•Nakuru Queens made a maiden appearance in the FKF branch league in 2018 where they went unbeaten. Following the feat, they successfully joined the Division One league in 2019 and, surprisingly, became champions on their debut.
•Esitoko says they were headed for their maiden top flight title in 2020, only for the COVID-19 epidemic to scuttle their plans.
Despite their current enviable status as a top flight club, Nakuru Queens are still grappling with a myriad challenges.
The hapless players —mainly drawn from the shanties of Nakuru Town —agonisingly live in a congested house rented by the club founder Bernard Esitoko, where they survive on a single meal a day.
Esikoto says he was inspired to register the team with Football Kenya Federation in 2016 after realising that a large pool of talent constantly went to waste due to lack of opportunities.
Esitoko would coach both boys and girls and as his male players went on to pen deals with Kenya Premier League clubs, only a few of his girls got engaged.
“The girls get scholarships in several schools such as Butere Girls, Gatere Girls, Moi Girls Eldoret, Nasokol Girls and Wiyeta Girls and it was very frustrating to see them idling around in the estates after high school just because they were not picked by the bigger teams,” he said.
Nakuru Queens made a maiden appearance in the FKF branch league in 2018, where they went unbeaten. Following the feat, they successfully joined the Division One league in 2019 and, surprisingly, became champions on their debut.
Esitoko says they were headed for their maiden top flight title in 2020, only for the Covid-19 epidemic to scuttle their plans.
“Only one match had been played when the first Covid-19 case was reported in Kenya, the records bear us witness, we were top on the table with the highest number of goals,” he asserts.
The coach states that after the competition resumed this year, his charges emerged second behind Vihiga Queens in Zone B and were among the six teams that romped into the national play-offs.
They, however, crushed out in the semi-finals but secured their status among the top four teams in the country.
Esitoko says Covid-19 adversely affected the team because some of their best players fell pregnant during the inactive period while others got married.
“Due to the financial challenges of the team, our players easily fall prey and find themselves in compromising situations. We lost very good players during the COVID-19 break" he regrets.
He observes that being in the premier league, the players are supposed to get paid but that has not been the case, given they are yet to secure a shirt sponsor and he lacks the capacity to put them on a payroll.
“I have sold personal property, including land and household goods to buy basic needs for the team such as food and sanitary towels," says the team chief executive officer who also doubles up as team manager.
Esikoto said the dire situation bedevilling the club has forced him to accommodate all the 30 players in his own house where they sleep on the floor in his two extra single rooms.
Transport to various destinations during matches has also been a challenge and the players have to spend their nights in the vehicle because he cannot afford to pay for decent accommodation in hotel rooms.
“Last season was smoother because Top Gas LPG Kenya was offering us transport but as we go into the next season that is starting in November, we do not know our fate," he says.
Moreover, the team cannot afford a team doctor, a stand-by ambulance during home matches and a field.
“The County Government of Nakuru through the Sports Director Alice Gekonde used to allow us free access to Afraha Stadium but we are currently being compelled to hire Nakuru Agricultural Society of Kenya grounds because Afraha is under renovations,” he said.
He discloses that Nakuru Queens have produced some of the best players in the country who are transferred to other well financed teams without following the right procedures.
“Two of my players have joined Thika Queens, two are playing for Harambee Starlets, two have relocated to Tanzania to play for the national team while Vihiga Queens took one," he says.
He adds that the captain of Kenya U20 Women Football team, Perish Oside was picked from Nakuru Queens.
Esitoko says the side’s worst experience and lowest moment was when the players were ridiculed by fans and opponents who referred to them as 'hungry urchins'.
The team captain, Melon Mulindi says it is amazing how the players go to the field tired after sleeping in the bus and hungry and still manage to win.
“It is challenging to lead a team that is demoralised but the players' passion overcomes all," she says.
She appealed to the County Government of Nakuru, companies in the region and even the national government to support her team.
“When we go out there to play, we do not go there as Nakuru Queens FC, we represent Nakuru yet the county government does not care to even kit us," she quips.
She adds it is unfortunate to see her colleagues compromising their talent because of lack of personal effects such as pads and clothing.
“Queens would have easily become the champions but it lost good players during the Covid-19,” she says.
County Director of Sports, Alice Gekonde says the county is doing everything possible to alleviate the team’s situation by providing for their immediate needs as it also ensures Esitoko feeds his family.
“The county buys food for the team and provides sanitary towels whenever funds are available but unlike other counties which fully support their home teams, Nakuru cannot fully fund the football club,” she says.
However, she gives assurance of better times ahead because her department is in talks with a top manufacturing company in the region with the aim of having it (the company) buy the team.
“The department of sports is also having a conversation with the Nakuru Municipal Board now with a view of taking the team and changing its name to Nakuru City Queens,” she adds.
A Nakuru Queens supporter, Francis Kang'ethe says the contribution by the County Government to the team is indeed a drop in the ocean.
He wonders why the county is unable to fully support the team with allowances, sporting gears and equipment.
“It is only one football team participating in the premier league and I do not understand why the county government cannot sustain them, even the food rations are given intermittently,” he questions.
He said the county government can alternatively give the players casual jobs instead of letting them engage in menial jobs for families.