By Hillary Mukasa
Festus Serenge was born in a family of sportsmen in 1969 and had the genes of a sportsman as well. Serenge started playing in the stellar world of football in Western Province of Kenya. The genesis of his football was at Bukhulunya Primary School before he transferred to Nairobi Garden Estate Primary School. The boy of promise studied and played for the Kenya breweries youth team. “When playing in the Kenya Breweries youth team Coach Elly Adero was my great mentor .He treated me like his own son.” States Serenge. When Serenge seemed to concentrate so much on soccer his dad took him back to Bukhulunya Primary. As a standard 7 pupil he played for Maji FC and Municipal Council both in Kakamega.
Musingu High School the next step for Serenge
After primary education Serenge was admitted at Musingu High School an undisputed football giant from Western Province. At Musingu it was inevitable to find extremely gifted football players in the Scorpions squad. He joined the team as a midfielder and was a substitute of Keffa Tasso another football legend. The competition in the team was very stiff. Some of the great players in the team that era were Enock Momanyi an admired center back, Maurice Makomere an offensive, Jacob Lijodi a fullback, Julius Were, Shikangania, Goalkeepers John Kabwoya (RIP) and George Ambaisi. They all played for Mumias Sugar FC. Striker Joe Serenge who is an MCA at Kakamega played for MOTCOM and AFC Leopards apart from the Scorpions. Anthony “Ofec” Okumu a lethal and very fast striker of the scorpions played for MOTCOM, Mumias Sugar, AFC Leopards and Harambee Stars. Noah Ndunde had a short stint with Kenya Breweries while Isaac Kwoba played for MOTCOM FC and Bandari FC. While donning the scorpions’ jersey Arthur “Coimbra” Odhiambo also played for Gor Mahia while Mike Wambani played for MOTCOM and Panpaper FC. Mike Otieno played for Gor Mahia FC and Harambee Stars. Festus Serenge played for Rivatex FC, Kisumu Breweries and Kenya Breweries.
The Head Coach of the Scorpions team was Johnstone Mukonyi assisted by Luke Erambo and John Obura. Both Mukonyi and Obura were Industrial Education teachers-Electricity and Power Mechanics respectively. Coach Mukonyi had a super ability in scouting talents. The outstanding names that have played for the Musingu Scorpions are evident of his hawk eye in identifying talent. The Principal of the school was Nathan Anaswa nicknamed Bogi Benda and later became the honorable MP of Malava (RIP). Both Anaswa and his predecessor the late Stanley Ashitiva had deep passion for soccer and sports in general. Their support for sports in the school was overwhelming.
KSSSA National Championship in 1985
In the year 1985 many key players had left the Scorpions and the Coach switched Serenge to defense. He would play comfortably in all the positions in defense. Alfayo Odongo (RIP) joined the team alongside Patrick Mutai in 1985. Both were very gifted and would later turn out to be household names at club level and at the National team Harambee Stars. The Kenya Secondary School Sports Association (KSSSA) National Championship in 1985 was held in Kitale. Musingu represented Western Province as the defending Champions of the KSSSA National competition that they won at Shanzu College in 1984 against perennial archrivals Kakamega High School. In the 1985 finals in Kitale Homabay Boys beat Musingu on post-match penalties. Musingu had beaten Homabay in the preliminaries.
In 1987 the Scorpions beat a star studded Iterio High School in the semifinals of the KSSSA National Championship hosted by Kakamega High School only to be disqualified when the fans entered the pitch to celebrate. Kakamega High School knew how deadly Musingu was and they avoided them as much as possible. That period Musingu had remarkable names in Festus Serenge, Mike Otieno, Joseph Ngaira, Patrick Mutai, Tom Major and Wenslaus Ambata just but to name a few. Iterio on the other hand had their share of Stars in Henry “Ndovu” Motego, Salim Mabruk, Henry Nyandoro (RIP), Richard Otambo, Henry Nyariki and Mike Okoth between the posts. In the finals Iterio beat the Kakamega High School Green Commandos on post-match penalties at Bukhungu Stadium.
Kenya National Schools team Clinches Tournament in Zambia
A squad of more than 30 players was chosen from schools after the KSSSA National Championship and Provincial competitions. The players who made it on the final list of selection pitched camp at Mangu High School under the late Coach Chris Makokha assisted by a teacher from the host school. The team played in an Inter Secondary Schools Championship in Zambia. I asked Festus Serenge if this was his first time to board a plane and he responded that “It was not only the first time to board a plane but it was also the first time to get near one.” Both of us laughed with excitement. The venues of the tournament were Ndola, Kitwe and Lusaka. “Sadly Coach Chris Makokha lost his sight. He coached with that impairment until they were crowned as the Champions” Said Festus Serenge.
The boys from Kenya beat a star studded Zambian National School team featuring Zambian legends Kenneth Malitoli, Kelvin Mutale, Timothy Mwitwa, Godfrey Kangwa, Moses Masuwa, Patrick Banda, John Soko and Robert Watiyakeni. All of these Zambian stars were victims of the 1993 Gabon air crash except Kenneth Malitoli. On the 27th of April 27th 1993 a DHC-5 Buffalo transport aircraft of the Zambian air force crashed in the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from Libreville, Gabon. The flight was carrying most of the Zambian National football team to a FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Senegal in Dakar. All the 25 passengers and 5 crew members were killed. Very sad indeed. Michael Ojay Otieno remarks this about Festus Serenge “We called him junior since there was Joe and Fred Serenge who were his elder siblings. He was humble and very encouraging and always pushed me to do better.” During a match he would tell Mike Otieno “Oti you just score goals. In the defense we are okay and there is no pressure. We shall ensure we stop the opponents from scoring”
After the Kenya Schools team clinched the Championship in Zambia they attracted many football lovers and they got an opportunity to play against top Zambian Club Mfulira Wanderers. The Kenyan boys lost 2-1 with Henry Nyandoro scoring their lone goal. “I had never seen such a player like the late Henry Nyandoro. He scored a long range shot in Zambia. He was far ahead of his time and didn’t play like a schoolboy”. Serenge looks back.
Rich football Exposure at Musingu
The Scorpions of Musingu played high profile friendly matches against top tier teams like Mumias Sugar FC, Nzoia Sugar FC, Kisumu Poster, Panpaper FC and MOTCOM. Captain Patrick Mutai said this about Serenge the legend “Festus Serenge was an exceptional defender who could take on any striker as a right back or a left back. He possessed a superb ability to attack as a fullback. During that time formations were not very common. Both Musingu and Rivatex FC used the 4-3-3 football formation”. Patrick Mutai was the Captain of Musingu Scorpions in 1986 to 1987 and also elected Captain of Rivatex FC from 1988 to 1995. Captain Mutai further points out that “Serenge’s discipline was above average. He never attracted red cards but just a few yellow cards when there was no option. Serenge was a short defender but very good in aerial duels. His left foot was as good as his right foot.”
The best 11 at Musingu in 1987
1)George Ambaisi 2)Festus Serenge 3)Noah Ndunde 4)Tom Major 5)Patrick Mutai 6)Arthur Onyango 7)Protus Munyendo 8) Lumumba 9) Joseph Ngaira/Mike Ojay Otieno 10)Wenslaus Ambata 11)Anthony Okumu
Serenge pens signature at Rivatex FC
When he completed his studies at Musingu High School Serenge got offers from several football teams to pen down a contract. Mumias Sugar FC, Rivatex FC, Eldoret KCC and Kisumu Poster recommended employment to Serenge through letters. AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia were ready to sign him to play for the giants and be awarded a scholarship to study at Railway Training Institute alongside Ngaira and Mike Otieno. Serenge opted to join Rivatex FC that sponsored him to train Mechanical Engineering for 3 years at Mombasa Polytechnic. He would go study and play for the team when on holiday. Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards had highly talented and experienced defenders who were already in the National team and the competition for play time would be stiff for the young Serenge. About 8 players from Musingu joined Rivatex FC and the combination was already there. The year 1990 was the most successful for Rivatex. They were the first team outside Nairobi to win the coveted Moi Golden Cup after beating Bata Bullets 2-1in the finals. Danger man Alfayo Odongo was voted the most valuable player (MVP) in Kenya that season. Rivatex also finished second in the Kenya National Football League. This victory challenged Eldoret KCC which also won the Moi golden Cup 3 years later.
Kenya Breweries the Promised Land
Serenge was spotted by Kenya Breweries after a brilliant display when playing for Rivatex in an international match. The brewers did not hesitate to sign the gifted defender. Serenge was loaned to Kisumu breweries for 8 months after which he joined Kenya Breweries in Nairobi together with Shem Nyaberi and Kenneth Omondi (RIP). At Kenya Breweries he joined goalkeepers Joseph Kibera (RIP) and Sawaleh Ngoi, Aggrey Evayo, Paul Onyiera, George Opondo, Daniel Randa, Zacheaus “Doc” Omondi, Sammy “Pamzo” Omollo, Vincent Kwarula, Moses Gikenyi and George Maina amongst others. During his playing days at Breweries he was coached by Elly Adero, Jacob “Ghost” Mulei, Tony Barnfield, James “Abawa” Sianga (RIP) and Paul Onyiera.
Serenge admits that “some of the toughest opponents locally were against Gor Mahia which was never a walk in the park. Despite the Mighty Gor Mahia having immensely gifted players the referees favored them because of pressure from the fans. William Inganga and James Kayimba of AFC Leopards were a hazard. Kayimba was from Sierra Leone and had switched from the position of defender to a striker. “
“Playing against Mbilinga FC of Gabon in the semifinal of the Africa Cup Winners Cup in 1994 was very tough. The two teams drew 1-1 in Gabon in the first leg while Kenya breweries emerged victors by winning 3-1 in the return leg in Kenya. After the match against Mbilinga around 8 to 10 players from the Gabonese team joined the professional rank in Europe”. Remarks Festus Serenge.
The unfulfilled dream against DC Motema Pembe
After beating Mbilinga FC in the semifinal of the Africa Cup Winners Cup only DC Motema Pembe stood between Kenya Breweries and the desired Trophy. Kenyan fans all over the Country were highly expectant of a win at home after a deserved 2-2 away draw courtesy of goals from Patrick Nachok and Henry “Ndovu” Motego for Kenya Breweries. Emulating Gor Mahia in the 1987 triumph in the final against Esperance of Tunisia at Moi Sports Center Kasarani was the ultimate goal for the Kenyans but DC Motema Pembe had other plans for the Kenyans. Kenya Breweries lost 3-0 at Nyayo Stadium to the disbelief and heartbreak of many fans.” One of the most successful teams in the DR Congo AS Vita Club had their fans rally behind Kenya Breweries in the first leg match against DC Motema Pembe in Zaire. But why did Kenya Breweries lose when they had the greatest advantage. You will know why.
“After the loss it took me two weeks to come to terms with the humiliating loss” Says Serenge. The Coach was over confident in the return leg. The squad changed a lot. In the away match Charles Namudeche had stayed put in goal and even saved a penalty. After the 2-2 draw in the first leg in Zaire Serenge quoted this statement from the media in Zaire “DC Motema Pembe bows out after drawing 2-2.”
“Dr. Zacheaus Omondi a member of the Kenya Breweries squad that year gives his analysis on the outcome in the final match “DC Motema Pembe had a game plan. They played like they had two players to mark each one of us. They had the mindset of Champions.” After two quick goals by the visiting team Kenya Breweries did not have a game plan to recover. Zacheaus Omondi popularly known as Doc adds that “We approached the game like novices. We believed in our ability rather than in fortifying our position to counter a chess master.” Omondi realized that the team with better preparation physically, emotionally and psychologically always wins the game. Never the better team.
Sammy “Pamzo” Omollo a legendary footballer for Harambee Stars and Coach of several KPL clubs in Kenya reveals “As a player my lowest moment was losing to DC Motema Pembe in the African Winners’ Cup in Kenya. It was really humiliating being beaten at home in front of all our fans especially when it is a final”
That year Kenya Breweries won the Kenya National football league courtesy of a goal by Festus Serenge via a free kick against Transcom. “I scored close to 10 goals that season. We had a defenders competition with Sammy “Pamzo” Omollo and Vincent Kwarula. Shem Nyaberi was awarded the golden boot” Says Festus Serenge.
The East African Hedex Super Cup
Smithkline Beecham in its promotion campaign introduced the East African HEDEX Super Cup a football tournament with hefty cash prizes to be competed for by top clubs in the region. Kenya Uganda and Tanzania Football Federations were tasked with organizing a domestic version to pick a representative into the East African edition. HEDEX is a brand of pain killing tablets recommended for headaches, backache, tooth aches, relieving fever among others.
The first edition was played in Mombasa, Kenya in 1994. Kenya Breweries were the HEDEX Super Cup winners in Kenya while Malindi from Zanzibar were the Champions in Tanzania. Kampala City Council (KCC) was the Champion of the HEDEX Super Cup in Uganda. Kenya Breweries was crowned as the Champions after beating Kampala City Council 1-0 and beating Malindi by the same margin. In 1995 Kenya Breweries repeated the same feat by being crowned as the un questioned champions in 1995 in Kampala Uganda. They beat Malindi 2-0 before defeating Express Red Eagles of Uganda by a solitary goal. Serenge recalls scoring on three occasions against Malindi of Zanzibar to earn crucial wins. He remembers the Zanzibar Club players saying “Anatuonea, lazima tukicheza nao atufunge”. Kenya Breweries was renamed Tusker FC in 1999.
Balancing Football and Work
While playing for Kenya Breweries Serenge worked in the workshop as a technician. He played until 2002 when he was retrenched by the Company in 2006. He was recalled again after about 6 months away to do the same duty up to 2012. After leaving the brewing company he was employed by Pepsi Company as a technical operator. He coached Kenafric before they withdrew the football team. As a way of giving back to the society he coaches Rodney Academy and local team’s upcountry. Serenge was fantastic. A great example of a footballer.