The Chapa Dimba Na Safaricom 2017 Tournament came to a close with Plateau Girls Secondary School winning the title in the girl’s category. They won Kshs. 1 million and they will be going for the London tour where they will spend time with Victor Wanyama. The final game was a battle between them and Tar Tar Girls High School. Mery Njeri is a 14-year-old who competed in the tournament playing for Tar Tar Girls High School. She won the MVP title which came with a Kshs 30,000 prize money during the Regionals where her team progressed to the Nationals. She was also scouted and is now a member of Kayole Starlights, a team in the Kenya Premier League.
Please tell me a little about yourself
I am in form 3 and live in Githurai. We are eight in the family. I am the fourth born of 5 siblings. I went to Christ Victory Primary school. My high school education started in Kwangethe High School then I transferred to Tar Tar Girls High School in form 2.
What inspired you to play football?
I just started playing for the fun of it then as I continued to play I realized that I really enjoyed it. So I joined the football clubs in the schools I went to then started going for practice sessions when I could at home. It is not until later when my coach realized I had a talent. When I was 12, I joined Mathare United team. The same year I joined the team, we won the Norway tournament. We went to Norway for one week, then went to Holand for three weeks.The next team I joined was Tar Tar Girls in high school.
What challenges have you faced and how have you been able to overcome them?
When I started, there weren’t many girls playing football in my home area. So even when I went for practice sessions at home, I would have to play with the boys. For the sake of my safety, the coach would only put me in for a short time before he benched me. That took away from time I could have used to practice. Also getting football shoes was a struggle since they are so expensive. My mother would use the money intended for family amenities to buy me shoes since she could see how much I loved the game. I just pushed forward and so far life seems like it is rewarding me for my struggle.
What has been your experience playing in the Chapa Dimba Na Safaricom Tournament?
It was such a great opportunity to gain exposure for my skills. Especially when we won at the regionals and I won the title of MVP. It was so exciting. Additionally, I also secured a place with the Kayole Starlights which is in the Kenya Premier League. It feels good when your hard work is rewarded and you see yourself moving in the right direction in life.
What has been the impact of the tournament in your life?
My family was so happy when we won the Regionals. As for the money that I received, I sent all of it to my parents. Before we were not so stable financially but ever since I started playing, things are looking up. It might not be much but it is still more than we had before. At least my parents can afford to cater to my football needs without sacrificing other things. They were so shocked, they are now pushing me to play even more. I remember the moment I won the MVP title, people in my home area who did not know me wanted to be associated with me. It felt really good.
What has been the greatest highlight of your journey so far?
The greatest moment was when we got to the Nationals and played against Plateau Girls Secondary School. Sadly we lost but it was still such a great feeling to get there. Actually, by the end of the game, we were at par. The penalties are what cost us the game. It felt like London was stolen right from under us.
What are your future plans and goals?
I would really like to balance my love for football and another career. I once wanted to be a neurosurgeon but that was before I discovered my love for football. Right now I am not so sure what I want to become but I hope to land in the field of medicine. Besides, I don’t know if I can balance being a neurosurgeon and being a footballer. So I am taking my time to figure out what I want to do with my life.
What would be your advice to girls who want to pursue a career in football?
I would advise girls not to look at what they don’t have. Be it facilities, uniform and all that. We are still a long way before female football is recognized as much as male football. That shouldn’t stop you. If you really love playing, push yourself to grow your talent. Put God first. Also, do not be in a rush to get anywhere because it seems like it is better than where you are at the moment. Take your time and enjoy your journey.
If you could change one thing in the football industry what would it be?
Girls are often left behind when it comes to choosing football as a career path. Many actually shy away from playing since they do not think they can go anywhere even if they are talented which is true. Something needs to be done so that girls football is given a lot more consideration that it is now. There should be more tournaments such as this that includes girls. It would help girls who think that they can not do much with their talent. They will realize that there is a chance for them to do something good with their lives. It will also help those girls who have fallen victim to drug abuse and have ignored talents such as this. When they see other girls being successful, they will also want to join them.