her peers only dream of. She credits renowned women football coach Alex Alumira for the guidance she has received and the level she is at.
“Coach Alumira without a doubt had the biggest influence in my career. His advise every time has seen us keep our focus and stay grounded when the temptation of complacency comes up particularly for us younger players,” she said.
“Starlets coach David Ouma is another important figure for the women's game. He gives everyone a chance to represent the country regardless of where you come from or your age and that has led Starlets to make history by playing in the AWCON when he is in charge,” she explained.
Despite her relatively young age and short experience in the national game, Awuor is alive to the challenges facing women’s football in the country. Most corporate over the last couple of years have opted to sponsor the men’s game leaving women football clubs cash-strapped.
“Many people don’t recognise women football and that’s the main challenge. Women football in Kenya is growing and sponsors have started coming in and that’s a great gesture. But slowly, I think we will be in a better place because across the world, women football is getting popular with more sponsors getting involved in support of the game,” she said.
Despite winning three successive Women Premier League titles with Vihiga Queens, Awuor points out representing her country as the epitome of her career so far.
“It was my best moment when I received my first call up in Harambee Starlets while I was a teenager in Form Two. Also playing in Harambee Starlets Under-20 World Cup qualifiers and having a chance to travel in different countries stands out for me.
Having seen her Starlets compatriots like Cynthia Shilwatso, Mwanahalima Dogo and Annete Kundu among others set out overseas in search of greener pastures to various levels of success, Awuor dreams of following a similar path. “My dream is to play in top tier football for some time and one day to get a chance to play abroad,” she said.
She is also alive to the fact that football is a short career and one needs to make hay while the sun shines. With the money she gets as allowances with the Starlets or wages with Vihiga Queens, she is setting some aside to go to college and start the journey of securing her future.
“Education is important. You need a fallback plan once football is over. I have plans of joining a college and studying Sports Science in particular, physiotherapy. I have been earning something since I started playing for Vihiga Queens while in Form 2 and that’s how I realised football was my career because it was making me earn. But I am aware that in no time, I will be out of the game and life will have to continue,” she remarked.
With the team having clinched an emphatic victory over Kisumu Women over the weekend, all is looking up for Awuor and her teammates and helping the club retain their league title is among her short term objectives.
“Our target is to lift this season’s Women Premier League and the inaugural FKF Cup tournament. We also hope to participate in the Caf Champions League,” she said.
Playing for the best team in the country means that she does not have to worry much about opponents. Awuor confidently states that so far, she hasn’t seen a tough opponent. “However, the league has become more competitive with younger and eager players coming up and that is good for women football in Kenya.”
Locally, she points out the 2018 league play-off pitting her Vihiga side against perennial rivals Thika Queens.
“It was a nervy match which could have gone either way but we emerged victorious and I won my first league title,” said Awuor, who was raised in Mbita, Homabay county. She is the second born in her family with one sister and two brothers. Her teammates are the closest pals on and off the pitch.
Despite her success, she still regards highly her achievements while still in High School where they managed to go to East and African ball games in 2016 and in 2017 after reaching nationals and in 2018 they were eliminated in the regionals. If young girls hoping for a career in football needed a role model they have plenty right now and Awuor deservedly is one of them.