Doreen Nabwire: Meet First Kenyan Woman to Play Professional Football In Europe

A File Image of Doreen Nabwire Playing for FC Zwolle (l) and Harambee Starlets

For many years, Kenya has dominated athletics, both at continental and global levels. Even though the country has not replicated the same in other sports, it would be unfair to claim that it cannot produce talents in other sports.

In football, Kenya has produced sensational players: Victor Wanyama, Michael Olunga and Doreen Nabwire. However, little is known of Nabwire, who became the first woman to play professional football in Europe.

Born to a family of six in Ngomongo, Doreen began playing football in the streets of Nairobi's Mathare slums. She followed in the footsteps of her elder brothers and sister, who shared the same love for the game.

At her tender age and ripe with talent, she was discovered by some players who told her about the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA), which had a programme that empowered the young through football. MYSA was being supported by Norway.

A Undated Image of Doreen Nabwire, Kenya's First Woman to Play Professional Football in Europe
Doreen Nabwire

The young talent wanted to join the Mathare United women's team, but her mother was just not having it. At the time, not many people were receptive to the idea of girls or women playing football.

“My mother believed that it's a man's game and did not want me to play it," she once revealed during an interview.

Doreen went through all lengths, from doing her chores in good time, to arranging with her friends to go plead with her mother to allow her to play, but the answer remained the same—no!

Her father, who also had a stint in football, did not think that the game was enough for his daughter. However, both parents gave in to their daughter's pressure and became her biggest fans.

In 1998, Nabwire was called for trials, and she made the North Villas team under MYSA team that would participate in the Norway Cup. She became a regular in the team, captaining it in the 2000 and 2001 competitions.

She was then absorbed into the senior women's team in Mathare. 

In 2006, she represented Kenya in the first ever street football World Cup in Berlin, Germany, which she won. Nabwire was selected as Kenya's Football For Hope Ambassador in 2007.

Her breakthrough to the international scene came when she met Wilfried Lemke, an adviser to the President of the German side, Werder Bremmen. 

Nabwire was recommended to Lemke by then German Ambassador to Kenya. Spotting her talent, the scout assured her that he would facilitate her move and stay to Werder Bremen if she passed the forthcoming trials in Bremen, which she did.

"I went to Bremen and I passed the trials after scoring a hat-trick in a friendly," she narrated.

The stellar performance accelerated her move to the German side. On foreign soil, she maintained her form, scoring 13 goals in her maiden campaign and bagging the golden boot.

In 2010, she joined FC Zwolle in the Netherlands, scoring her debut goal in her second appearance for the club. While at the club, she signed up for coaching classes, earning the UEFA C coaching license.

Bwire returned to Kenya, joining MOYAS football club as a player coach and helped them win the Kenya Super 8 League. She then joined Matuu FC in 2012 and won the Kenya Women's Premier League.

In November 2013, she was signed by German side FC Koln. However, a knee injury led to the premature end of her illustrious career in Europe. She retired back to the country and set out to become a manager.

She was the team manager for the Hrambee Starlets and would see them secure qualification to the Africa Cup for the first time in 2016. Nabwire now serves as the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Deputy Competitions Manager. 

Notably, Nabwire is the elder sister of Eric Yohanna, who plays for the Harambee Stars while working for a club in Sweden  - and Christine Nafula, who also plays in Sweden.

Her elder brothers, Felix Oucho and Anthony Kadudu, have played for several local teams.

Harambee Starlets celebrates its bronze trophy at the conclusion of the Turkish Women’s Cup on March 10, 2020.
Harambee Starlets celebrates its bronze trophy at the conclusion of the Turkish Women’s Cup on March 10, 2020.