In the ever-changing landscape of 1980s Nairobi, the Impala Rugby Club encountered a series of challenges stemming from the growing traffic congestion. The resulting travel woes affected the team’s practices, often leaving them with half-empty sessions starting as late as 6 pm. Matatus, a popular form of public transportation, were in short supply, and the absence of bodas (motorcycle taxis) added to the club’s logistical challenges.
As if this wasn’t enough, Impala RFC found itself in need of a reliable source of income. Competitions demanded extensive travel to places like Kitale, Nakuru, Mombasa, Thika, and even Nandi Hills, all while many of their young players hailed from Kenyan African backgrounds, often studying without a steady income.
The turning point came in 1981 when a creative solution was implemented. Low-powered training lights were installed on the stand side of the field, allowing for later training sessions. The following year, in 1982, a visionary committee member of Impala RFC, Peter Giraudo, proposed an innovative idea: the “Floodlit Championship” competition. Giraudo was confident that this concept could serve as a unique revenue generator for the club, provided the lights could be extended to illuminate both sides of the field.
Dave Rondel, a player from the Gazelles, who had just been involved in constructing the Masinga Dam, informed Giraudo of an opportunity. He revealed that three tall light towers were available from the dam project, each costing only a few thousand shillings. This tip-off set the project in motion. Dan Mwendah, a former player and civil engineer, generously offered his expertise, drafting necessary plans and overseeing the installation.
However, Giraudo soon faced the challenge of procuring potent lights, which proved to be quite expensive. Ron de Haay, a Dutch diplomat and Gazelles player, stepped in to help secure these lights duty-free via diplomatic channels. Thus, in late 1982, the ambitious project took flight, with numerous other club members and sponsors chipping in with funds, cables, switches, a scoreboard, and extra stands.
Initially, the Kenya Rugby Football Union (KRFU) greeted the Floodlit Championship concept with skepticism. At that time, the Kenya Cup was contested with split sides, though it was scheduled to return to one side per team in 1983. There appeared to be no room in the rugby calendar for a two-week tournament, as other clubs had already locked in sevens tournaments, 10-A-Side competitions, and similar events.
Impala had an ingenious proposal: to hold the Floodlit Championship in the preseason preceding the official season kickoff in March (in those years). They also suggested adopting the “split team” Kenya Cup concept, requiring major clubs like Impala, Harlequins, and Nondescripts to field two XVs. The Impala Boks and Gazelles, Quins Vandals and Ruffians, and Nondescripts Lions and Tigers were born. Mean Machine, KUC Blak Blad, and, in subsequent years, Mwamba, among other clubs, joined the competition. Eventually, the KRFU granted their approval.
In 1983, Peter Giraudo assumed the role of Chairman of Impala RFC and was elated when his intuition and vision for a distinctive floodlit tournament proved to be an enormous success in February of that year. The evening matches resonated particularly well with young Kenyan fans. Crowds swelled to such an extent that Impala officials had to summon substantial police reinforcements to manage the influx of spectators from all directions. The main club at Impala raked in additional revenue from bar and food services, while the rugby side benefited from gate profits.
The inaugural final in 1983 witnessed a thrilling clash between the Nondescripts Lions and the Impala Gazelles, drawing the largest crowd Impala had seen in years. Thanks to the stellar performance of “Player of the Tournament” David Evans, Nondies triumphed over a determined Impala side in a nail-biting match. The Guest of Honour, Attorney General Matthew Mulli, awarded the Player trophy to Evans, while Peter Giraudo, as Chairman of Impala RFC, presented the Main Cup to the Lions, marking them as the inaugural champions of what would become a legendary fixture in Kenyan rugby for decades to come.
The gate proceeds from the 1983 final alone amounted to ten thousand shillings, which, by today’s standards, would be equivalent to approximately four hundred and fifty thousand shillings. Impala RFC finally had the means to support their players with transportation, procure new equipment and gear, and cover travel expenses for away matches. Chairman Giraudo promptly channeled the newfound funds into expanding his vision of Colts rugby at Impala, catering to players under the age of 21. This move led to a significant influx of talented schoolboy and university-level members and, eventually, the establishment of the undefeated Impala Colts XV.
From those modest beginnings, the tournament evolved into a consistent fixture on the Kenyan rugby calendar. Year after year, it served as the preferred pre-season competition for clubs gearing up for the league, acting as a stepping stone for numerous rugby players’ careers.
On a lighter note, it also found its place as one of the premier social events on the Nairobi entertainment scene. Remarkably, even after 40 years, Floodies continues to thrive and captivate both rugby enthusiasts and casual fans alike.
Most Successful Teams
Mean Machine 9 titles (1984,1991, 1993, 1994, 1995,1996, 2004,2006,2011)
KCB 9 titles (2005,2007,2013,2014,2015,2017,2018,2019, 2022)
Impala 7 titles (1999,2000,2001,2003,2009, 2010, 2016)
Barclays 4 titles (1985,1987,1989,1992)
Mwamba 3 titles (1986,1988,2008)
Kenya Harlequin (1990,1997,1998)
Strathmore Leos (2011)
Floodies Roll Of Honor
1984: Mean Machine
1990: Kenya Harlequin
1991: Mean Machine
1993: Mean Machine
1994: Mean Machine
1995: Mean Machine
1996: Mean Machine
1997: Kenya Harlequin
1998: Kenya Harlequin
2004: Mean Machine
2006: Mean Machine
2011: Strathmore Leos
2011: Mean Machine
2020: Not played
2021: Not played
*There were two editions of the tournament in 2011. Strathmore Leos won the 29th edition of the tournament in March 2011 with Mean Machine winning the 30th edition of the tournament in October 2011.