Daring to believe: Silibwet FC plot future
Silibwet village in Bomet County has no doubt hit the global limelight thanks to their famous son Timothy Cheruiyot, the world 1,500m champion.
But the lush green expansive tea growing county that borders Kericho to the north, Nyamira to the west, Narok to the south and Nakuru to the north east has a new treasure – Silibwet Leons FC.
The club is one of the 20 teams competing in the Betika National Super League, Kenya’s second top tier football competition, after gaining promotion at the end of last season.
With seven games into the season, team manager Eric Rono says the dream of playing in the top flight league is alive
Rono said the team merited the ascend to the second tier League.
When Football Kenya Federation boss Nick Mwendwa ended the season last April prematurely due to the coronavirus pandemic, Silibwet FC sat pretty at the summit of the FKF Division One Zone B and earned their automatic promotion to NSL as per the FKF regulations.
“We were doing good just before Covid-19 disruptions. Nobody could have predicted how the league ended. Despite the fact we were performing well, I think it was just sheer luck,” Rono told People Sport.
With track assassin Cheruiyot – one of their local sporting stars – Rono acknowledges football can as well raise the sporting profile of Bomet County.
On Sunday, Leons defeated Mwatate United 2-1 to continue their impressive start into the season with the club’s top scorer Dennis Cheruiyot finding the back of the net for his sixth goal of the season.
“The excitement and anticipation is huge. The community has been celebrating since we got promoted. Our promotion ended a 12-year wait to play in the NSL,” said Cheruiyot.
Rono has been guiding Silibwet Leons FC for as long as he can remember. He played for the outfit when it started in 1980 as a community club.
“In management alone, I have been with the club since 2015. I have been part of the club for long and served in different capacities. Just like the community, I feel strongly part of the team,” he said.
Rono feels the growth of the club has been gradual. “By the early 1990s, the club joined the Provincial League where we played until 2008 when we joined Division One. Ours has been sheer determination,” he states.
The self-sponsored club that dons an all-yellow home kit and white for away matches and, who use Silibwet Stadium as their home ground, was recently given a huge boost when Deputy President William Ruto donated a 33-seater team bus to them.
Rono says the donation will go a long way in easing the challenge of transportation, especially given that the club has relied so much on contributions from well wishers to honour league matches.
“The team has been struggling without sponsors and has relied on the county government of Bomet to cater for part of their expenses especially on away games.
Honestly, we have not received much from the county government. We had hoped they would at least support the team or even co-own it, but that has not been the case,” Rono said.
“There are so many matches in NSL. We have to make trips to Mombasa to face teams like Modern Coast Rangers, Coast Stima and Mwatate United FC.
Together with other fixtures around the country, we are glad that the issue of transport has been sorted,” he added.
Rono calls on companies and individuals to come on board and assist the team even as they nurse ambitions of qualifying for the Kenyan Premier League.
The club has a national outlook with players from different parts of the country. But Rono says nearly half of the 30 players in the squad come from Silibwet area.
Over the years we have managed to nurture very good players some of whom have gone all the way to premier league.
Zoo FC’s Micah Kipyego and Shadrack Omondi of Kisumu All Stars are some of the players in the Kenyan Premier League who trace their roots to the club.
Head coach coach Lenny Kigen says he couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season where his team currently has 11 points from seven matches having won thrice, drawn two and faced a similar number of defeats.
“I know the boys are fighting as hard as anyone else. Our striker, Cheruiyot, has been a top scorer previously in the lower league and together with the support of his teammates, we can get something special at the end of the season,” Kigen said.
In a region probably known for its athletics prowess, Rono says the fans are really excited to have their team playing in the second tier league.
“For now we can only dream, the journey ahead is tough but we must be brave and keep believing,” concluded Rono.