Mathare United – from Nairobi’s sprawling slums – are set to compete in the African Champions League after winning their first Kenyan championship.

By Mark Gleeson in Johannesburg

The remarkable story of Kenya’s Mathare United has taken another positive turn with a first-ever league championship for the ‘Slum Boys’ and a place in this year’s (2009) African Champions League.

It comes 21 years after the formation of a youth sports association to provide a distraction from the poverty and crime in the sprawling slum land just a few kilometers from the centre of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

Canadian Bob Munro founded the Mathare Youth Sports Association after being moved by the sight of bare-foot youngsters kicking around balls made from plastic bags.

Football sides, and later leagues, were started to hand some hope to the slum’s youth, but Munro insisted playing was combined with the young footballers also participating in community service projects, like cleaning up the vast mountains of garbage that characterise the look of the urban slum.

The MYSA now has more than 1200 teams and 15 000 players, both boys and girls. Playing for Mathare United, who Munro started up in 1994, remains the goal of many of the youngsters, the club having already turned out a bevy of Kenyan internationals in its short history.

The best known of them is Dennis Oliech, now at French Ligue 1 outfit Auxerre, who was snatched away from the club to Qatar without any compensation in a alleged dodgy deal that FIFA never sought to resolve because of the involvement of its vice president Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Success in the Kenya premier league for Mathare United came in a tight finish to the league, the title being secure with one game to go in the season. The side were coached to glory by Francis Kimanzi, who at 32 was also made Kenya’s national coach in June and took the Harambee Stars to the last phase of the African qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup finals, which start next month. (March).

Mathare United now set out in search if wider continental glory, and have been drawn against Zambia’s ZESCO United in the first round of the Champions League.