By Hillary Mukasa
If there is a high school that has ever made the greatest football impact in Kenya then it has to be Kakamega High School. Popularly known as the Green Commandos (GC), they ruled Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA) football competitions for almost a decade between 1980 and 1990. During that period they were champions in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1986, 1989 and 1990. They had earlier on won the title for the first time in 1979, a feat that no other high school has ever achieved. Call it joy or happiness or pleasure, education and combat and you will have got the meaning football.
Football means Kakamega High School and Kakamega High School means Football. This is undeniably a home to a galaxy of football stars that played for KPL teams countrywide.
From Mike Amwayi, Reginald Asibwa, Joseph “Moreno” Atitwa, Dennis Munyendo, Martin Musisi, Mike Kisaghi, Patrick “Omar bongo” Shilasi, Eliud Omukuya, Mike “Computer” Wambani to Simon “Seppe” Mulama, Japhary Oyando, Maurice Sunguti, Bonventure Maruti, Sebastian Owino and Mohammed Fwaya.
But what is it that made the Green Commandos indispensable?
Chris Makokha the unmatched coach
The presence of experienced coach Chris Makokha (deceased) was fundamental in the Green Commandos football dynasties. Makokha a physics and Mathematics teacher attended a coaching course in Brazil and embraced a unique football philosophy that greatly appealed to the Green Commandos football fans. He also attended a coaching course in Italy. The fans fancied the Green Commandos fluid football so much that they loved it, they lived it. Makokha was as good in teaching Physics as he was in coaching football. The coaching phenomenal believed in winning aesthetically and following the rules of the game. He taught his players a passing game that was beautifully exemplified. He encouraged an attacking mentality and strongly emphasized on teamwork.
The coach who wore thick glasses due to his poor eyesight was always very serious on the pitch during training. He never allowed the ball to leave the ground. If a player lifted the ball unnecessarily it would result in a foul. “Why are you lifting the ball?” he would ask. “Why are you using your leg like a spoon?” he would be heard yelling. He emphasized on the attacking players going to the near post and delivering a home pass to team mates in order to score easy goals. The goals indeed kept on coming. “Sometimes after we won a match Chris Makokha would tell the team that we did not measure to his standards. On the contrary, he would tell his friends after the same match that today my boys really played wonderfully. He used a lot of psychology to prevent us from developing ego especially after winning”. Recalls Japhary Oyando the vice captain of the “1995 class of legends”. Chris Makokha was very humorous outside the field. At one point in a physics class he gave a story of a Man called Handa who really feared women and that one day he was given a girl but he jumped and ran away through the window of his house.
Makokha was always precise and to the point. The Green Commandos was a scientist’s team. The team did their physical exercise in the morning before classes so that in the evening the coach would concentrate on technique, tactics and mental strength. The coach conducted football classes whereby he would watch and analyze recorded matches with the players. So much was his believe in Brazilian football philosophies that he knew no other way of play. He liked using examples of the 1970 Brazilian team such as Roberto Rivellino, Gerson and Pele the King of football on planet earth. This Brazilian team is regarded as the best National team ever to win a world cup final. Makokha himself wore his trademark Brazilian jersey on several occasions. The coach prioritized technique and touch. He was more concerned with how the team played than the outcome of the match. At some point when the team won without playing beautifully and to instructions, the coach would get disappointed and criticize the win. Players were not encouraged to play more than two touches. “Control and pass” were the sentiments heard from the coach during training and matches. Makokha was a perfectionist. He is the Pep Guardiola of today. Apart from remarkable coaching, Chris Makokha was a great scout and the school admitted players with prodigy.
Quality facilities and football fanatic fans
Kakamega High School boasts of tremendous sports facilities. The school has two very standard pitches with brilliant playing surfaces which could easily be confused with artificial turf. The 2 rugby fields serve as the third and fourth soccer pitches. The main football pitch is called Mabao Stadium as it is here where most teams are humbled and taught football lessons by being scored plenty of goals. Uniforms and balls are always in adequate supply. Everyone in the school from the principal, teachers, students to support staff have no option of loving the cherished game. Football culture in Kakamega High School is as old as the school itself. During crucial matches at Bukhungu Stadium and neighboring schools, all the students were given permission to march out of the school to cheer their beloved team to glory. The fans never disappointed. The cheering squad woke up at 5.00 am in the morning to sing and dance in preparation for the matches. Before serious matches the fans even organized themselves in groups the previous night and rehearsed all the songs that they would sing the following day. They couldn’t wait for the real day of the match. So serious and passionate were these cheering squads that they had leaders.
Most of the cheering squad rarely concentrated on watching the matches. The simple reason is because their core business was singing praise songs for the Green Commandos. They only watched when there was a goal by GC. The cheering songs would praise the Green Commandos and ridicule their opponents. “Oooyeee Oooyeee”, “Nationally”. The fans would chant urging the team to qualify for the National Championship which was the dream of every competing team. The team had an anthem which the fans sang before the match. Like the National anthem, everyone would stand at attention in respect of the Green Commandos anthem. At one point in a crucial match against rivals Ingotse High School from Kakamega, the Green Commandos anthem included a phrase “Ingotse Mapera”. This was possibly to demean the opponents which mostly worked against them.
Great Football Exposure
The fact that Kakamega High School is Located in the home of football, the Green Commandos inevitably got a lot of exposure by playing against superior opponents. Ministry of Works (MOW) football team formerly (MOTCOM) which was playing in the premier league trained at Kakamega High School as their training ground. Chris Makokha doubled up as the coach of MOW and the Green Commandos. Being a father of the two teams meant that they fed from the same plate. They both trained at Kakamega High School and played each other frequently in mid-week friendlies.
The boys in the Green Commandos were lucky to train with household names in MOW like Eliud Omukuya, Dennis Munyendo a biology teacher in the school in the nineties, Mike “computer” Wambani, Santos Muhindi, Ongoli and “ofaque”. Most of the Green Commandos players impressed and gained an automatic promotion to MOW which gave them a chance to play in the KPL. Kakamega High School was a breeding ground for MOW while AFC Leopards was the biggest beneficiary of players from MOW. The transition up the ladder was very smooth. The Green Commandos also played friendly matches with Mumias Sugar and Kakamega Posta. Kakamega Posta used the Upper pitch of the school to train as they were also playing in the 2nd tier league in the Country.
Eternal Rivals of the Green Commandos
Just like the rivalry between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards, Manchester United against Arsenal, Celtic versus Glasgow Rangers, AC Milan versus Inter Milan, the Green Commandos were no exception from bitter rivalry. Winning football matches is the ultimate satisfaction of all fans in schools, villages and clubs in Kakamega. Football is in their blood and it’s like religion. In the yesteryears, football rivalry for the Green Commandos began as early as the zonal level which was the lowest starting point. Kakamega High School rivals at this point were Ingotse and Mukumu Boys. In the other zone of Kakamega district there was Musingu and Makhokho high school. Many at times the Green Commandos beat Ingotse in a pulsating encounter while Musingu beat Makhokho in their tough derbies.
The match between the Green Commandos and the Scorpions from Musingu during the Districts competition was mouthwatering. It was a battle of the titans. Both teams exhibited flamboyant football. On a good day at Bukhungu Stadium, a match between these Kings of Kakamega left fans mesmerized by the scintillating football “made in Kakamega”. They saw everything they wanted from a football match. From the footwork’s of Bernard Agunda (deceased), Stephen Okumu (deceased), Bernard Makuto of Musingu to the genius displays of Simeon “Seppe” Mulama, Maurice Sunguti and Japhary Oyando of the Green Commandos. Unlike Ingotse High School which opted to play hard tackling football, Musingu played fluid passes with high sportsmanship. In the battle between the Green Commandos and the Scorpions, both teams played tactical football and the team that made a mistake automatically lost the match. At provincial level, stiff opposition was from Chesamis High School from Bungoma and Mundika from Busia. The Green Commandos more often than not made minced meat from all these opposition. At national level there was stiff competition from Iterio, Kisii, Ofafa Jericho and Mombasa High schools.
Beautiful football wins gold in the National Championship in Meru
Every team and country has its highs and lows, golden era and the dry spell. For the Green Commandos the golden era was between 1979 and 1990 when they swept everything before them. 1991 to 1994 was the dry spell when the winners’ trophy eluded them. This jinx was to disappear in 1995.
Meru was the venue of the football extravaganza. All roads led to the Mt Kenya region. During this football feast the fans did not only enjoy Khat popularly known as “miraa” but they also had a football recipe. That year evokes images of greatness. The Green Commandos repeated their style of football that had dominated high school football for so long. The fans at home were in love with that team and they needed something to celebrate. The face of the team was Chris Makokha the Physics teacher, by far the best high school football coach ever. He had coached AFC leopards, MOTCOM and the national team Harambee Stars. With such a highly experienced coach the Green Commandos had only one option but to win.
This team had a fabulous line up of players with pedigree. The squad was as follows: goal keepers, Sebastian Owino and Mohammed Fwaya; Defenders; Ahmed Mohammed, Stanslus Kangaiya, Isaiah Imbusi, John “John Toss” Amimo, Naftali Bosire and Hassan “Mswahili” Denje. The midfield was composed of John “Director” Khalid (deceased), Japhary Oyando, Jonah Mwangi, Simon “Seppe” Mulama. The striking force included Morris Sunguti, Bonventure Maruti and Abdul “Abdudu” Akhonya (deceased). Also in the team were Abdalla Ahmed, Otinga and Emanuel.
These stellar names were too good for any high school opposition. They would comfortably play in the Kenya Premier League and bid for the title. The Green Commandos arrived in Meru not only confident but expectant of victory. They were the overwhelming favorites. The team played all matches to the final unbeaten. In the finals they played against former Champions Ofafa Jericho from Nairobi. Ofafa Jericho the runners up had Eric Omondi and Brian Okumu as their marksmen. “Our team was so talented and with a very experienced coach. Ofafa Jericho and Mombasa high school were the only tough teams although they wouldn’t match us”, says Japhary Oyando .Maurice Sunguti was the captain of GC and he never disappointed. The Green Commandos had reclaimed the trophy that they had missed for almost 5 years.
The extremely talented players in the Green Commandos team of 1995 had combined to form the heartbeat of the side. The squad was incredible. All the players knew each other and played a clean and disciplined game. They never changed the characteristics of their football. Both goalkeepers would rise to the occasion in any match. They were equally good and the coach was spoilt of choice. Isaiah Imbusi, Ahmed Mohammed, Stanslaus Kangaiya, Hassan “Mswahili” Ndenje and John Amimo were the cornerstone of defense. Imbusi was a giant in body and also a giant in the game. The midfield trinity of Simon “Seppe” Mulama, Jonah Mwangi and Japhary Oyando was simply the best. They had the talent to impress the purest hearts. They dominated and entertained even their opponents. They were unmatched in the tournament. There will never be such a combination again.
The striking force of Bonaventure Maruti, Abdul “Abdudu” Akhonya and Maurice Sunguti the ever reliable Captain was irresistible. Maruti had supersonic speed and a ferocious shot that could burst a net. In fact in 1995 he had qualified to represent Western province in the nationals in the 100m sprints. Coincidentally, the athletics competition and the provincial football finals coincided. He opted to play in the football provincial finals and scored beautiful and crucial goals that helped Kakamega High School qualify for the nationals in Meru. Abdul Akhonya was a footwork wizard. He toyed and teased defenders. He also had speed. Maurice Sunguti was a mercurial striker. He had perfect ball control and tremendous dribbling skills. He scored goals that were both clinical and vital. He won many games for the Green Commandos.
Illuminating Careers after Green Commandos
All the stellar names of this dreaded team joined the Kenya Premier league teams. After completion of school the biggest star in goalkeeping Mohammed Fwaya joined Utalii FC then AFC Leopards. Sebastian Owino joined Utalii FC. The biggest stars in defense Isaiah Imbusi joined Nzoia Sugar, Mumias Sugar then Sony Sugar. Stanslaus Kangaiya joined Mahakama FC; John Amimo joined Utalii FC and then Chemilil FC. Mohammed Ahmed briefly went to the Kenyan coast then to USA to work in an oil field. The greatest stars in midfield Japhary Oyando joined Utalii FC, KCB and Tusker FC where he also became captain. Simeon “Seppe” Mulama played for Mathare United, AFC Leopards, Ismailia of Egypt and also in Sweden. Jonah Mwangi played for MOW, Kenya Pipeline then Sher Karuturi. The greatest stars in attacking Bonventure Maruti played for Gor Mahia before turning professional in Sweden. Maurice Sunguti played for AFC Leopards, Express FC Uganda, Yanga FC in Tanzania and then played professional football in Sweden. Abdul Akhonya (deceased) played for MOW and Shabana FC then Utalii FC. Most of these players also donned the National team jersey.
All players in this team are proud to have played for the Green Commandos. Two decades down the memory lane these football icons are still fresh in the minds of football fans all over the country. Those who watched this team will never forget the memories. Those who did not watch them will never know what they missed.
More glory after the “Class of 95”
Once a giant always a giant. After that remarkable performance by that team, Kakamega High School went on a trophy drought until 2008 when the Vitalis Kangaiya coached team clinched the title after beating Waa boys from Mombasa province in a deadly penalty shootout. It was a wonderful performance from the team led by the Deputy Principal as the head coach while Brenden Mwinamo was the Team Manager at that time in point. The former Kings repeated the feat in 2014 when the games were hosted by Kakamega High School. They beat Kisumu day 1-0 in the “Junior Mashemeji derby” in a capacity filled Bukhungu Stadium under Brenden Mwinamo the team tactician. In 2017 the Green Commandos deservedly won the Copa Coca-Cola Secondary Schools Term Two “A” National Games at Shanzu Teachers College Mombasa in the U-16 football.
Like most Principals in the school, Oliver Minishi will be remembered for his invaluable support for the team and other games in the famous school. In 2018, a talented outfit led by Coach Brendan Mwinamo won the 14th National Secondary School football title with a 1-0 win over Central regions Olbosot at the Hill School in Eldoret. Principal Gerald Orina was at the helm of the school during this success and was elated at the victory. It is also in 2018 that the Green Commandos made History by becoming the first high school to qualify for the National Super league (NSL) by emerging number one in their division one Zone B table. This time there was no Chris Makokha, no Simon Mulama, no Japhary Oyando and no Bonventure Maruti in the squad.