'We'd walk 10km just for a game' - Victor on upbringing in Kenya
Sat 25 June 2016, 12:05|Tottenham Hotspur
With Victor Wanyama celebrating his 25th birthday today (Saturday, June 25), there’s no better time to hear from our new recruit about his childhood and early years in Kenya.
Born in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi on June 25, 1991, Victor attended Kamukunji High School. Following his time there he played with JMJ Academy for three years and represented Kenyan Premier League clubs Nairobi City Stars and AFC Leopards.
His first venture outside of his home country came in 2007 when he linked up with older brother McDonald Mariga at Swedish club Helsingborg. He left shortly after Mariga’s departure to Italian side Parma but, despite only being with his sibling for a short time in Scandinavia, Victor credits Mariga a lot for helping him to make his way in the beautiful game.
His next stop was Belgium where he played for Beerschot AC (pictured below) between 2008-11 before later representing Scottish side Celtic (2011-13) and Premier League outfit Southampton (2013-16). On the international scene, Victor made his debut for Kenya at just 15 years of age and has since gone on to become captain of his national side.
In addition to Mariga, who was part of Inter Milan’s treble-winning side of 2009-10 in Italy, a number of Victor’s other family members have been involved in football. His older brothers Thomas and Sylvester Wanyama have played in the Kenyan Premier League while his father, Noah Wanyama, represented AFC Leopards in the 1980s. His sister Mercy is a professional basketball player in the USA.
We asked Victor to tell us about his early years in Kenya – and he promptly revealed the extremes he would go to, just to play his favourite sport…
Victor, your footballing journey obviously began in Nairobi as a child. What are your recollections of those early days?
Victor: “I started in the streets. I used to go to play football with my friends and sometimes we’d walk something like 10 kilometres just to go and play with some other guys. That’s how I started getting interested in football. Also I enjoyed watching and following the Premier League. That’s how my journey started.”
So you’d walk all that way for a game?! How did you find the energy to actually play when you got there?
Victor: “We used to just walk past street after street and when we arrived there was no rest, we just played and then went back home again. It was a good time and I think it was a good thing to do as well.”
Set the scene for us – tell us about your surroundings…
Victor: “We used to play in the street with bare feet. The pitches weren’t so good but it was also a good experience and I believe that made me strong and helped in my upbringing. It was a hard way to grow as a player but it was really good.”
Above: Victor's brother McDonald Mariga in action for Kenya against Guinea at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi in 2008.
How much did your family members inspire you as a youngster?
Victor: “My dad and my older brother (McDonald Mariga) really played a big part in my career. My brother went to Sweden and then I followed him there and that’s how I kick-started my career because I learned a lot of things when I was with him. He taught me a lot and that’s how I knew it’s not easy to be like him and to achieve what he has achieved. I always had him in front of me and I was following in his footsteps. It was a great way to do it, following what he did and that’s what helped me to reach here I think.”
Did you encounter any obstacles along the way?
Victor: “No because my father and my brother made me think that everything is possible. Watching my brother win the Champions League with Inter (in 2010) was really good and from that day my dad has always encouraged me to work harder and make sure I also try to achieve what my older brother did. That’s still a dream which I believe one day will come true.”