Remembering Red Brigades football team of University of Nairobi

When you talk about JJ Masiga you talk about University of Nairobi and when you talk about University of Nairobi you talk about JJ Masiga. He is the biggest name of a footballer in the Kenyan Universities. We will have to wait for another generation for a player with the ability of JJ Masiga to be seen again. He showed the Country and Africa his star quality. This story is not about University of Nairobi or JJ Masiga. It is the story of Red Brigades the football team of University of Nairobi. A team that had exceptional players and did everything the players wished to do. Close to three decades ago as a kid I was privileged to watch a team play exiting in a football tournament in Nairobi. The team was of course Red Brigades and the tournament was Mahindi Cup which was named after an aspiring politician those years. Among my many childhood memories is the kind of football these scholars displayed. The team was better than good and they surprised many of the observers. 

Red Brigades team during a friendly match at Egerton University. Zacheaus Omondi and Arina Odek didn’t make it for this trip (Photo Courtesy-Mike Obonyo)

Unforgettable display

The lucrative Mahindi Cup was the equivalent of the Koth Biro football tournament. There were several venues used for the tournament like the Upper Kabete Campus football pitch of UoN but all roads led to the Kangemi football pitch. There was nothing so spectacular about Kangemi but the Mahindi Cup brought the place to a standstill as it was the center of attraction. This tournament was played in the glory days of Kenyan football. Apart from my childhood memories at Loresho Primary School I was privileged to watch football stalwarts’ display scintillating football. I can give a testimony that the players were pedigree. Phenomenal players such as George “Nyangi” Odembo, Peter “Bassanga” Otieno, Joseph “Helmet” Owino (RIP), Anthony “Pikipiki” Ndolo (RIP), Mike Otieno, Paul “Kunde” Ochieng and many more others spiced up the Championship. I remember sentimentally Red Brigades beating a star studded Counter Attack 1-0 at the Kangemi football pitch that had a red carpet. The red carpet was as a result of the red patches of soil on the pitch but that never hindered the fluid passing by the supremely gifted players. Even the grass on that pitch enjoyed the way the players exhibited football artistry. Counter attack had Gor Mahia players Paul Ochieng, Joseph Owino, Anthony Ndolo amongst others. Red Brigades was led by classic heroes Dr. Dan Shikanda, Dr. Arina Odek, Mike Obonyo, William Mwasi, Malaria and many other indispensable players. Dan Shikanda played for AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars. Arina Odek was a key player for Reunion FC.  Mike Obonyo played for MOW, AFC Leopards and Harambee Stars youth team. William Mwasi a Kakamega High School Green Commandos alumnus played for Shamako Babes. Malaria was physically challenged as he did not have both arms. He however proved disability was not inability. Malaria played so well and fitted in the tournament surprisingly easily. In a certain match he scored a goal directly from a corner kick. “Malaria is now with Kenya Wildlife Services. He used to be my desk mate in University and was an alumnus of Kolanya Boys High School.” Says Michael Obonyo. “We were with Dr. Zacheaus Omondi although he rarely showed up for Red Brigades trainings owing to his tight study schedule and commitment to Kenya Breweries Football Club (KBFC).

Red Brigades in a tournament in Kenyatta University. Sited (left) is Dan Shikanda with Mike Obonyo. Behind them is Malaria. (Photo Courtesy-Mike Obonyo).

Other Competitors in the Tournament

During the heydays of Kenyan football Parastatals and Companies sponsored sports teams pricelessly. The Mahindi Cup attracted teams like Kimbo FC, Hotel Intercontinental, Serena Hotel, Pan Afric Hotel, HFCK, Maji FC, UoN staff team, Bayer East Africa, Kawangware FC and MVOA FC amongst others. These teams were beefed up by the best football players on the land of Kenya. Kimbo FC was led by the late Gor Mahia striker Enock Obwaka while Bayer East Africa was under the stewardship of Robert “the Lion” Matano. As kids we enjoyed listening to his halftime comments to the players. He roared to them like a lion and they had no option but to play to his instructions. Inter-Continental hotel was led by schoolboy Musa Otieno. UoN team consisted of some players who had featured for Volcano United which was the first ever professional team in Kenya. MVOA FC was the home team and hence the darling of most of the fans.

The Fans

Ecstatic fans filled the venue of the match to cheer their cherished teams and players. The first match of the day which was usually a weekend begun at 10am followed by a 2pm match and finally the 4pm kick off. Fans started entering the venue of the match as early as 8am. Hawkers sold peanuts and tropical sweets in whole sale. I have never seen those large crowds in our stadiums and match venues in the current era. I really do not know who cursed Kenyan football. There was a Luo fan who always entertained on the terraces. When a Coach of the opponents’ team made a substitution he shouted “Unatoa mgonjwa unaingisha maiti” Meaning you are substituting a sick player with a corpse. Whenever Dr. William Obwaka played the fan would yell “Obwaka wadunge shindano.”As if that was not enough he would tell Obwaka wapatie Panadol”. Meaning Obwaka inject the opponents and give them Panadol to calm them. Dr. Obwaka a gynecologist played for Gor Mahia FC.

There are several other great players who studied at University of Nairobi but may have not played for Red Brigades like the extremely gifted Peter “Kaskass” Kamau who played for Shabana FC and Kisumu Poster.

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