In the Kariobangi neighbourhoods to the east of Outering Road in the early ‘80s, a group of boys passionately played and followed football. They called themselves Fly Heroes FC and were nicknamed Brazilians. It was the time of Arthur “Zico” Coimbra as an attacking midfielder and Socrates Sampaio de Souza as a winger. Every player at Sky Heroes had a nickname of a Brazillian player, midfielder Zedekiah Otieno, became Zico.
Otieno was born at Pumwani Meternity Hospital in the late ‘60s. He grew up in Kariobangi and later played for Baba Dogo FC and Utalii Hotel FC which was in the third-tier league while still a student. Upon completing his secondary education in 1986 at Nairobi Technical Institute, he desired a club that would allow him to continue with his education.
That is where Speedways FC came along, they were formerly known as Iqbal and nicknamed Real Madrid. He went back to Nairobi Technical Institute to train as a Mechanical Engineering draughtsman. He remembers midfielders like Adach Osewe and Churchill Omollo who could play any position on the pitch except goalkeeper where Charles Omondi Korea played. Maybe due to competition in the midfield, the coach asked him to move to left back. The coach showed him clips of Arsenal FC right back Lee Dickson to let him know how to play in his new position.
He was at Speedways for two years until Gor Mahia sent Amos Nandi to sign him for the 1988 season. Jack Johnson, the KÓgallo coach taught him how to overlap which was new for defenders. He was brought in to cover for George “Solo” Otieno at left back but Jack Johnson realised he could not cross the ball with his left foot. He was transferred to the right back and Tobias “Jua Kali” Ocholla moved to left back.
He only played two matches for Gor in 1988, the first and last match but developed well under Johnson. Remember the squad had won a treble in 1987; the league, Moi Golden Cup and CAF Cup Winners Cup. In 1988, Gor won the Moi Golden Cup after beating Kenya Breweries but failed to defend the league title that was won by AFC Leopards. Johnson left midway through the 1989 season and Bandari coach Mohammed Kheri was brought in to take Gor to Liberia for a Cup Winners quarter-final tie against Oilers FC. Captain Austin Oduor then became player-coach and Zico saw improved playing times. Oduor had the confidence to leave Peter “Pier” Ochieng’ on the bench and field Zico. By the 1990 season, he had become the preferred right back at Gor Mahia.
Otieno later became the designated penalty taker at Gor Mahia. Apparently, he never missed a penalty in his entire career. His second match in 1990 was against AFC Leopards that was a league match and a cup was also at stake. The match ended 0-0 and had to be decided on penalties. He was picked to take the seventh penalty and he sent John Busolo in Ingwe’s goal the wrong way and scored. That was his first goal for Gor and the beginning of a badge as a sterling penalty kick taker. He had a lanky frame which deceived well-built strikers that he was a pushover. Kheri gave him his first call-up for a friendly match against Egypt. He would play many matches for the national team over a period of seven years where Francis Oduor played left back. He was in the national team that beat Zaire, now DRC, by one goal away in Kinshasa in July 1993 for 1994 AFCON qualifiers. Kenya came second in the group and missed on qualification.
Two matches he played are etched in the memory of Gor Mahia fans. The first is the 1992 CAF Cup of Champions match against Cannon Sportif de Yaounde. They drew 0-0 in Nairobi and the Cameroonians were confident of eliminating Gor in Yaounde. Zico put up a top-drawer performance in the one-all draw where he scored the first goal. The Cameroonians were bundled out on away goal rule.
In the 1993 CAF Cup second round, Gor faced Hellenic FC from Cape Town South Africa. The team was made up of white players as it was only a year since they were admitted back to FIFA. Gor was having a difficult season and had scrapped through the first round by eliminating Ugandan club Coffee FC on post-match penalties. They lost 3-1 to Hellenic in Cape Town and the return match was expected to be a formality for the South Africans. The match was abandoned at Nyayo Stadium due to heavy rains and a return slated for City Stadium the next day. Tobias Ocholla and Otieno were the major destroyers with their overlapping runs and crosses to Peter Dawo. Dan Shikanda scored from a Zico cross and Joseph Owino later made it two as Gor eliminated the South Africans on away goal rule.