Only two boxers, Suleiman Bilali and Peter Mungai, have reached, but lost in the quarters of any Olympic Games since 1988...
Kenyan footballers who became millionaire bankers and politicians
Many Kenyan footballers retire in misery. ‘Maisha ni kujipanga,’ that common Swahili cliché bandied around by Kenyan politicians, seems lost on them. Kujipanga should apply in all sports disciplines. But of all sportsmen - outside boxing - footballers fare worse. Since most of our sports is amateur, one has to be streetsmart to make it in the game and later in life.
We have always heard cases of current or retired players wallowing in poverty. But there is a flip side of success stories in soccer - cases of players who have made it in life as businessmen, in professional careers and politics.
It started way back in the colonial times when good players were rewarded with plastic gifts and prizes. Plastic was believed to be posh material. Hence plastic shoes, home utensils and implements were the in-thing then. You won and received a plastic washing basin, bucket or set of plates.
Isaac Lugonzo, Peter Oronge, Elijah Lidonde, Joe Kadenge, and members of Kenya’s Gossage Cup team, played in those times. They earned nothing from football and died with nothing except black and white photos to show their ‘I was there’ moments. Somehow, Lugonzo who could read and write (a rare feat those days) was employed as an office messenger with the East Africa Power & Lighting Company (EAPL), which became Kenya Power & Lighting Company (KPLC). His rags to riches story is one for another day, but he managed to rise from the lowest rank to be mayor of Nairobi and chair of the board of KPLC.
Lugonzo was the first footballer in Kenya to prove that you can play for fun and use your fame for greater things and glory. By the time he died in March 1996, he lived in upmarket Muthaiga. His neighbours were former AG Charles Njonjo and retired President Mwai Kibaki. It was natural that he was also a member of Muthaiga Country Club. Lugonzo made it in life unlike most of his teammates. Talk of being given lemon and you make lemonade.
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Then there was Joab Onyango Omino aka Job Omino. He was also a Gossage footballer. He made it big time. He was a student at Makerere University when he first played for Harambee Stars. He would skip studies, jump onto a Nairobi-bound train from Kampala for national duty. He made it in football, academics and professionally. But Omino was not a rags-to-riches lad. His dad Joel Omino was chair of Kisumu County Council and also became post independence mayor of Kisumu.
His grandfather, Ogola Onyango, sat under a tree locally known as ‘Oseno’ in 1906 with a white missionary called Rev Willis. Their meeting gave Kenyans what is now known as Maseno School. Joab Omino also became Permanent Secretary in various ministries, chair of Kenya Football Federation (KFF), Confederation of African Football (CAF) committee member, MP Kisumu Town, Assistant Minister and Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly.
Many would argue that Omino had a head start, but it is evident that he used his privileged position to effectively develop personal and national interests around football. Few players end up doing what Omino did. He played and ended up managing the game effectively. It was during his reign as patron of Gor Mahia that the club achieved the highest accolades. It was also when Kenyans first saw a very effective professional turn-around coach in Reinhardt Fabisch. As fate would have it, when they differed, Omino fired the German with the famous saying, “coaches come and go, Fabisch can go”.
Dr Chris Obure is another success story in Kenyan football. After Omino, Obure was the next player to roll off the university conveyor belt. He combined academics and football well. He earned his Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Nairobi and played for Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars. Obure founded Bata Bullets FC and with Ken Matiba, started Kenya Breweries FC as its first chair. Professionally, he rose to the position of Company Secretary at Kenya’s biggest corporate entity before the entry of Safaricom.
Like Omino, he became MP for Borabu, Assistant Minister, CAS Ministry of Transport, Minister in different ministries and Senator of Kisii County.
Agonda Lukio, an Alliance High School alumnus was a mercurial Luo Union FC midfielder, but abandoned football in the mid ‘70s for further studies. He returned after four years and still played for his club, but was at the same time armed with a degree in finance and accounting. He retired after working with a leading state corporation.
Then there was David Okello, who played for Gor Mahia Class of ’76 which won the league unbeaten. He was also a finance professional who retired as a sugarcane farmer. He occasionally enjoys his golf and is the face of retired footballers who wish better policies should be put in place to reward sports retirees.
Exit Okello and enter the quiet and unassuming Ignatius Khaduli who had to choose between work and play. He chose work and has no regrets. He became a banker after high school, but also ‘stretched his muscles’ playing for Hakati FC and Gor. He was forced by circumstances to balance his accounts in the bank and go play football. Khaduli is now well settled and cannot complain.
Nahashon ‘Lule’ Oluoch and Sammy ‘Kempes’ Owino abandoned football after a short stint. They both went to the USA for further studies. Oluoch came back a university don and entrepreneur in the hospitality industry. Owino stayed on in America and now runs AYSES Football Academy in Texas.
Paul Oyuga, a beneficiary of Global Soccer Exchange programme, also went to the USA for university studies before landing in Norway. He is among the pioneer footballers to ply their trade in the Scandinavia. The others were John ‘Mo’ Muiruri and Bonaventure Maruti. Now retired, Oyuga pursued his IT career and runs his own company in the Scandinavian country.
Before JJ Masiga, Dan Shikanda, Zacheus Omondi and William Obwaka pursued what was considered prestigious career in medicine, there was Dr David Olima. He was in the Gor Mahia Class of 1969. Now in private practice in Kisumu, he also runs the famous Boya Hospital along the Awasi–Ahero road.
It has not always been a life of doom and gloom for footballers. Those who do not pursue academics can always and have reinvented themselves.
Jacob Ghost Mulei and Bramwell Mwololo realised they could use their streetwise interactive skills to run a radio show targeting those who used to clap for them. They have grounded themselves on air at Radio Jambo, whose audience is drawn from the Eastlands of Nairobi and the middle and lower echelons of our society. Ghost and Bramwell are basically on familiar grounds and they seem to enjoy it.
Talking about exploiting football talent we should look at those who opted to impart their knowledge of the beautiful game to the youth. Again, Ghost Mulei features because he runs Liberty Academy, an outfit that discovered Michael Olunga. Francis Kimanzi, Bobby Ogolla, Musa Otieno, Mike Okoth, Sammy Omollo, Nick Yakhama, Mike Mururi, Twahir Muhidin, Nicholas Muyoti, Robert Matano, Tom Juma, Zedekiah Otieno, Charles Korea Omondi and many others went into coaching. Although not as lucrative an area compared to others, at least they have something to occupy their minds. They are not paupers. Even when they lose their jobs, they always look forward to that rare phone call asking them to go somewhere for an interview.