A lot has been said about Joe Kadenge, the legendary football wizard who passed away on June 7 aged 84 after being in and out of hospital a number of times.
Eulogised by the high and mighty led by President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga all down to the very ordinary Kenyans, Kadenge truly was a great Kenyan loved by all, including those who never got a chance to see him in action but followed his thrills on live radio broadcasts.
In Nyeri where I was born and brought up in Muthuani, Tetu Sub-County which is about eight kilometers from Ruring’u Stadium, there were two sports locals loved to watch - football and athletics.
Those were the days when both young and old would fill the stadium to enjoy themselves while others were left outside to do business of selling mostly sugarcane and sweet bananas. Through radio, newspapers and the local administration, people were able to follow major events.
Kadenge became a household name locally and beyond, mostly through radio broadcasts whenever there were major football matches to be aired. Leonard Mambo Mbotela, arguably the best football commentator in Kenya and perhaps in East and Central African region, was such a pulling force to radio listeners that some would even forget there were cows to be milked.
Voice of Kenya (VoK) and later Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) was the only radio station in Kenya which used to close at 11pm.
During major football matches where Kenya was playing against another country, Mambo Mbotela would start by introducing all the players then focus on the game itself: “Mpira umeanza na kila mchezaji anamchunga kwa makini mpinzani wake…Kadenge amempokonya mpinzani wake mpira na anaenda kwa kasi…..Kadenge na mpira… kadenge na mpira…Goal…!!!!!!!”
Those were the days when Kadenge would make soccer fans shout so loudly that Mambo would for a moment be left saying “ Salaaaala…..Salaaaalal!!!!”
Kadenge’s amazing speed and accuracy any time he got hold of the ball won him so many fans that whenever he walked along the streets in whichever part of the country he would be mobbed just to be congratulated.
To understand the influence Kadenge had on the local community surrounding schools, the one I was attending, CCM Gitathiini Primary School, had a good number of talented pupils in football who had seen Kadenge in action and wanted to copy his skills.
That was between 1960 and 1964 when many primary schools had some of the pupils as old as their teachers or even order. The Mau Mau war against colonialists had disrupted education, forcing both old and young to join standard one together. Among the talented old boys were Karari Mung’ure, nicknamed ‘creature’ because of his size and strength. He had huge calves and could kick the ball from one goalpost to the other.
He was a full back. John Macharia Karanja was swift and controlled the ball well. Then there was John Mutahi Gathiaka, the most talented and soon to be officially nicknamed Kadenge. He trained hard to acquire the skills of his mentor. They had a number of things in common - size, speed and accuracy.
Kadenge of Nyeri scored many goals and made our school among the best in the region. Had he a chance to meet his mentor, perhaps this country would be having a big story to tell on Saturday.
When Charles Nderitu Mukora, former president of National Olympics Committee of Kenya, died a few months ago, I called Kadenge to comment about perhaps Kenya’s best sports administrator. Kadenge told me he had known Mukora since early 1950s and they were good friends who played football, representing Kenya in Gossage Cup (now Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup) as well as local matches.
Said Kadenge during the interview: “I used to live in Nakuru and there were times I would call Mukora to let him know I would be joining him for football matches which mostly took place at Ruring’u Stadium. As an administrator in sports, Mukora did a lot not only for Kenya but for Africa as a whole. It was sad I was not able to attend his burial.”
There are many things to learn from the life of Kdenge. He selflessly dedicated his immense talent in football to build a better image for this nation and its citizens. He was non-tribal and looked at Kenya as a nation that could match the best in the world of football. He has paved the way for others to learn the importance of true teamwork to elevate football to higher levels.
When relevant bodies are mandated to manage football and funds are released, only the right people should be allowed to handle those funds and ensure they accomplish the intended duties. Football is big business that can transform not only individual players and their clubs, but the entire country.
By doing things right, Kadenge’s soul will be smiling peacefully and wishing everybody well as live goes on here on earth. No doubt, he truly was a great Kenya.