Thousands of mourners trooped to Bukhungu stadium in Kakamega County as early as 8am and waited with bated breath for the arrival of the body of fallen football legend Joe Kadenge.
On an ordinary day, such a crowd would have signalled an important football match pitting perhaps Kakamega’s most popular side, Homeboyz against AFC Leopards who command a bigger following in the Western region.
But the arrival of a police outrider followed by a hearse and a convoy of vehicles told a different story.
These were mourners filing in from different parts of the region to pay their last respects and eulogise a man who started his exploits that catapulted him into a football legend at Bukhungu stadium in the early 60s.
The mourners wore t-shirts emblazoned with pictures of Joe Kadenge with his trademark hat and waived miniature flags bearing his photos.
The body of Joe Kadenge, who died after a long battle with illness in Nairobi on July 7, was flown to Kakamega in a chopper.
The arrival of the body sent mourners, who sat waiting on the main dais, into a frenzy as they struggled to catch a glimpse of the pallbearers carrying the coffin bearing the body of their hero to a special tent set up at the edge of the football ground for viewing.
All the football legends present joined hands to carry the body of the late Kadenge from the helicopter which landed at Bukhungu stadium at 12.30 pm amid tight security.
His family members who included his widows, Mabel Khamonya Kadenge and Mary Kadenge accompanied the body.
Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo, his deputy Patrick Saisi, Kakamega deputy governor Philip Kutima and Hamisi MP Charles Gimose were at the stadium to receive the body of the late Kadenge.
Joseph Muyeka from Ikolomani, a retired teacher and a close friend of Kadenge evoked memories of the good old days when he played with him in the then North Nyanza team.
Muyeka, 83, said he was invited to play for the side after players from Bungoma pulled out from the team which was to travel to Mombasa for the Remington Cup in 1954.
“We were youthful and people wrote us off saying we lacked experience. But we carried the day, Joe scored a goal and I added the second. From then on, he became a very close friend,” said Muyeka.
Another football great from the region Aggrey Litali said he knew Kadenge when he joined Motcom FC.
“Joe was playing for Maragoli FC and was a skilful dribbler who was always found the target whenever he weaved his way into a scoring position. He made many friends and inspired many young talents from western,” said Litali.
In his speech, Governor Ottichilo described Kadenge as a hero who sacrificed a lot to promote sports activities in the region.
“We are going to remember Joe with full honours of a hero because of the great contribution he made in promoting football and other sports activities. We support the proposal by the government to rename City Stadium to Joe Kadenge stadium in honour of our hero,” said Ottichilo.
Abaluhyia United FC (currently AFC Leopards) legends were also present to mourn their former teammate.
Former national team player Pius Masinza led the legends from Kakamega County while George Sunguti flew the flag of the retired veterans drawn from Nairobi.
“Kadenge influenced many players in the football industry. He was a skilful player, visionary, perfect dribbler and a superb goal scorer who rarely failed to score while playing,” said Masinza.
Speaking at the stadium, John "Shoto" Lukoye said many players were motivated by Kadenge’s football prowess among them Jonathan Niva, Anthony Mukabwa and Livingstone Madegwa.
Lukoye said there is urgent need to form a welfare association so that former players can benefit once they retire.
“The death of Kadenge has taught us a lesson. If we had formed an association of retired players we could not go through all this financial difficulties such as medical treatment,” said the former AFC Leopards midfielder.
Other legends present included Gilbert Olumasai, Justus Muhati, Tony Lidonde, Dennis Munyendo and Aggrey Litali.
Football Kenya Federation (FKF) officials drawn from Western Kenya region termed Kadenge as a football wizard who will be missed by players and fans.
Accompanying them was FIFA referee instructor Elly Mukolwe, former FKF Western branch chairman Andrew Amukowa and FKF Western branch chairman Moses Akali who thanked the government for assisting Kadenge while he was ailing.
AFC Leopards Kakamega county Fans Association chairman Owen Musoma led Ingwe followers in the viewing.
Kadenge will be buried in his rural Gisambai village, Hamisi Sub-County on Saturday. A friendly match between AFC Leopards and Vihiga United will be played in Vihiga County before the burial.