Pius Masinza: No denying the talent that was in his feet

The Kakamega County Senator Cleo Malala Super Cup Tournament held in Mumias last year in December was happiness to the players and the fans that came in large numbers. Apart from watching this meticulously organized football tournament I was able to meet several football legends who retired from the game but still working at the Mumias Sugar Company. Notable names were Patrick Mugata, the gifted midfielder Chris Kimuyu, former goalkeepers Okoth and Ambaisi. I also met two former legends and brother’s Festus and Fred Serenge who had their team from Kakamega participating in the tournament. I was fortunate enough to interview Festus Serenge on his football biography despite the busy schedule and fever pitch at Mumias Sports Complex one of the venues for the tournament.

Pius Masinza in his youthful days

Before going to this tournament I had visited my Grandparents in Kakamega having not been able to see them for some months. Despite approaching their nineties they both looked happy. My grandmother spat on me like others do to pass blessings and prayed for me too. I realized the reason for their long life is prayers and prayers and healthy living. When the holiday was over it was time to return to my work station but a bell rang ding -dong in my mind to remind me that there was one great legend I always longed to interview and pen down his story. This story is not about my holiday in Kakamega nor is it about the Cleo Malala Super Cup in Mumias. It is also not about the football legends of Mumias FC. The story is about Pius Masinza. The football legend that was coached in his youthful days by the German football Tactician Bernhard Zgoll. The boy who single handedly eliminated football Kings Kakamega High School Green Commandos from the Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA) Provincial Championships in Western Province to secure a slot for the Scorpions of Musingu in the National Championships for the first time. This is the story of the school boy nicknamed Khoikhoi and donned the MOW jersey to play against the cream of football in the Country. It is the story of a player so good that he featured for AFC Leopards in its most successful era.

When I met Pius Masinza he asked me whether I should interview him at the Kakamega Golf hotel or at his home in Shitaho in Kakamega. Before I could answer his question the joyful and hospitable man told me we should go to his home. We walk to his home as he introduces me to the neighboring homesteads of his extended family. My interview has already started before even we reach his home. I ask him about JJ Masiga, Josephat Murila, Mahmoud Abbas and the way he describes them is mouthwatering. I can’t wait to hear more. Finally we reach his home and his wife welcomes us with a cup of tea with boiled maize and a combination of sweet potatoes and arrow roots. A pure African delicacy. The legend narrates to me his football story as we sip tea and chew the accompaniments. The wife is keen to hear the agenda I have with his significant other. To her she feels Pius Masinza should have achieved more as a soccer player. She feels the big name in football during Pius Masinza’s playing days is not equal to the fruits he reaped from the game. I tell her this legend has done his best and has given us plenty of joy. She leaves us to continue with our interview and now I am more relaxed with the interesting legend. One of the most interesting players I have ever interviewed.

Pius Masinza was born in 1956 in Kakamega. He studied at Shitaho Primary School and started playing football in standard five. While at Shitaho Primary he played for Medical hospital in the Provincial league. He was a utility player who fitted in different positions.

Bernhard Zgoll Impact

When Kenneth Matiba was the Chair of Kenya Football Federation (FKF) he made a solo effort to start the Olympic Youth Centers program by securing  German-Polish tactician Bernard Zgoll who had been seconded by the then West Germany. Zgoll contributed pricelessly to the success cherished by the Kenya National team Harambee Stars as well as local clubs in the seventies and eighties. Kenneth Matiba was significant in the formation of Kenya Breweries FC at the time he was a major shareholder at the brewing Company.  The extremely experienced Zgoll was the first coach to train Pius Masinza on how to play football. This was at Bukhungu Stadium. “Zgoll conducted training sessions to us youths for a whole week after we closed schools for our holidays. I received my first pair of playing boots from Zgoll”. Declares Pius Masinza. The Professional football Manager coached the boys for a couple of months. Bernhard Zgoll the second youngest trainer at the Polish Professional League Ekstraklasa trained Pius Masinza and the other youths under the assistance of the late Protus Makokha an accredited referee.

The pure talent joins Musingu High School

The gifted Pius Masinza joined football giants Musingu High School in 1977. Here he found players like Shakaniri, Patrick “Omar Bongo” Shilasi, Alex Shikanga and Ben Yapesa amongst others. The Principal of the school was Stephen Kinaro while the football Head Coach was the late Stanley Ashitiva. The Head teacher and all the staff members supported the school football team the Scorpions. The students supported the team passionately and gave them a lot of morale. Those years the school did not have a school bus and the football team travelled in a Volkswagen Combi while the fans traveled in a lorry. 

In 1978 when Musingu High School faced eternal rivals Kakamega High School Pius Masinza knew he was in trouble. The whole school was looking upon him in football and precisely that match. He emerged stronger and eventually beat the best. Two goals by Captain Pius Masinza who led from the front were enough to sink the mighty Green Commandos of Kakamega High School giving the Scorpions a maiden chance to play in the Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA) Championships in Njoro Nakuru. The team gave a good account of themselves only to be eliminated by the eventual Champions Khamis Secondary School. After the 1978 National Championships the whole school waited for the team to give them a warm welcome. Kamusinga High School was the first National Champions in soccer from Western Province after beating Homa Bay High School in the finals in Kakamega in 1973.   

When Masinza was in form 2, he was elected the games prefect. I asked him why he was chosen and he corrected me that he was not chosen but elected because he was talented and had great communication skills. Masinza said “They called me Khoikhoi since I was as dark as Shaka the Zulu”. Apart from Musingu the other schools with strong football teams in Western Province those years were Kakamega, Mwihila, Chavakali, Ebunangwe, Nyang’ori and Mukumu High School. “Ebunangwe was very rough and they didn’t want to be beaten but Musingu beat them”. Recalls the legend. Keffa Tasso joined Musingu when Pius Masinza was leaving.

 Pius Masinza plays for MOTCOM as a schoolboy

Pius Masinza took his sport to a new territory by combining skill, ambition and focus. His prowess was shown when as a form 3 student he signed and played for MOTCOM in the Kenya National league called Super league which is equivalent to the current Kenya Premier League. He shone even in an era of so many greats. At MOTCOM he played alongside Jared Ingutia (RIP), Alfred Imonje, Omar Bakari, Washington Muhanji and Joseph “Kempes” Mukatia amongst others. At Musingu High School Pius Masinza played as a striker while at MOTCOM he was a defender. When playing for MOTCOM they faced opposition from teams such as Abeingo, KFA from Nakuru, Luo Union, Gor Mahia, Mwenge, Abaluhya United, Shabana FC, Lanet Scarlet, Shabana FC, Feisal and Ramogi.

In that league Pius Masinza played against players such as Allan Thigo, George Solo Otieno, Sammy “Kempes” Owino, Austin “Makamu” Oduor, Paul “Cobra” Oduo an overlapping defender amongst other superstars. The allowances he got after playing for MOTCOM paid his fees together with the bursary he received from the school. He came from a humble background and his parents were poor. “Masinza was a skillful fullback. If he was to play today he would fit as a modern fullback. During his time he was incomparable at the position of fullback. He had passed the test of Chris Makokha at MOTCOM”. States former Gor Mahia legend James Goro Oronge. MOTCOM traveled to soccer matches with Land rovers. The schoolboy trained at school and joined the team during match days.  “Pius Masinza was a very good player, disciplined in and out of school. He had very good ball control, was cool, composed and could shoot very well with his right foot.” Washington Muhanji the legendary Kenyan Goalkeeper who played with Masinza at MOTCOM describes him.  George “Fundi” Onyango a legendary midfielder for Lake Warriors, Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars compares Pius Masinza to the former Gor Mahia legend Peter “Pierre” Ochieng. Masinza was very calm with the ball and his name was rarely written in the referee’s book for indiscipline. I remember him very well when he was at MOTCOM and I was at Lake Warriors” Recalls George “Fundi” Onyango.

At the AFC Leopards den alongside exceptional players

Immediately after completing his education at Musingu High School in 1980 a Pius Masinza in scintillating form joined AFC Leopards. At the den he was coached by Robert Kiberu (RIP) and Gerry Saurer who was the owner of 680 hotel. At AFC Leopards he united with JJ Masiga, Wilberforce “Maradona” Mulamba, Haggai “Shama Shama” Mirikau (RIP) called so because he loved Zairean music and danced to the tune, Ben Musuku, Madonye, Joe Oyando, Aggrey Lukoye, Noa Wanyama nicknamed Land Mawe, Bushuru and Abdul Baraza to name but a few. The team was later joined by Peter Zimbo Owade, Dan Musuku, Mike “Ocheche” Amwayi, Mickey “T9” Weche and Peter Lichungu who was called panya. Lichungu is a rat in Abaluhya and panya is a rat in Kiswahili.

Pius Masinza defends against Gor Mahia’s Hesborn Omollo (Photo Courtesy)

 When I was writing about Mickey “T9” Weche he commented this about Pius Masinza “He was very skillful with speed and was a complete player”. The former AFC Leopards and Harambee Stars defender said Pius Masinza had started as a striker in his early football years.  Weche further noted that when Pius Masinza   got injured he replaced him as a right fullback. Bobby “Six Million Dollar Man” Ogola himself an unmatched central defender for Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars in his heyday specifies that Pius Masinza was very active in his position as a fullback and he had no comparison at that time.

Read also https://mukasah.wordpress.com/2018/09/16/mickey-weche-t9-the-soccer-legend-that-was-made-to-be-talked-about-the-story/

The AFC Leopards supreme back four in the early eighties was comprised of Pius Masinza, Josephat “Controller” Murila, Patrick “Omar Bongo” Shilasi and John Arieno Papa. This bedrock defense was almost impossible to break through. You cannot say a defense with those 4 stellar names was week. This is the period when AFC Leopards won the Kenya National Football league in 1981 and 1982. They assured their dominance in The Council for East and Central Africa Football Associations (CECAFA) Championship winning it in 1980, 82, 83 and 84. In the 1982 final they beat Rio Tinto of Zimbabwe while in the 1983 final they beat Admarc Tigers of Malawi in the final. In 1984 grand finale they beat the Mighty Gor Mahia 2-1 in an all Kenyan final on home soil.

His best three players at AFC Leopards

During his time at AFC Leopards all the players were indispensable. Wilberforce “Maradona” Mulamba was his best player in the squad. Pius Masinza points out that “Wilber short form of Wilberforce was a great dribbler and not selfish. If you were in the best position to score he passed the ball to you”.  As a defender Pius Masinza would not fail to comment on Mahmoud “Kenya one” Abbas who commanded the defense. He said Abbas would even beat up a player after a blunder but not in bad faith. He mentioned further that “Abbas organized the defense and saw a mistake before it occurred. Saving penalties was his greatest strength”. About the dependable striker JJ Masiga Pius Masinza states “He was a bulldozer. When you gave him a through pass it was either a goal or a save”.

Toughest Opponents

AFC Leopards pose for a photo against FC Kalamu in the 1986 African cup Winners Cup. (Photo Courtesy)
Standing L-R: Francis Lubembe (RIP) Peter Zimbo Owade, John Arieno “Papa”( RIP), Mickey  “T9” Weche, Wilberforce “Maradona” Mulamba, Patrick Shim, PIUS “KHOIKHOI” MASINZA, Michael “Ocheche” Amwayi and John Busolo
Squatting L-R: Aineah Isabwa (RIP), Patrick “Omar Bongo” Shilasi, Francis Kadenge (RIP) Josephat “Controller” Murila, John “Shoto” Lukoye, David Akoi (RIP) and Wellington Lidonde

Aggrey Litali of MOTCOM tormented Pius Masinza who was a fullback at AFC Leopards. Nahashon “Lule” Oluoch of Gor Mahia was a menace in the early eighties. In a match to mark one of the National holidays AFC Leopards squared it out with archrivals Gor Mahia at city Stadium. Fan number one His Excellency Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi was the Chief Guest. Pius Masinza tackled Lule hard and brought him down to earth and helped him rise up to his feet as a gesture of sportsmanship. During his address to the players and fans after the match Moi said that was sportsmanship. “After that strong tackle Lule never played on Kenyan soil again”. Remarks Pius Masinza.

AFC Leopards versus Al Ahyl

This African Cup Winners Cup match in 1981 found when Pius Masinza was fresh from Musingu High School. The player nicknamed Khoikhoi mentions “the match was in Cairo and we got a culture shock on seeing the crowd capacity. Some of the fans in the Stadium were watching the match in their personal cars upstairs since underneath was already full of passionate spectators. That confused most of us AFC Leopards players”. Al Ahyl eliminated the Kenyan Giants in the first round.

AFC Leopards at Upper Hill Sports Ground in Nairobi. (Photo Courtesy)
Standing L-R : Omar Shaban, Aggrey Lukoye, Peter Lichungu, Pius Masinza, Francis Kadenge, Shadrack Oyando, Mickey Weche, John Arieno Papa, Moses Okwaro, Francis Lubembe
Squatting L-R: Patrick Shilasi, James Muteshi, Haggai Mirikau, Mike Amwayi, Peter Ouma

AFC Leopards versus Asante Kotoko

The first leg of the quarter finals of the 1985 African Cup Winners Cup between AFC Leopards and Ghana giants Asante Kotoko was played in Kumasi Ghana. The leopards were hosted by the King of the Ashanti Region of Ghana in his palace. Ashanti is the home to the world’s 10th largest producing gold mine on earth. Asante Kotoko beat AFC Leopards 2-0 in the first leg. In the return leg at Nyayo Stadium the Ghanaian team had underrated the Kenyan team. Pius Masinza said this about the return leg “Asante Kotoko took the return leg as a tour to Kenya and assumed they had already qualified”.  In the return leg match AFC Leopards won 5-4 on penalties that were slotted by Ben Musuku, Wilberforce Mulamba, Mickey Weche, Henry Omondi and Patrick Shilasi. The gallant AFC Leopards lost in the Semifinals to Leventis United FC of Nigeria. They lost 2-0 in Ibadan and won 1-0 in Kenya leading to elimination on goal aggregate.

Pius Masinza’s best 11 at AFC Leopards

1.Mahmoud Abbas/Francis Lubembe  2) Pius Masinza  3) Patrick Shilasi  4)John Arieno Papa  5) Josephat “Controller” Murila  6) Abdul Baraza   7)Bernard Musuku  8) Haggai Mirikau (RIP)  9) JJ Masiga 10) Wilberforce “Maradona” Mulamba  11) Aggrey Lukoye

A Supportive Leadership at Leopards

Masinza the football symbol of that era joined AFC Leopards when Dr. Walter Masiga was the Chairman. The Chair was the uncle to the prolific striker JJ Masiga. Walter Masiga took great care of the team. Players would sleep in his home before matches. The Chairman had employed youths to cook for the team. After Walter Masiga in came Alfred Sambu. He was very wealthy and never wanted players to complain. Pius Masinza was called for trials at Harambee Stars but there were very many good players who were selected from AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia. During Marshall Mulwa’s successful tenure as the Coach of Harambee Stars some people urged the Management of the National team to balance the composition of the team to have a national outfit. Pius Masinza had to hang his boots after an injury he sustained. 

With Pius Masinza the legend at his home in Kakamega

Family life

His son Chris Masinza is a top player at Kakamega Homeboys and studied Criminology at MMUST. His other son Jonestone Sejero played for Ulinzi stars before hanging his boots after sustaining an injury. He is in the KDF. Enock Masinza a very gifted fullback is currently playing for Green Commandos of Kakamega High School in the FKF division one league.

Read also https://mukasah.wordpress.com/2020/09/09/balancing-sports-and-academics-is-it-possible/

Michael Otieno compares him to former AFC Leopards overlapping fullback Francis Oduor.  His daughter Diana Musabi is studying a diploma in social Studies at MMUST while his wife Pamela Sejero works in the same institution. The legend may not be doing a big job at Kakamega Golf Hotel but he is happy, content and has no regrets. The memory of Pius Masinza has not lost anything. Many of the legends he played alongside have since rested in Peace. What else would a man ask for from God more than happiness and life. We celebrate the joy that this legend brought to the fans and to this day he remains a hero. Thank you Pius Masinza.

5 thoughts on “Pius Masinza: No denying the talent that was in his feet

  1. The defeat at hands of musingu high school in 1978,2 -0 in bukhungu stadium I can never forget koz I was in form one kakamega high we caused chaos in kakamega town when we reached at kakamega high most of us never went for dinner we were mourning kama matanga ilifanyika but that was real football.the school team (green
    commandos) won the national secondary schools trophy in 1979. Dominic Lidigu (working in Embu county)

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    • Welcome. Football in Western Province is really passionate. I work at Kenya Methodist in Meru

      On Fri, Sep 25, 2020 at 9:43 PM Mukasa Football Diary wrote:

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  2. Excellent well done job
    Though never had chance to play for Harambee Stars, if it were today, Masinza, could fit in any epl Team jersey

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