Long before he breathed his last on Sunday, July 7, 2019, Mzee Joe Kadenge had been immortalised in the folklore of Kenyan football history.
Mzee Kadenge was, without doubt, the most spoken-about Kenyan football player of the past and present generation and widely considered to be country’s all-time greatest.
This explains why many years after quitting the game, Kadenge, he of the “Kadenge na mpira” fame, remained peerless, a revered doyen of Kenyan football.
Yet, long into his retirement years, it seemed this grand old man’s remarkable story would remain to be just an oral fable, occasionally recited by word of mouth, as opposed to being officially documented in black and white, even as the living legend himself walked in flesh amongst us.
Mercifully, three-and-a-half years before Kadenge’s death, the long sought-after curator of Kadenge’s legendary status, seasoned sports Journalist John Nene, stepped forward and published the book Joe Kadenge: The Life of a Football Legend, which captures all the dramatic milestones of the man who, perhaps, arrived on the scene way ahead of his time.
Befitting of the special place which Kadenge held in the history of Kenyan football, Joe Kadenge: The Life of a Football Legend was published just eight months after the legendary footballer celebrated a landmark 80th birthday.
The book was unveiled at a colourful ceremony in Nairobi, where the chief guest was one of Kadenge’s biggest fans, ODM leader Raila Odinga.
During that occasion, the former Prime Minister, who also notably wrote the book’s foreword, hailed Kadenge as a towering figure in Kenyan football, terming the book’s publication as a historic event.
“The story of Kenyan football cannot be complete without the name of Joe Kadenge, both by longevity of playing and the duration of remaining a star. It is my hope that the book will inspire the next generation of players,” Mr Odinga wrote in the book’s foreword.
The 300-page book not only captures the important and dramatic moments of Kadenge’s playing career, but also that of other top players of his era such as Elijah Lidonde, Peter Oronge, Ali Kajo, Ali Sungura, Daniel Nicodemus “Arudhi”, William “Chege” Ouma and James Siang’a.
The author of the book, Mr Nene, a one-time sports writer for the Daily Nation, did well in documenting Kadenge’s 50-year untold story through a compelling narration.
In Nene’s own words, the book is in recognition of Kadenge’s impact on Kenyan football during his playing career spanning almost two decades.
“Kenya has produced many great football players, but Kadenge stands out amongst his peers and successors for his exceptional talent. But the book is not just about Kadenge, it is also about other top players of his era,” Nene said back then during the book’s unveiling.
Ironically, while the many of the older fans considered Kadenge to be a football demigod, the man was not born with the Midas touch. Kadenge was in fact a self-made footballer, having first tried his hands in the boxing ring before finding his true calling in football.
That said, sporting blood without doubt runs deep in Kadenge’s family. There is a whole chapter in the book that recounts the sporting exploits of his brothers John Anzrah, Johnstone Madonye, Timonah Bwoyere, George Idagiza and his last born sister, Esther Kavaya.
All four of Kadenge’s brothers at some point played football, although the most well-known of them is Anzrah, who later switched to athletics.
A redoubtable sprinter, Anzrah represented Kenya at numerous global and continental competitions, including the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and the 1987 All Africa Games in Nairobi.
A latter-day national sprints coach, Anzrah was infamously expelled from the Kenya’s athletics camp at the Rio Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016 after being caught up in an embarrassing identity goof.
The book also gives the readers a peek into the football careers of Kadenge’s sons, Francis, Evans, Wycliffe, James, Oscar and Rodgers, all of whom despite being skilful and talented footballers in their own rights, were eternally consigned to living in the shadows of their father’s larger-than-life stature.
Other chapters of the book recount some of the less spoken-about incidents during Kadenge’s career. One such incident was the nearly tragic love-triangle involving two of Kadenge’s colleagues in the national team – goalkeeper James Siang’a and William ‘Chege’ Ouma.
Then there is also the tale of the double life of Daniel Nicodemus ‘Arudhi’, who was a great footballer by day and a dreaded gangster under the cover of darkness.
Arudhi’s life and his promising football career ended tragically when the long arm of the law eventually caught up with him. He was gunned down, under unclear circumstances, presumably by the dreaded crime buster of the time, Patrick Shaw.
Joe Kadenge: The Life of a Football Legend, also unravels what made the maestro tick on and off the pitch, what made him quit international football briefly in 1965 and his subsequent comeback two years later.
But for all his accomplishments in life, Kadenge seemed to realise that he was not superhuman. In a Q&A final chapter of the book, Kadenge attributes his success to one thing – discipline.
“Discipline was very important to me. I’m a disciplined person. When I was young I used to see people drink alcohol, and say what is all this? I resolved that I would never drink or smoke. Even at this age of 80, I still feel I’m fit. The players I played with and were drinking are nowhere to be seen now,” he told the author.
However, the book’s most glaring flaw is that many of the characters whom Kadenge played against – especially those from the neighbouring countries – largely remain anonymous, either because most of them are deceased or their names have simply been lost in time more than a half century later.
Regardless of this and other challenges that the author cited, such as inadequate references and resource materials, the book to a large extent unwraps Kadenge’s life story in a simple and refreshing style that most readers will enjoy.
In his long and eventful life, Kadenge bequeathed the Kenyan football fraternity with many things, including scions that will carry on the Kadenge name and DNA.
Now that he is gone, the book Joe Kadenge: The Life of a Football Legend is a befitting epitaph to the man who gave Kenyans the popular refrain "Kadenge na Mpira!"