For a long time, Kenya has had several top-notch goalkeepers, who permanently made the position a preserve for themselves for lengthy periods of time. They were household names for their stellar performance in regional and international competions. The goalkeepers were popularly known as Kenya One, owing to the ‘Number One’ jersey that is only reserved for top goalkeepers globally.
In Kenya, the first ‘Kenya One’ was the late James Siang’a who was between the posts in the 1972 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. He served from the early 60s to the early 70s during which he played for Luo Union before switching to Gor Mahia. Then came Kenya Breweries (now Tusker) custodian Mohammed Magogo in the mid-70s. Magongo was to later join the paid ranks in the United Arab Emirates alongside his teammate and international striker Binzi Mwakolo.
Magogo was succeeded as Harambee Stars goalkeeper by the late Dan Odhiambo who was at Luo Union in the early 70s before he was snatched away by Gor Mahia in 1977.
He played for the national team uninterrupted for almost a decade before the stiff competition between him and the fast rising former Mwenge FC and AFC Leopards custodian Mohamoud Abbas saw him give way.
Abeingo FC custodian David Sawe was their understudy under the watchful eyes of national coaches Ray Wood and Steve Yongo in 1980. Marshal Mulwa succeeded the two coaches in 1981 when Harambee Stars won the regional title three times in a row. Odhiambo and Abbas’s rivalry both at the club and national team level is one of the most competitive in Kenya’s football history. At the time, Kenya reigned supreme in East and Central Africa. After he hanged his gloves in the mid-80s, Abbas was succeeded by Nakuru’s Scarlet FC custodian Washington Muhanji before David ‘Kamoga’ Ochieng’ of Gor Mahia took the gloves. Ochieng was between the posts when Gor Mahia became the first East and Central African side to win a continental title after defeating Esperance of Tunisia 3-2 aggregate to lift the Mandela Cup in 1987. He was also in goal when Kenya fell by a solitary goal to Egypt in the finals of All Africa Games in Nairobi the same year.
Thereafter, in came John Busolo (AFC Leopards), Tairus Omondi (Gor Mahia) and Mathews ‘Otamax’ Owino (Gor Mahia) but the trio could not match the skills of the first five goalkeepers. In 1995, Ulinzi Stars goalkeeper Francis Onyiso emerged as the first ‘Kenya One’ of the 1990s and 2000s.
“His performance equals those of Kenya’s first five legendary custodians and it’ll take us many years to get another ‘Kenya One’ from this generation,” former Gor Mahia Chief Executive Officer Lovedic Aduda told The Nairobian.
Onyiso is the longest serving custodian in recent history, having played for the national team between 1994 and 2015. After being scouted and molded by former Harambee Stars head coach, the late Reinhardt Fabisch, his first assignment was in 1997 when Stars played Nigeria’s Super Eagles to a one all draw at Kasarani Stadium.
“This was a tough match but we managed to contain the Nigerians at a time Fabisch was our tactician. He was a good coach,” said Onyiso.
He recalls his memorable match was the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier against Cape Verde in Nairobi in 2003 when Dennis Oliech scored for Kenya to earn a 1-0 victory against the Islanders.
“It was a match that I gave my all and emerged walking tall among my teammates,” he said.
Onyiso was given a standing ovation by colleagues at Lanet Barracks when he hanged his gloves in 2015. He was retained as a goalkeeping coach for Ulinzi Stars.
He told The Nairobian he is happy with his exploits as ‘Kenya One.”