The sensational football journey of James Nandwa

It is June 2021 and I decide to go to Camp Toyoyo to watch a Kenya Women Premier league match between Thika Queens and Mathare United ladies. In the Thika Queens squad there are 3 former KeMU Queens FC players Esse Akida, Monica Karambu and Cheris Avilia whom I coached at Kenya Methodist University. These are all players of great promise that left glorious success and memories. I am glad to watch them grace Camp Toyoyo. The fans at Camp Toyoyo are definitely excited and are enjoying every bit of the game after missing football action for a long time after sporting events were banned by the President as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Mwanahalima “Dogo” Adan of Thika Queens provides the icing on the cake with her brilliant runs and goals against a helpless Mathare United ladies defense. After a while I realize I had an appointment with one James Nandwa. I call him and the soft spoken legend informs me he is on his way to Camp Toyoyo for our scheduled Interview. I pray for the Mountain to arrive and indeed my prayers are answered. I meet Nandwa and we decide to get a quiet place for the interview since Camp Toyoyo is at fever pitch and we cannot concentrate. As we leave Camp Toyoyo Nandwa is stopped by one of his former players. The relatively young lad is so excited to meet his former coach. They engage in a very interesting chat. I am moved and become part of the story. Nandwa excuses himself knowing too well there is an assignment at hand and he is also hoping to watch an NSL encounter between Shabana FC. and Police FC. Barely do we walk 5 meters before Nandwa is stopped again. This time he is stopped by a soccer fan who reminds him of wonderful football history. All the people who meet Nandwa on that day including I are all glad to speak to the soft spoken football master. I find Nandwa to be very charismatic and humble. When you come across a man like Nandwa you just have to admire the magnitude of such a man. He has maintained the same humility that made him a superstar. Everyone has a story but not everyone has a special story. This is the special story of James Nandwa Nyende.

Teenage Kicks

James Nandwa started playing football at New Pumwani Primary School. He began what would be his illustrious career by playing as a midfielder in the inter schools competitions. At City High School he played tournaments at Ziwani estate and for Provincial league side Iteso.  German tactician Bernhard Zgoll and a player called Pirate trained Nandwa and other young players for two weeks before the former left for Nakuru. Nandwa remembers Zgoll throwing the ball to a player to see his reaction. The player did what would be obvious to many players. He held the ball with his hands. Zgoll asked the player if he was a goalkeeper. The player answered no and Zgoll told him he should have controlled the ball instead of holding it with his hands. In 1981 the gifted Nandwa played for Green Stars in the Provincial league. Green Stars had broken from AFC Leopards and their Coach was Anyanzwa.

Hakati FC

When Nandwa joined Hakati FC the team was playing in the top tier league and Jonathan Niva was the Head Coach. The prolific goal scorer netted a crucial goal in 1981 which prompted Marshal Mulwa to call him in the National team. Some of the great players Nandwa found at Hakati FC were Jacaranda Ouma, Vincent Otieno, Peter Otieno Bassanga, Apolo Oreso, Tito Ongayo and Peter Ouma among others. Nandwa also played for Benham holdings owned by Clement Gachanja a former KFF Chair and politician.

KTM Heaven

James Nandwa joined KTM in 1983. At KTM he would join the likes of Nahashion Mahila, Bulunge Edward, Anthony Ochieng, Shaldon Olimba, Joseph Kimani, Avedi Mujumbe, Jamal Farah, Patrick Lumumba lilu and the late Hussen Kheri.  KTM had about 5 players from Uganda. Paul Yongo and Juma Hassan were some of the players from Uganda. When Nandwa joined KTM they were under a Ugandan Coach by the name Hesborne Ndelwa and Twahir Muhidin.

Toughest opponents

Matin Ochieng Oswayo and Mulupi Makuto (Rip) lead in the list of toughest opponents that Nandwa faced. Scarlets FC and their star players such as Washington Muhanji, Ambrose “Golden boy” Ayoyi and Jack Sihul were a hard nut to crack. Gor and AFC Leopards were in a class of their own. They were not in this contest. Nandwa says if you either played for or scored against Gor Mahia and AFC leopards in the league you had a very high probability of being called to the National team.

Pro football

Nandwa played for Albustan in Muscat for two years. Asked about if language was a barrier the cool man said their coach was a European which made communication effective. Nandwa found some players from Zanzibar in the team who knew Kiswahili. Only 3 professionals were allowed to play in every match. The 3 professionals were given the responsibility to attack and defend at the same time. When defending corner kicks all the three professional players had to defend since their opponents also had professional players .The professionals would mark each other.

Utalii FC.

Nandwa joined Utalii FC in 1993 and the late James Sianga was the Head Coach. Here he met other soccer household names like Bernard Baya, Oti Oti, Elkana Swaka, Rogers Kadenge, Cliff Wayodi, Timothy Kibune and Gerald Origi. In 1997 Utalii FC won the Kenya Premier League under Coach Joseph Milimo. They played against Elmereikh of Sudan in the African Cup Winners Cup beating them 4-0 in Kenya and losing 3-0 away. Utali proceeded on a 4-3 aggregate. The next opponent was Etoil du Sahel of Tunisia. Utali won 1-0 in Kenya and lost 1-0 away. The Kenyan team lost on penalties in that match which James Nandwa played as a stopper. He retired aged 38 at Utalii FC.

          Utalii FC: James Nandwa standing 5th from right (Jersey 12).
         (Photo Courtesy- James Nandwa)

Playing in the 4th All African Games for Kenya

The 4th All African Games were played from August 1, 1987 to August 12, 1987. 42 Countries participated in 14 sports. John Ngugi carried the torch into the stadium in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 80,000. James Nandwa played for the National team from 1981 to 1994. He played in the top tier league from 1981-2000.The consistently triumphant player was in the great Harambee Stars team that played in the 4th All Africa Games in 1987. That team was dominated by legends such as Wilberforce “Maradona” Mulamba, Ambrose “Golden boy” Ayoyi, Hassan Juma (RIP), Mickey “T9” Weche, Wycliffe Anyangu, John Bobby “Six million dollar Man” Ogolla, Austin “Makamu” Oduor, Peter “Omuga” Dawo, David “Kamoga” Ochieng between the sticks and of course James Nandwa. Farbish the German Tactician was in charge. RIP. The team comprised of formidable players from Gor Mahia who later on won the African Cup Winners’ Cup “Mandela Cup.” Nandwa says the Harambee Stars success was super.

Feeling Green: John Bobby “Six million dollar man” Ogolla introduces Harambee Stars players to fan number 1 His Excellency President Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi in the 4th All African Games at Moi Sports Center Kasarani. On the far left is James Nandwa.   (Photo Courtesy –James Nandwa)

That year Harambee stars trained in Germany for a whole month. This motivated them a lot. After training in Germany, Harambee Stars toured Egypt for a friendly match against the Pharaohs and lost 3-1. Nandwa describes Reinhardt Farbish   as a coach who was patient, motivating and trusted the players. The 4th All African Games football Championship was highly competitive and was played by senior players from the best footballing Countries on the Continent. The participating Nations were hosts Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Malawi and Madagascar. Kenya won 1-0 against Tunisia, drew 3-3 with the Indomitable lions of Cameroon and beat Madagascar 2-1 in the group stages. In the semifinals Kenyan beat Malawi in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw in regular time. The Kenyans hence qualified for the grand finale from a 4-3 win in a match replayed. The initial match aborted when the lights went off in a floodlit encounter.  In the first game in the semifinal against Malawi Nandwa says “During that match I just saw lights disappear. The match had to be postponed and replayed the following day.” James Nandwa. When we played the second time against Malawi we were more serious and more organized”. Adds Nandwa.  He points out that Wilberforce “Maradona” Mulamba was one of his greatest role models in that team. He says Mulamba could change the game anytime. Nandwa points out that Ambrose “Golden boy” Ayoyi was supremely gifted. Kenya lost 1-0 to Egypt in the finals. Despite not reaching the finals the Malawian team was on top form and finished third overall. In the preliminaries Malawi had beaten Egypt 2-1. In the grand finale against the Pharaohs of Egypt Nandwa played as an offensive player.

Feeling Green Again: From left to right -James Nandwa, David Ochieng, Abbas Khamis “Zamalek” Magongo, Wycliffe Ayangu, Austin “Makamu” Oduor, George “Fundi” Onyango, Hassan Juma (RIP) and David “Kamoga” Ochieng.    (Photo by Mohamed Amin)

Under Marshal Mulwa Nandwa played in the Harambee Stars team that won the CECAFA Championship back to back three times. The 1982 win was the most emphatic. The Ugandan soldiers threatened the Kenyan players by exploding bombs before the kickoff. After the win Paul Ngei came for the players with a plane. Nandwa remembers Marshal Mulwa as a mentor who selected good players. His 15 goals for KTM in the top tier league ensured that Marshal Mulwa called him to the National team. Nandwa was the Captain of the National team under Mohamed Kheri.

Coaching Career

James Nandwa doing what he loves most. Nurturing talents. (Photo-Courtesy)

The vastly experienced Coach James Nandwa was the Assistant Coach of the Harambee Stars senior team in 2008 to 2009 and 2013 to 2014. He was the Head Coach of the Harambee Stars under-23 team in 2012. Nandwa has coached several Kenya Premier League teams such as Sony Sugar, Thika United, AFC Leopards, Rangers FC, Tusker FC, Sher Karuturi and Utalii College. In 2014 to 2015 he coached Coastal Union of Tanzania. In his long coaching career James Nandwa has won many accolades. In 2013 he was awarded the Coach of the Tournament in the GOTV Supersport Championship which he won with AFC Leopards. In 2013 when Kenya the host Country was crowned as the CECAFA Champions, James Nandwa was the Assistant Coach of Adel Amrouche.  James Nandwa was the head Coach of Harambee Stars when they reached the finals of the 2012 CECAFA Cup known as The CECAFA Tusker Challenge. The hosts Uganda beat Kenya 2-1 in the final at Nambole Stadium. Nandwa was among the top three best coaches in the Kenya Premier League in 2010 in the KPL Footballer of the Year Awards (FOYA). Benjamin Nyangweso of Ulinzi Stars topped the list followed by Zedekiah “Zico” Otieno of Gor Mahia and James Nandwa of Tusker FC.  Under his tutelage Tusker FC finished 2nd in the KPL.

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