The late soccer coach James Siang'a. Photo: Courtesy

Today, I would like to talk about a colleague, a friend and a father of Kenyan football; a renowned and respected man within the expansive East African region for his coaching skills.

On Saturday, while we were in camp, one of the senior Gor Mahia FC players called me, and when I picked, he was silent. I pressed him to tell me the reason for his call then he said, “TM, Baba George Blackberry ametuacha.” For a moment, I was lost and in deep shock that I couldn’t think straight. I first met Siang’a in 1996 during his hey days with Utalii FC. I was then the Team Manager at Gor. In 1997, there was a deadlock at the summit of the league and up to the last day, the top three teams were tied with equal number of points. As such, all the teams needed to win, and the one with a clear goal difference would clinch the title. But as fate would have it, our arch rivals AFC Leopards lost 2-1 against Shabana FC at Nyayo Stadium.

But we only scored a goal past Railways Club at City Stadium, while Siang’a’s Utalii scored twice against Bandari at the Coast to lift the title. It was devastating and we could not forgive him for that. I left the management of Gor only to return in 2008 when the club’s executive named me as TM again under coach Siang’a. This was the first time I was working together with the legendary old man. We found a club in shambles without a win in over 10 matches. But Siang’a had a plan, he insisted that since the league was far-gone, we had to make a statement by winning the FKF/Moi Golden Cup.

We finished ninth in the league, but lifted the League Cup, a feat that would see the club participate in the CAF Confederations Cup in 2009. Siang’a felt that the crop of players in the club back then did not have what was needed to compete effectively. As such, he sent me out upcountry to scout for young talented players.

He gave me a free hand to pick players and only had a final word during their trials in Nairobi. I picked George Odhiambo from Nyarombo FC, a village club in Ndhiwa; Dancun Owiti from Nyatati, a village side in Karungu, and many other players like Dan Makori from Migori. We had close to 100 players who were then brought to Nairobi for vigorous two-day trials at the club’s training base in Eastleigh. The trials begun at 8am in the morning and ended at 5pm. Siang’a only had half a loaf of bread and a packet of milk for lunch. He was one tough, no-nonsense man and a strict disciplinarian.

We worked for two seasons together and apart from the league title, Gor won all the other local tourneys until 2009 when he left the club in a huff. We had a string of mixed results and some players were not happy.

There was word about sabotage by some players and a section of the technical bench, but when the fans singled him out and directly attacked his family, he felt that it was too much. .

Thugs would come to the training ground baying for his blood and hurling insults and unprintable words at him. One of the hard lessons that I have learnt in Gor is that the fans don’t care about past achievements. In their world, the ‘Green Army’ is about the present spoils and victories.

To Gor fans, let Siang’a’s death remind you about the need to be patient and respectful.

Siang’a was not your regular coach. He was special.