James Siang’a. Goalkeeper of the independence era. Turned out for the future Harambee Stars for 13 years, in itself testimony to his brilliance and immovability. Also coached the national team. He has coached in other countries in the region, an uncommon Kenyan export product.
Dan Odhiambo – Best Gor Mahia goalkeeper ever. Unbeatable in one-on-one situations. Very brave. Weak with long range balls.
Mahmoud Abbas. The debate will never end as to who between him and his mentor Siang’a was greater. But Abbas had the singular talent for stopping penalties. Even when Kenya played poorly, this earned him the attention of experts and he has been lauded as one of the greatest goalkeepers to come out of the African continent.
Mohammed Magogo – Captain of the stars before being ousted by Abbas. Flamboyant. Went to play in the Middle East.
Ben Okoth – Independence era goalkeeper. Motivated Siang’a.
Joseph Were – Independence era goalkeeper. Like Okoth, gave way to Siang’a, the inimitable youngster of his day.
Jonathan Niva. Kenya’s first overlapping full-back, an outstanding, even overbearing personality on the field. He dominated AFC Leopards on the pitch and off it. He brought much character-based baggage to both Leopards and Harambee Stars for which he also played and coached, but no list of Kenya football greats can be without Niva’s name.
Peter Otieno ‘Bassanga’ – Overlapping left back. Mainstay of the Marshall Mulwa teams that conquered the East and Central African region.
Daniel Anyanzwa – Cool, calm, collected. Slow, but extremely hard to pass. Always reminds one of Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, ‘the Kaiser’.
Josephat Murila. The AFC Leopards and Harambee Stars centre half was as fine a footballer as one could ever wish for. He had high speed for a defender, great skill on the ground and in the air, a cool temperament and an amiable personality. They called him The Controller. I called him the man who never put a foot wrong. He was both.
Bobby Ogolla. Kenya’s greatest central defender ever. Fondly nicknamed the Six Million Dollar Man after the lead character of a 1980s television thriller series of the same name, Bobby was the kind of player only injury or age could remove from Gor Mahia and Harambee Stars. The Number Four jersey was his for keeps.
Amrani Shiba – Captain of the Independence team. A great stopper, before we knew Bobby Ogolla.
Peter Wasiembo – A high work rate left back of the Independence team.
Moses Wabwai – A mainstay of the independence team. Rarely substituted.
Joram Roy – Incredible power for a man so small – he measured just about five feet. Played for Limuru’s Bata Bullets. Was right back for the Kenya team to the 1972 Nations Cup.
Anthony Mukabwa – One of the original Abaluhya FC players (1964). Featured regularly for Kenya team. Very strong, great stamina.
Austin Oduor – Kenya’s most successful captain ever. A model of discipline. A wholesome character, with sound philosophical underpinnings. Good company to keep. Patriarch of a footballing family.
Charles Makunda – Tragically killed in a road crash at the height of his powers. Despite dying young, he still makes the list. Certainly one of Kenya’s best ever right backs.
Vincent Kwarula – Overlapping fullback for Tusker and Kenya. Nicknamed Josimar for playing like a great Brazilian right back who scored many goals, including the World Cup.
Sammy Owino. Sammy was one class behind me in high school and I told him he would play for Harambee Stars when only our school football team knew him. Those who never saw him missed magic. When Gor Mahia said the first half is Gor and the second is one Magic, it was Kempes, as they called him, on their mind.
Allan Thigo. He was variously called the 90-minute man because he was never up for substitution. He had tremendous influence on other players and exhibited unusual capacity to single-handedly alter the tempo and rhythm of a game.
Wilberforce Mulamba. To talk of Mulamba, also nicknamed Maradona, you must first issue a caveat: “When he was in the mood.” Because when he wasn’t, he could make you cry with frustration. But when he was in the mood and with form to go with it, he could fit in any World Cup finals team in the world, dare I claim.
Daniel Nicodemus – defender turned midfielder turned striker (unconfirmed stories have it that he had tried goalkeeper as well) but a must for Kenya in his day. Highly rated by team mates and fans who watched him.
Peter Oronge – Excellent linkman (Number 6). Playmaker extraordinary. Also coached Kenya, but famously disappeared mysteriously hours before Kenya got clobbered 13-2 by Ghana in 1964.
Badi Ali, Ahmed Breik, Ali Sungura, Ali Kadjo and Kadir Farah.
The poster boys of Coast football when it was at its peak. They played in different positions but I’ve grouped them together as a tribute to excellent Coast football gone by. Kadir Farah, one of our most delightful midfielders ever with delicate touches of the ball – absolute elegance. If only space could allow me to write more about them!
Victor Wanyama. When Harambee Stars denied Uganda Cranes a place in the Gabon/Equatorial Guinea Africa Nations Cup, I asked Abbey Nasur, a former Gor Mahia great, who done it? I expected he would say Arnold Origi, our goalkeeper. But Nasur was obsessed with Wanyama and seemed stuck with him. Wanyama was not famous at that time. Nasur made me develop an interest in him.
Now you know why.
McDonald Mariga. He became bigger than Oliech in Europe. Hobbled by injury, fans must pray that his medical and technical people make him do all the right things. If they don’t, the only midfielder today – along with his brother Victor, of course – who could play alongside Mulamba and Owino in the 1980s may face a tragic early sunset. May that not happen for he is truly one of our greats.
Hezekiah Ang’ana – Temperamental Number 8, kingpin of Abaluhya FC and Kenya, favourite (along with Aggrey Lukoye) of coach Bernhard Zgoll. Committed suicide when caught up in a love triangle.
Steve Yongo – Skillful, with a great work rate, for Luo Union and Kenya. An inspirational team player as well.
Douglas Mutua – Slight of built but engaging player to watch with excellent ball control. He used to kill even the trickiest balls easily. You remember him and you ask: Where did players like this go?
John Nyawanga – Left wing maestro of Breweries and Kenya.
Ali Sungura (See above on Coast players).
Ellie Adero – Nicknamed Charahani (seeming machine) by Tanzanians because of his speed. Switched wings seamlessly. Winning captain of Harambee Stars in 1983.
Nashon Oluoch – Feinting genius. He ran balls at great speed along the touchline. A real nightmare for any defender assigned him.
Ambrose Ayoyi – His hallmark was “de-marking” – i.e. he lost his markers for long periods of a game. He used to hide in the open. Possessed of a terrific left foot. Also a good penalty taker.
Binzi Mwakolo – Razor sharp right winger for Breweries and Harambee Stars. He made going past defenders look easy, and could make you laugh as he made their tackles look so awkward and foolish.
Sammy Onyango ‘Jogoo’ – Very powerful with both feet. A mainstay of Gor Mahia from Hakati FC. Killed in a road crash.
Aggrey Lukoye – The lone survivor of a purge of instituted by Bernhard Zgoll when he took over the Kenya team in 1974. He had only one foot on the pitch – the left one, but what a foot it was! Amazing bursts of speed. Played for Leopards and Kenya – for 13 years.
William Chege Ouma. There is Denis Oliech and there was JJ Masiga. But fans of Kenya football of the 1970s are insistent that there never was a greater striker than William Chege Ouma. His sudden change of direction, his cunning and his exquisite ball handling skills, have not been seen in Kenya since he left the scene. I saw him only briefly but I have been told for more times than I can remember that there was only one Chege and he’s gone.
Joe Masiga. JJ helped AFC Leopards to a semi-final place in the 1981 CECAFA Club Cup in Malawi, jumped into a plane and returned home to do his final year exams at the University of Nairobi - passing them, as it turned out later, to qualify as a dentist. He jumped into the next plane to Malawi and arrived just in time for the final against arch-rivals Gor Mahia. He scored both Leopards’ goals but they lost, 3-2 and that was cruel luck. That story is snippet of his character. He remains a good example to the youth.
Peter Dawo – Leading African scorer when Gor Mahia won the 1987 Mandela Cup. Powerful both on the ground and in the air. Excellent physique.
Denis Oliech. When Kenya football plummeted to its lowest lows after the highs of the 80s, he is the one who revived it. He was the first of today’s football celebs; he broke the glass ceiling and became a hit abroad. Technically, I am not sure he can hold a candle to JJ Masiga but warts and all, we owe him the world for giving us back our game.
Charles Ochieng – A great header of the ball. Actually, Ochieng took only his head to the pitch, hardly the feet, but that’s all you could ask for.
Elijah Lidonde – The most powerful right foot in Kenya’s history. We grew up with fables that a penalty shot he made entered the goalkeeper’s stomach, killing him instantly. Thereafter, Lidonde was prohibited from ever using his right foot again – by the police!
Henry Motego – Ndovu (Elephant) of Shabana, Breweries and Kenya. A great work rate.
Livingstone Madegwa – Was a member of the first Breweries team formed at great cost to Abaluhya FC. Fine striker, key member of the 1972 Nations Cup team.