Doreen Nabwire | Kenya’s First Professional Female Footballer

Doreen Nabwire, the Pioneer of Professional Female Football in Kenya

Opposite Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani’s gate 11 is the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) headquarters, the Goal Project. Waiting for us at the entrance is Doreen Nabwire, FKF’s Women Football Development Officer who doubles up as the Competitions Officer. On the reception walls, there are two giant pictures. One of Victor Wanyama and the other of Doreen or simply Dodo as her peers call her. Until that time, my team did not know just how important our subject for the day is on matters football. One whispered a question to me, “why is her picture next to Wanyama’s?”

doreen nabwire

Photo by African Superwoman

I first met Dodo in June 2014. She was working for a local peace and sports organization while at the same time running Girls Unlimited (GU) discussed below. On many occasions, we attended meetings and activities together. These activities included those that GU conducted. I must admit that working with the person of Doreen Nabwire and seeing her every other day somehow blinded me from seeing the magnitude of her achievements and contributions.

Doreen Nabwire | Growing Up in a Football Family within Nairobi.

Doreen was born in 1987 in Ngomongo area within Nairobi’s Korogocho settlements. She has five siblings, two elder brothers, two younger sisters, and a brother. Dodo’s father was a football player until a hip injury cut short his promising career while still in high school. As she grew up, she watched her brothers Felix Oucho and Antony Khadudu play and this is also where she got interested in football. Doreen would kick anything kickable within the neighborhood from soda cans to homemade footballs. Antony realized her passion and bought Doreen her first football kits.

She joined her first club, North Villas at the age of 10 years. She played for the club for some time without her parent’s knowledge. Her mum learnt of her football activities when, one day, the team went to pick her up from home to go and play. Her mum refused but her father overturned this decision immediately and gave Doreen the go ahead.

Family of Footballers

Antony played in the Kenya Premier League and Felix went on to become a coach in Busia. Her younger sister Christine Nafula is currently playing in Sweden’s Dalheim IF and is a regular in the senior Harambee Starlets squad. Doreen’s younger brother, Eric Johanna, also plays in Sweden’s top side Idrottsföreningen Brommapojkarna (IF Brommapojkarna). Eric plays for the national team and was involved in all the three goals Harambee Stars scored against Ethiopia. He had a goal, an assist, and won a penalty. The last born, Vivian is a student at Kenyatta University. Dodo’s two sons, Tionne and Curtis have also joined Maono Football Academy.

Doreen attended Huruma’s Valley Bridge Primary School and thereafter Maina Wanjigi High School. She later joined Nairobi Aviation where she studied Tours and Travel. She also undertook courses in Cabin Crew and German language at the Goethe Institute, Nairobi.

Doreen Nabwire: Football Journey.

One cannot discuss Doreen’s football journey without mentioning Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA). MYSA played a big role in her football and social development through their sports for development programs. In 1999, 2000, and 2001, the MYSA U14 team took part in the Norway Cup Tournament. In 2000 and 2001, Doreen captained her side to victory in the tournament where she also bagged the best player award. Later in 2001, she debuted for Harambee Starlets against Ethiopia.

Doreen Nabwire Football

A homemade football similar to what Doreen Nabwire used to kick as a child

In 2002 she was part of the national team that played several friendlies at Yale University. The same year, she joined Mathare United Women FC. In 2006 Doreen was part of the MYSA team that won the Street Football World Cup in Berlin. She also captained the U20 national team against Nigeria, Cameroon, and Djibouti in the same year.

2007 was a turning point in Doreen’s life. Being appointed an ambassador for Football for Hope, Doreen gave a speech on the benefits of sports in social work during the 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualification Draw in South Africa, an event broadcasted to over a billion people globally. At the event, she shared the stage with the likes of George Weah, Abedi Pele, Marcel Desailly, Franz Beckenbauer, Lucas Radebe, Christian Karembeu, Thabo Mbeki, and Sepp Blatter.

Doreen Nabwire: Journey and Football in Europe

Leading German documentary filmmaker, Herbert Ostwald, interacted with Doreen and believed in her ability to be successful in Europe. He organized for Doreen to trial with several clubs in 2009 but she did not immediately sign up. This initial setback was not because she lacked talent, but because to live in Germany, she required a work visa. None of the women’s football clubs she attended trials could fulfill the work visa requirement.  During a UN conference in Nairobi, Doreen met Wilfried Lemke, the then UN Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace. Lemke had previously been the Chairman of Werder Bremen’s Supervisory Board. As a result of the meeting, Doreen overcame the visa obstacle and signed with Bundesliga’s Werder Bremen in a deal that saw her also work for the club’s social initiatives, 100% Werder Worldwide and Scort.

Doreen Nabwire

Photo courtesy, FUTAA.COM

Doreen’s debut appearance was a derby pitting Werder Bremen against Hamburger SV. The game ended with a 2-2 draw, Doreen scoring both goals. Just like that, the midfielder announced her arrival in Germany where she remains more popular than in Kenya. In the 2009/10 season, she was the club’s top scorer with seven goals in eighteen appearances, a big achievement for a midfielder.

During the 2010/2011 Season, Doreen moved to the Dutch Eredivisie team FC Zwolle where she also undertook her UEFA C coaching license. In the same year, she founded Girls Unlimited, a female-led sport for development organization that trains children, girls, and women to lead improved and fulfilling lives through behavior change and sports. GU has programmes on health, sanitation, and advocacy among others.  GU activities are conducted by current and former football players. Most of the former players have advanced coaching and management skills.

Doreen returned home and signed for Matuu FC as a playing coach between 2012 and 2013 before going back to Bundesliga’s FC Cologne the same year. In February 2014, she tore an Achilles tendon, an injury that took long to heal and occasionally proves to be problematic whenever she trains or plays.

Doreen Nabwire: Football Management

Doreen’s experience both locally and in Europe made her see the urgent need to develop good structures for women football in Kenya. This reason made her undertake the UEFA coaching course. In addition to Matuu FC, Doreen was also a playing coach at MOYAS FC. In 2016 while being the team manager of Harambee Starlets during the CECAFA tournament in Tanzania, she received criticism for playing. The two main reasons critics cited were her fitness and her role as team manager. I was also concerned about her fitness and I remember asking her about the same. 

doreen nabwire

Photo by Doreen Nabwire

Doreen has also coached the UNICEF and Ministry of Youth and Sports funded National Youth Talent Academy. In the run-up to the 2016 FKF elections, Doreen was passionate about change and her candidate of choice was Nick Mwendwa. She was sure of a win and believed in the change that was to come. The Mwendwa team won and Doreen got an offer within the new management. Everybody agrees that since taking office, there have been more women football activities. The new administration allocated more resources to women football activities and is in the process of putting in structures for different leagues and competitions for girls. She agrees that Kenya is not yet where it should be, but the country is making steps in the right direction.

Challenges remain as discussed in this previous post including lack of moral and financial support from stakeholders like the media, government, fans, and sponsors among others. Doreen states that plans are underway to establish girls’ U13, U15, and U17 national teams. She also believes that putting grassroot structures and competitions for children from the age of eight years will go a long way in helping Kenya become a strong football nation.

Doreen Nabwire: Coaching, Mentorship, and Other Interests

Doreen conducts mentorship and coaching (football and life skills) clinics. She conducts these clinics by herself or through GU.  Most of the girls she has mentored under GU and other places are successful within their clubs and at the national team. Doreen’s dream is to see many women footballers turn professional and also to develop the local women league. True to this, a number of both male and female footballers have gone for trials in Europe and some successfully signed for European clubs. Doreen Nabwire is also a regular pundit and commentator for local and international stations like KWESE Sports.

Doreen Nabwire Mentorship

Photo by Kigali Films

UPDATE

Doreen is among the ten African women pro-footballers that will be featured in the upcoming documentary, Talent of Africa, by Florence Ayisi of the LTA Agency.

Doreen Talent of africa

Photo by Talent of Africa

 

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