When a soccer star knows tricks beyond foota

Former Harambee Stars Captain Mike Okoth

In my many years as a soccer fan, I can confess to have seen very few sportsmen or women juggling other games with football.

Mike Okoth was among my first experiences. In the mid-80s, he was a formidable goalkeeper for Shabana FC, then a top division soccer club.

His joining Kenya Breweries as a striker was an anti-climax to many soccer fans who did not know his other talent. He quickly took over the striking role in the national team from Peter Dawo and emerged into a top-notch attacker.

Currently, his son Divock Origi is also a striker at Liverpool FC in the English Premier League. Before him, Nahashon ‘Lule’ Oluoch was an excellent athlete at Nairobi South Primary School and Highway Secondary School.

People thought he was good simply because both schools had a substantial population of Asian students who were naturally not gifted in both soccer and athletics. Somebody did not see it that way. Austin Oduor, elder brother to Mike Okoth, happened to be the school captain in both schools.

He encouraged Oluoch who was naturally left footed to switch to football. Austin saw the advantage the lad had. Being left footed and fast would be an advantage at the flanks in the school team.

This is a good example of many players who have abandoned one sport for another only to end up excelling in the new one.

Others have excelled in more than one sport during their youth but ended up with a different one on retirement. Paul Owora, a member of the Gor Mahia Class of ‘76, excelled in squash and football. His was good in both and ended up representing Kenya in international squash games.

JJ Masiga played rugby for Mean Machine, the University of Nairobi famous team. He managed to don the national colours. As a member of the Kenya national rugby team he was a regular feature in both the invitational tournaments like Watembezi Pacesetters and other matches involving the country’s First XV.

David Okello was Gor Mahia’s defender also in the Class of ‘76. After retiring he picked up golf and is nowadays a serious player based in Kisumu. He recently told me he finds the game very soothing and exciting compared to his days in the football terrain.

Fomer Nigerian football star JJ Okocha recently came to Kenya courtesy of Barclays Bank to take part in the just ended Kenya Open Golf tournament at Muthaiga Club. He proved that his soccer skills were still sharp by juggling a golf ball the way one would a football.

The great Michael Jordan retired from basketball and also took up golf. He still plays at 54 and also owns a golf course. Freddy Mayaula Mayoni, the great Congolese musician did the opposite. Started as a footballer but ended up a musician.

Gifted academically, he passed his primary and secondary school very well. His football career started off at AS Vita Club of Kinshasa where he played as a winger before receiving a call up to the Zaire national team that took part in the 1974 FIFA World Cup in Munich.

The great Franco was then the president at AS Vita Club of Kinshasa. When Mayaula’s diplomat father was posted to Dar, the young man played briefly for Yanga FC before leaving for Belgium to further his studies. While there, he picked up soccer again by joining Racing Club Charleroi and FC Fribourg in Switzerland after his studies. Back home, Mayaula decided to abandon soccer altogether.

He joined a small band called Orchestra Africana as a rhythmist. When Franco heard that he was back in town and was interested in music, he sent emissaries to convince him to join TPOK Jazz. Being a quick learner, the man had mastered many components of music. He could play the rhythm guitar, compose and sing.

Back in Nairobi, another Congolese, Pele Ondidia was also running rings around Kenyan defenders. He played as a winger for Reunion FC, then a tough club in the Kenyan premier league. After the games, he could rush home for a quick shower before joining Samba Mapangala’s Les Kinois band as vocalist.

Seeing Pele in the streets of Kaloleni one would not distinguish between Pele the footballer with a football club or Pele the music entertainer at a night club.

Charles ‘ Korea ‘ Omondi was also goalkeeper and striker. During his sunset years at Kisumu Posta, many were surprised to see how good he was as a striker. George ‘ Nyangi ‘ Odembo retired from football and is now an accomplished evangelist in the USA.

I’m sure most of the current players are not aware of what else they could be good at. They better start evaluating their inner talent. Maybe some are ‘playing around with a goldmine ‘.