By Hillary Mukasa
The “Green Commandos” of Kakamega High School is music to the ears of many football lovers countrywide. The Green Commandos is the hottest football property in the Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA) football competitions in Kenya for the obvious reason. In 2018 they clinched their 14th National Secondary School games football title with a 1-0 win over Central region’s Olbolosat at Hill School in Eldoret. Winning the coveted football award 14 times cannot be said to be a weakness.
The people’s game reaches Thika
The 1986 KSSSA football National Championships were held in Thika and there was only one Green Commandos in that competition. The Green Commandos arrived in Thika with an array of stars in their squad, with the quest to regain the trophy that had eluded them in 1984 and 1985. In the preliminaries the Green Commandos drew 0-0 with a star studded Iterio High School. They beat Jamhuri High School 1-0 courtesy of a goal by the late Hezron Osuka who was the team Captain. A solitary goal by Mike ‘Computer’ Wambani was enough to haunt Kwale High School. In the semifinals against Chewoyet Milton Orwe Obote scored the all-important goal that sent the mighty Green Commandos to the final leaving their opponents heartbroken. Guess which team the Green Commandos were going to meet in the finals. It was the star studded Iterio High School that had indispensable names like Mike Okoth Origi, Henry ‘Ndovu’ Motego, Richard Otambo, the late Henry Nyandoro, the late Vincent ‘Jerican ’Abuga, Evans Nyariki, Anthony Walioba, Salim ‘baba’ Mabruk to mention but a few. It was entirely Shabana FC.
The real final
“My best moment was when we clinched the coveted trophy. Iterio was a very strong side and having played against them in the preliminaries, beating them in the finals was definitely going to be a tall order. Meeting a team twice in a tournament is always a big challenge. By God’s grace we won and we had achieved the highest prize. We were the best side. The win established Kakamega High School as the Kenyan football dominant force. I played for 90 minutes and one thing I never attempted to do in my life was to kick a penalty. When it came to penalty shootout I would quickly remove my boots. The phobia that I had of taking penalties was similar to the one I have for swimming and heights. The late Coach Chris Makokha had taught us on the techniques of kicking penalties. We had the best penalty takers in Hezron ‘Zama’ Osuka, (I miss him) Stephen ‘Rhino’ Etole, late Joash Okon’go, Julius ‘Edinho’ Were, Patrick ‘Agotse’ Namai, Sylvanus ‘Pom’ Bulinda and Milton Orwe Obote.
Everyone in our team would take a penalty except me. Hezron Osuka would always take our first penalty kick. In the 1986 finals penalty shootout the gods were smiling elsewhere when our best penalty kicker missed the first kick. Imagine our midfield general and talisman losing a penalty in the final. You can imagine how tense I was. It was so devastating. Mike Okoth Origi and his big frame in goal was so intimidating. Nevertheless we beat one of the best goalkeepers in the tournament. I thank all our penalty kickers that day so very much wherever they are. They made us proud under our Principal Mr. John “K” Kinaro. Our scorers in the extremely tense shootout were Joash Okon’go, Patrick Namai, Julius Were, and Mike Wambani. Iterio scored through Richard Otambo and Anthony Walioba. The late Vincent Abuga and Henry Motego were not lucky enough as they missed their spot kicks. We beat our opponents hands down”. Mike Otieno recalls emotionally how they beat Iterio in the finals.
Mike Kisaghi was the first choice goalkeeper and unfortunately he was injured in the start of the finals. Kisaghi had started in all the matches until the final without losing any match. He brought teamwork and was in control of his territory. He was good when corners were taken by the opponents and would dive full length to save low shorts. He was humble and knew how to psyche the team. “We were not sure his replacement, former ‘division F ‘goalkeeper Charles Atsole would fit in the big gloves of the injured Mike Kisaghi. Atsole a gift from heaven was ever happy and humble. He was a good friend to our great soccer fan James William Agollah the ‘Duke’ of Marachi. The goalkeeper who would later join Kimbo FC would punch away Henry ‘Ndovu’ Motego’s thunderous shots and at times get lay on the ground for first aid because of very bad bruises that were oozing blood and were very painful. He was nursing some bruises before and they had not recovered well. The pain however did not deter him from emerging as the best goalkeeper in the finals. On that day he outshone Mike Okoth who would later turn into a striker and become the first Kenyan to play professional football in Belgium. Atsole was so humble that he would not even harm a fly. His reflexes would make you think he did not have bones. He did us proud on that memorable day”. Says Mike Otieno Ojay to give him his three names.
The Green Commandos defense was simply the best in the Championship. Patrick ‘Agotse’ Namai was one of the coolest, calm and collected central defenders. Reginald Asibwa possessed toughness, ruthlessness, tackler and ready to die to win. Mike Otieno describes Asibwa: “It’s like his head was made of steel and he was excellent in aerial duels. He was Mr. Funny and encouraged the team to win. If an opposing striker was not lucky during a match he would easily leave the pitch with a broken limb. He was Mundu Khu Mundu meaning a man to man marker. In a match between MOTCOM and Gor Mahia at Bukhungu stadium Asibwa almost killed me in an aerial duel. I jumped to flick the ball and he head butt me. So serious was the injury that Gor Mahia had to leave me behind for medical attention as they travelled back to Nairobi. Julius ‘Edinho’ Were, a leader in the defense with unmatched composure would tackle you fairly off to the running truck. Sylvanus Bulinda had a ferocious shot that could break a net. His shots broke a good number of windows at Kakamega High School. Sometimes the ball could even get lost.
He took over from his predecessor George ‘Nyangi’ Odembo who also had an awesome shooting power. Milton Orwe Obote was the engine of the team and he was given the role of playing everywhere on the pitch. He played as a winger but Chris Makokha would tell him to play freely on the pitch. He would be in the midfield, defense and scoring too. Asked to name the first eleven in the Green Commandos squad of 1986 Mike Otieno said the whole team would make a first eleven. The team had a great and humble tiny player who was nicknamed ‘Kiddy’ for his artistry at the flanks. To give him his full name Isaac Kwoba would do whatever he wanted with the ball and produced brilliant crosses and several assists. He was a specialist in set pieces. He was generous and he still is. The striking was razor sharp. Mike ‘Computer’ Wambani was one of the best wingers in Kenyan football and scored at all stages. His striking combination with Mike Otieno and Milton Orwe Obote was simply deadly. These strikers had telepathic relationship upfront. The midfield was controlled by one of the coolest midfielder Hezron ‘Zama’ Osuka. Osuka was the Captain of the Kenya schools team that toured Zambia in 1986. Julius ‘Edinho’ Were was the School Games Captain.
The presence of former Green Commandos football masters
“Our principal then Mr. John ‘K’ Kinaro a Kisii with Luhya blood was present during the memorable final. Our Green Commandos legends Mike ‘Ocheche’ Amwayi, Peter lichungu, Peter Ouma, George ‘Nyangi’ Odembo, Peter Zimbo Owade, Dan Musuku and Patrick ‘Omari Bongo’ Shilasi came to cheer the team. Just seeing them around was a big statement. Why? Because they were Champions at Green Commandos. They had made history so the weight was on us to keep the narrative of winning. We had to win. We stepped up, won the coveted trophy and returned it to where it belonged. THE SCHOOL WE KNOW”. Says Mike Otieno Ojay.
Coaching par excellence
The glory of Kakamega High School football cannot be talked about without the mention the late Coach Chris Makokha because it would be unfair. His assistant was the late Kwendo. Chris Makokha, serious and methodical is arguably one of the best youth coaches the country has seen. The Brazilian trained coach was far ahead of time and the Green Commandos were privileged to attend football classes. They watched video clips especially for the triumphant Brazilian team of 1970 that included Pele, Tostao, Rivellino, Jairzinho and Captain Carlos Alberto Torres. They also watched video clips of the 1982 Brazilian team that included football monsters such as the bearded captain Socrates and Zico. What else would you need from a Coach. No wonder the Green Commandos were the ‘little Brazil’ in the way they played. Chris Makokha taught the players the four pillars of football exceptionally well; Physical, Technical, Tactical, Psychological. Mike Ojay says this about the coach: “Chris inspired many of us to be what we became in the game. Chris, the late Sammy Nyongesa, Mwalimu Mukonyi of Musingu Scorpions, Joram Roy, Mohamed Kheri and the late Jonathan Niva were great coaches who had been trained by Bernard Zgoll from Germany and they had great passion for the game. They were not money driven. I salute these coaches. Chris Makokha would tell us during training to control, pass, and create space. The ball should always move forward. We should attack and defend as a team. Great coach he was. Simple coaching. Anyone of us who went to Kakamega High School like my brother William Ojonyo Ojay would tell you that Chris Makokha inspired so many of us to be coaches”. In summary Chris Makokha was an experienced coach, big name and a perfect coach for the team.
Motivating factors on and off the pitch
The positive results of the team perfectly illustrated the good welfare of the team. The Principal Mr. John “K” Kinaro’s support for games in the school was immensely satisfying and the reward was success. This attracted most of the best players in the school. The meals for the soccer players to be precise were of high quality. They fed on the top layer in the dining hall. After training milk was always provided to the players and we trained twice a day. As Gideon Mwololo a former Kenyan International footballer puts it in his book titled “CHAMPIONSHIP DNA: The hidden greatness in you,” the Green Commandos were always ahead of every team in terms of training, diet and sacrifice. The Green Commandos players endured a lot of pain in training and the expectations from the fans were very high. The school provided all the support and there was pressure to win. The team had no excuse of not winning. Losing would be a taboo. Losing would devastate everyone and it would bring a sad state in the school and in the village. In the event of losing a match, players, fans and even staffs would go to an extent of being angry and crying. The Green Commandos fans were accustomed to success. Almost all students, staffs and the villagers would watch the Green Commandos training every day. Such was the passion and love for the team. Chris Makokha doubled up as the MOTCOM coach and the two teams trained at the Kakamega High School football pitch. Most of the GC players turned out for MOTCOM in the top tier league .Mike Otieno points out this: “Eliud Omukuya, Dennis Munyendo and George ‘Nyangi’ Odembo motivated me so much when I joined MOTCOM. In school I was called Oti Mabiala- GU Oti. The school gave us a lot of exposure. In addition to training with and playing friendly matches with MOTCOM, we played in the Iqbal- JJ Masiga Cup, played against the Mighty Gor Mahia at City Stadium and drew 2-2, played friendly matches against our peers such as St. Peters Mumias and Kibabii High School in Bungoma amongst others. After the National Championships for secondary schools some Green Commandos players like Osuka and Etole were selected to play for the junior National team and also toured Italy. A good number of players from Kakamega High School including Mike Otieno, el Captain Hezron Osuka, Patrick Namai and Sylvanus Bulinda were selected in the National Secondary School team that played in Zambia and Chris Makokha was the Coach of the team”. Another motivating factor is that in the eighties and nineties many Companies sponsored football teams and when they signed the players they offered them employment. Some of these Companies included Mumias Sugar, Nzoia, Sony, Chemelil, Rivatex, Barclays bank, KCB, Eldoret KCC, KTM, Kenya Breweries, KFA, MOTCOM and many others. Some companies would come to pick players from school immediately they finished their final examination paper so that they would not be grabbed by other teams. So good were those days that one really wonders what happened. That is a story for another day.
Fame and fortune
After Green Commandos, Mike Kisaghi and Isaac Kwoba joined Eldoret KCC. Mike Kisaghi also played for Barclays, Shamako Babes, Maziwa, Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars. He is currently the Sports director at KCA University. Hezron Osuka, Stephen Etole, Patrick Namai, Mike Wambani, Joash Okon’go, Mike Otieno all played for MOTCOM. The red hot Hezron Osuka and Mike Otieno would later join Gor Mahia in 1988. Julius Were, Milton Orwe Obote and Sylvanus Bulinda played for Mumias Sugar FC. Charles Atsole, David Sumba, Festus Ocholi, David Inonda and Elphas Khamadi joined Kimbo FC in Nairobi. Fabian Athambitsa joined Pan Paper FC.
Time to give back
Isaac Kwoba the charismatic figure who played for the 1986 Champions is currently the Chairman of the Kakamega High School Sports Club and Chai of the Green Commandos soccer club that is participating in the FKF Division one. The Green Commandos created history when they became the first high school to participate in the National Super league (NSL) in the 2018-19 season. Kwoba is leading from the front in the construction of a modern sports complex at the Kakamega High School Upper pitch. The visionary leader is supported by several friends among them MIDAS, Godfrey Wakachunga, Philip Lukhachi, Vance Paul Udoto, Victor Andere, William Ojonyo, Abbas Keya & co, Dickson Omaya, Bonny Munzala, George Misiko, Michael Obonyo, alumni and friends of Green Commandos. It’s not possible to mention them all here. If the school’s alumni, the community and well-wishers support this noble idea whole heartedly then success is inevitable. Through Isaac Kwoba’s leadership the Green Commandos soccer club organizes for a two weeks holiday camp for primary school children from all over the country who undergo soccer training and life skills. Kwoba flies in soccer expatriates from Spain and Poland among other countries to offer education on matters football at the holiday camp. He invited Professor Charles Muiruri a health services researcher, Medical instructor in the Duke University of America to share his knowledge. Paul Oyuga, former AFC Leopards and Harambee Stars player who has been a professional player in Europe visited Isaac Kwoba at the Green Commandos Club to share and disseminate his vast experiences.
Need for a Sports Museum for posterity
Kakamega High School was, is and will always be a sporting powerhouse in the Western region, Kenya and East and Central Africa. It can be a noble idea by the committee to consider the future establishment of a Sports Museum at the Sports Complex. Trophies, photographs and sports attires display in glass cabinets, hall of fame (a full list of the Museums hall of fame inductees) and information about various competitions can be housed there. A Museum at the sports complex will not only become a place of preservation and exhibition. At the same time it can become a living forum of encounters and discussions for every member of the sports family for fans, clubs as well as associations, press conferences and lectures or TV add. This can be a place where the emotional history of sports can be experienced and where the joy of sports can be celebrated.