“I am sad that I lost 13 children to HIV/Aids and am left with one daughter who is already married. My health is deteriorating on a daily basis and I have been walking on the streets, visiting offices and appealing to well-wishers for daily bread and medical assistance.”
These are the remarks by none other than Mzee Joel Owino Odongo, 75, a former Harambee Stars goalkeeper, Bata Bullets FC player, and a football and netball coach for several clubs who walked into KNA offices recently armed with an officially signed proforma document seeking help.
“My children, please help me. I have nothing to eat or fed for my wife Carren Acholla and several grandchildren. I am no longer able to work on my farm due to my ailing condition and I don’t own any business,” Mzee Odongo, a frail-looking, 5’8 tall, dark complexioned elder appeals as we welcomed him to have a seat
Clad in a brown coat and black trousers Odongo revealed that he had six boys and eight girls (one survived) adding he now has 39 grandchildren.
“My sons and daughters succumbed to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s when there were inadequate preventive and curative measures,” he recalled with a tinge of pain.
Born in 1948 in Kochogo location, Ahero-Nyando Sub-County, Kisumu County, he revealed that he has had multiple surgeries to save him from the jaws of death.
“My right groin was swollen with pus oozing, I underwent an operation to treat it. As we talk I have only one kidney and suffer from high blood pressure. The medical bill totaled Sh 800,000, and we only managed to raise Sh400,000 courtesy of the Universities, Colleges and Parastatals where I had offered my coaching services,” he explained and thanked these institutions for their generosity.
The money, he noted enabled him to receive treatment at various hospitals including Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital (JOOTRH) where he was admitted for three months, Port Florence Hospital Kisumu (one and half months) and Gendia Hospital in Kendu Bay where he was hospitalized for three months.
His face beamed with joy as he recounted his heydays as one of the pioneer goalies and football coaches in the country.
He elaborates that he began his football career as a goalkeeper while a pupil at Bunde Primary School. After completing class eight, he said he never joined high school and played for his local community football team Ahero Rangers for three years starting in 1962.
“I was poached by Bata Bullets FC from Limuru who came to play against us. After the match, they said that they were going to give me a job due to my goalkeeping prowess,’’ Odongo smiled warmly, adding that he joined Bata Shoe Company in 1966 and played for them for seven years.
At Bata Bullets FC, he adds, he played alongside former Kisii Senator Chris Mogere Obure who was a midfielder and the Company Secretary.
“I was delighted when I received my first call to adorn the shirts of our national team Harambee Stars in 1969 as the second goalkeeper by Coach Grzegorz Polakow. The first-choice goalie was James Aggrey Siang’a and the third was Mr. Ogutu from Kenya Breweries Limited,” he said.
In 1973, Mzee Odongo shifted his focus to coaching roles after being appointed the coach of Kimbo FC then being managed by former East Africa Industries. He served there for two years.
Other clubs where he showcased his skills, experience and won several cups as a coach were Kenya Prisons FC (1976-1979), Mombasa Port Reitz FC (1982-1985), Malindi Municipality FC (1985-1986), and Thika Bullish Tanneries (1986-1988).
He mentioned Aluko Jack, Zaddock Silabi and Joram Roy as some of the best strikers adding: “Some of the prolific strikers who tormented me between the goalposts include Allan Thigo, Sammy Nyongesa (both from Gor Mahia FC) and Joe Kadenge (AFC Leopards FC).”
In a twist of coaching career events, Mzee Odongo attained ‘netball ranks’ after undergoing a one-year Netball Coaching Course in 1988.
He even joined Nelson Mandela University in South Africa where he served for two years as a netball coach. In 1992, he proceeded to Nigeria University for Netball Practical Training and in 1995 became Kampala University netball coach where he served from 1995-1999.
Locally, he colorfully took charge of Maseno University (1999-2000), Kericho Training Teachers College (2000-2002), Kisumu Posta Netball (2003), Migori Training Teachers College (2004-2005), and Kisumu Railways (2006) when he retired from the ‘court’ duties.
Mzee Odongo appeals to the national government and sporting federations to urgently come to the aid of former players who he lamented lived in abject poverty.
“It is high time they come up with the Kenya Hall of Fames to honor and reward sportsmen and women for the glory they brought to the nation in their various disciplines,’’ he advised.
Hall of Fame is a list of individual achievements or other entities, usually chosen by a group of electors to mark their excellence or fame in their fields. They can consist of actual halls or museums that enshrine the honorees with sculptures, plaques and displays of memorabilia and general information.
On the current club players’ salaries and allowances, Mzee Odongo points out that during their days they were players-cum-employees which, he noted, brought financial security and boosted their morale on and off the pitch.
He urged local football clubs to pay their players well to prevent them from hopping to others saying doing so would also help in improving Kenyan football standards.
He advised talented youth to be highly disciplined as they grow their talents if they want to succeed.
As we parted, the renowned former sportsman appealed to the government and good Samaritans to help him out of the financial abyss he was currently in due to his ill health amidst hard economic times.
“I can be reached through my personal contact number 0768226678,’’ he said, happily stretching his legs to reveal torn socks and dustily worn-out shoes.
By Rolex Omondi