Uganda has ‘embarrassed’ Kenya by naming her stadium after our son

Philip Omondi stadium [Photo: Courtesy]

The Swahili say that ukichelewe utapata mwana si wako.

And yes, Kenya has dragged its feet long enough to allow Ugandans to do the unimaginable

— name one of its stadiums after a Kenyan. Imagine.

I still hold the belief that our country does not value or honour its soccer players

— I supported my argument by pointing out that some stadiums should ideally be named after local soccer players.

I gave various examples like the Machakos Stadium which I suggested should be named after Dino Kitavi, the first man from Kambaland to play for the national team.

Lodwar Stadium should be named after Patrick Nachok

— the only man from Turkana to also play for Harambee Stars.

Or if they wish, after Paul Ereng, the only Turkana to have won an Olympic medal, a gold for that matter, at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

 That is also where the late Robert Wangila became the first and only African to win a boxing gold.

Back to Uganda embarrassing Kenya. A few months ago, Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) in collaboration with the Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA) decided to renovate Lugogo Stadium

— the equivalent of our City Stadium.

Kampala has two other stadiums, Nakivubo Stadium and Nelson Mandela Stadium

— coincidentally, in 2016, Uganda Cranes was in serious contention for the The 2017 Africa Cup of Nations which will be held in Gabon.

 They qualified after beating Comoros 1-0 and topping their group.

This is also the year KCCA decided to renovate their stadium and name it after the person who ensured Uganda reached their last Afcon way back in 1978.

That man ironically was a Kenyan named Phillip Omondi aka ‘Omo’. The story of Omondi is interesting.

Both his parents were Kenyans from Karateng’ in Kisumu County. They moved to stay in Tororo Uganda as employees of the good old East African Railways and Harbours.

In 1957, Phillip Omondi was born in Tororo. His parents were later transferred to Kampala when he was 13 years old.

Their home was near the famous Lugogo Stadium in Kampala. As a young boy, he spent his free time hanging around the stadium whenever Kampala City Council (KCC) FC played.

Sometimes in 1969, when Uganda Cranes camped at the stadium in preparation for the East and Central Africa Challenge Cup tournament, the coach saw a small boy juggling the ball with dexterity.

He was impressed and asked the authorities to have him serve as a ball boy. Omondi was 12 years old.

A year later, he joined youth team, Naguru FC, then KCC FC as a midfielder at a tender age. The rest, as they say, is history.

When they played Express FC in a local derby, he whitewashed the opponents by scoring five goals.

That’s how he got his nickname Omo, after the popular detergent. Ironically, it was also a befitting short form of his name, Omondi.

Uganda qualified for three Afcon tournaments in a row - 1974, 1976 and 1978. Omondi was instrumental in all their footballing success.

In 1978, when they were at the Afcon tournament held in Ghana, Omondi helped the team to reach the final.

On the way, they beat, among others, the then feared Nigeria. Omondi scored two crucial goals in a 3-1 win. Although Uganda lost in the final match against hosts Ghana, Omondi had left a mark in Africa.

After his soccer exploits, he was basically a Ugandan citizen by birth and naturalisation

— both his parents passed on. Omondi’s last days were marked by uncertainty, he always appeared drunk and actually had no fixed abode.

Although it is said that he had a wife and three children, he led a miserable life of alcoholism. When he finally died in 1999, there was confusion in the Ugandan soccer circles. There were no relatives to coordinate his burial.

His body lay in a local morgue without any next of kin claiming responsibility. It is alleged that word was sent to his ancestral home in Kisumu.

Apparently, those who were traced as close relatives claimed to be too poor to go to Kampala for Omondi’s funeral. Uganda’s best footballer ever was eventually buried in an unmarked grave in Kampala.

Nevertheless, Uganda’s football fraternity did not completely forget their great soccer star. Years after many had long forgotten him, KCCA decided to renovate Lugogo Stadium and unveiled it as Phillip Omondi Stadium on August 13, 2016.

Interestingly, on August 31, 2016, our own Harambee Stars trained at the facility before playing Zambia for an Afcon qualifier.

 Tusker FC also had a practice stint there before a friendly game against KCCA on November 24.

It is sad that no stadium in Kenya has been named after our great soccer stars.