If there is any high school that has ever made the greatest football impact in Kenya then it has to be Kakamega High School. Popularly known as the Green Commandoes, they ruled Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA) football competitions for almost a decade between 1980 and 1990.
During that period they were champions in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1989 and 1990. A feat that no other high school has ever achieved. Call it joy or happiness or pleasure, education and combat and you will have the meaning of football.
Football means Kakamega High School and Kakamega High school means Football. This is undeniably a home to a galaxy of football stars who played for KPL teams countrywide. From Mike Amwayi, Reginald Asibwa, Joseph Moreno Atitwa, Dennis Munyendo, Martin Musisi, Mike Kisaghi, Patrick Omar Bongo Shilasi, Eliud Omukuya, Mike Computer Wambani to Simon Seppe Mulama, Japhary Oyando, Maurice Sunguti, Bonventure Maruti, Sebastian Owino and Mohammed Fwaya.
But what is it that made the Green Commandos indispensable?
The presence of experienced coach Chris Makokha (deceased) was fundamental to the Green Commandoes football dynasties. Makokha a physics and Mathematics teacher attended a coaching course in Brazil and embraced a unique football philosophy that greatly appealed to the Green Commandoes football fans. The fans fancied the Green Commandoes fluid football so much that they loved it, they lived it. Makokha was as good in teaching Physics as he was in coaching football. The coaching phenomenal believed in winning beautifully and playing aesthetic football. He taught his players a passing game that was beautifully exemplified. He encouraged an attacking mentality and strongly emphasized on teamwork.
The coach who wore thick glasses due to his poor eyesight was always very serious on the pitch during training. He never allowed the ball to leave the ground. If a player lifted the ball unnecessarily it would result in a foul. “Why are you lifting the ball?” he would ask. “Why are you using your leg like a spoon?” he would be heard yelling.
He emphasized on the attacking players going to the near post and delivering a home pass to team mates in order to score easy goals. The goals indeed kept on coming. Sometimes after we won a match Chris Makokha would tell us as a team that we did not measure to his standards.
On the contrary, he would tell his friends after the same match that “today my boys really played wonderfully.”
Chris Makokha was very humorous outside the field. At one point in a physics class he gave a story of a Man called Handa who really feared women that one day he was given a girl but he jumped and ran away through the window of his house.
Makokha was always precise and to the point. The Green Commandoes was a scientist’s team. The team did their physical exercise in the morning before classes so that in the evening the coach would concentrate on technique, tactics and mental training. The coach had football classes whereby he would watch and analyze matches with the players. So much was his belief in Brazilian football that he knew no other way of play.
He liked using examples of the 1970 Brazilian team such as Roberto Rivellino, Jerson and Pele, the world’s best player. This Brazilian team is regarded as the best national team ever to play in a World Cup. Makokha himself wore his trademark Brazilian jersey on several occasions. The coach prioritized technique and touch. He was more concerned with how the team played than the game.
At some point when the team won without playing beautifully and to instructions, the coach would get disappointed and criticize the win. Players were not encouraged to make more than two touches. “Control and pass” were the instructions heard from the coach during training and matches.
Makokha was a perfectionist; he is the Pep Guardiola of today. Apart from remarkable coaching, Chris Makokha was a great scout and the school admitted players with a good football background.
Quality facilities and football mad fans
Kakamega High School boasts of tremendous sports facilities. The school has two very standard pitches with brilliant playing surfaces which could easily be confused with artificial turf. The two rugby fields serve as the third and fourth soccer pitches. The main football pitch is called Mabao Stadium as it is here where most teams are humbled and taught football lessons. Uniforms and balls were always in adequate supply. Everyone in the school from the principal, teachers, students to support staff have no option but loving the beautiful game.
Football culture in Kakamega high school is as old as the school itself. During crucial matches at Bukhungu Stadium and neighboring schools, all the students were given permission to march out of the school to cheer their beloved team to glory.
The fans never disappointed. The cheering squad woke up at 5.00 am in the morning to sing and dance in preparation for the matches. Before serious matches the fans even organized themselves in groups the previous night and rehearsed all the songs that they would sing the following day. They couldn’t wait for the day of the match. So serious and passionate were these cheering squads that they had leaders.
Most of the cheering squad rarely watched the matches. The simple reason is that they concentrated on singing praise songs for the Green Commandos. They only watched when there was a goal by GC, the acronym of the team. The cheering songs would praise the Green Commandos and ridicule their opponents. “Oooyee Oooyee”, “Nationally”. The fans would chant urging the team to qualify for the national championship. The team had an anthem which the fans sang before the match. Like the national anthem, everyone would stand at attention in respect of the anthem. At one point in a crucial match against rival Ingotse High School from Kakamega, the Green Commandos anthem included a phrase “Ingotse Mapera”, possibly to demean the opponents.
Great Football Exposure
Located in the home of football, the Green Commandos inevitably got a lot of exposure by playing superior opponents. Ministry of Works (MoW) football team which was playing in the premier league used Kakamega High School as their training ground. Chris Makokha doubled up as the coach of MoW and the Green Commandoes.
Being a father to the two teams meant they ate from the same plate. They both trained at the school and played each other frequently in mid-week friendlies. The boys in the Green Commandos team were lucky to train with household names in MoW like Eliud Wamukuya, Dennis Munyendo a biology teacher at the school in the 90s, Mike Computer Wambani, Santos Muhindi, Ongoli and Ofaque. Most of the Green Commandos players impressed and were promoted to MoW and played in the KPL.
Kakamega high school was a breeding ground for MoW while AFC Leopards was the biggest beneficiary of players from MoW. The transition up the ladder was very smooth. The Green Commandos also played friendly matches with Mumias Sugar and Kakamega Posta which also used one of the pitches at the school as their training ground.
Just like the rivalry between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards; Manchester United and Arsenal; Celtic and Glasgow Rangers, the Green Commandos had their arch rivals. Winning football matches is the ultimate satisfaction of all fans in schools, villages and clubs in Kakamega. Football is in their blood and it’s like religion. In the yesteryears, football rivalry for Green Commandos began as low as at the zonal level. Kakamega High School rivals at this point were Ingotse and Mukumu Boys. In the other zone of Kakamega there was Musingu and Makhokho High School. Many a times the Green Commandos beat Ingotse in pulsating encounters while Musingu beat Makhokho on the other side.
Matches between Green Commandoes and Scorpions from Musingu was mouthwatering. It was a battle of the titans. Both teams exhibited flamboyant football. On a good day at Bukhungu Stadium, a match between these Kakamega kings only left fans convinced football was made in Kakamega. They saw everything they wanted. From the footworks of Bernard Agunda (deceased), Stephen Okumu (deceased) of Musingu to the genius displays of Simeon Mulama, Maurice Sunguti and Japhary Oyando of the Green Commandos.
Unlike Ingotse High School which opted to play hard tackling football, Musingu played fluid passes with high sportsmanship. In the battle between Green Commandos and the Scorpions, both teams played cherished football and the team that made a mistake automatically lost the match.
At provincial level, stiff opposition was from Chesamis High School from Bungoma and Mundika from Busia. The Green Commandos more often than not conquered all these. At national level there was stiff competition from Iterio, Kisii, Ofafa Jericho and Mombasa High Schools.
“Class of 1995” Mighty Squad.
Every team and country has its highs and lows, golden era and the dry spell. For the Green Commandos the golden era was between 1980 and 1990 when they swept everything before them. They created history that has not been broken to date and may never be broken by any other high school in Kenya. 1990 to 1994 was the dry spell when the winners’ trophy eluded them. This jinx was broken in 1995.
Meru was the venue of the football extravaganza. All roads led to the Mt. Kenya region. During this football feast the fans did not only enjoy miraa but they also had a football recipe. That year evokes images of greatness. The team repeated their style of football that had dominated secondary school football for so long. The fans at home were in love with that team and they needed something to celebrate. The face of the team was Chris Makokha by far the best high school football coach and teacher. He had coached AFC Leopards, MoW and the national team Harambee Stars in 1988 alongside the late James Sianga. The Green Commandoes had to win.
The squad that year had goalkeepers, Sebastian Owino and Mohammed Fwaya; Defenders; Ahmed Mohammed, Stanslus Kangaiya, Isaiah Imbusi, John Ammo, Naftali Bosire and Hassan Denje. The midfield was composed of John Khalid controller (deceased), Japhary Oyando, Jonah Mwangi, Simeon Mulama. The striking force included Maurice Sunguti, Bonventure Maruti and Abdul Abdudu Akhonya (deceased). Also in the team were Abdala Ahmed, Otinya and Emmanuel. These names were too good for any high school opposition. They would comfortably play in the Kenyan Premier League. The Green Commandos arrived in Meru not only confident but expecting victory. They were the overwhelming favorites. The team played all matches to the final unbeaten. In the final they played against former champions Ofafa Jericho from Nairobi. Ofafa Jericho the runners up had Eric Omondi and Brian Okumu as their marksmen. “Our team was so talented and with a very experienced coach. Ofafa Jericho and Mombasa High School were the only tough teams although they wouldn’t match us”, says Japhary Oyando. Maurice Sunguti was the captain of GC then and he never disappointed. The Green Commandos had reclaimed the trophy that they had missed for almost five years.
The stellar names in the Green Commandos team of 1995 had combined to form the heartbeat of the side. The squad was incredible. All the players knew each other and played a clean and disciplined game. They never changed the characteristics of their football. Both goalkeepers would rise to the occasion in any match. They were equally good and the coach was spoilt for choice. Isaiah Imbusi, Ahmed Mohammed, Stanslaus Kangaiya and John Ammo were the cornerstone of defense. Imbusi was a giant in body and also in the game. The midfield trinity of Simeon “Seppe” Mulama, Jonah Mwangi and Japhary Oyando was simply the best. They had the talent and they dominated and entertained even their opponents. They were unmatched in the tournament. There may never be such a combination again. The striking force of Bonaventure Maruti, Abdul Akhonya and Maurice Sunguti the captain was irresistible. Maruti had supersonic speed and a ferocious shot that could burst the net.
In fact in 1995 he had qualified to represent Western province in the nationals in the 100m sprints. However, the athletics competition and the provincial football finals coincided. He opted to play in the football provincial finals and scored beautiful and crucial goals that helped Kakamega qualify for the nationals in Meru. Abdul Akhonya was a footwork wizard. He toyed and teased defenders. He also had speed. Maurice Sunguti was a mercurial striker. He had perfect ball control and tremendous dribbling skills. He scored goals both beautiful and crucial. He won games for the Green Commandos.
Illuminating Careers after Green Commandoes
All the stellar names joined premier league teams. After completion of school the biggest star in goalkeeping Mohammed Fwaya joined Utalii FC then AFC Leopards. Sebastian Owino joined Utalii FC. The biggest star in defense Isaiah Imbusi joined Nzoia Sugar, Mumias Sugar then Sony Sugar. Stanslaus Kangaiya joined Mahakama FC; John Amimo joined Utalii FC and then Chemilil FC. Mohammed Ahmed briefly went to the Kenyan coast then to USA to work. The greatest stars in midfield Japhary Oyando joined Utalii FC, KCB and Tusker FC where he also became captain. Simeon Seppe Mulama played for Mathare United, AFC Leopards and a short stint with Ismailia of Egypt. Jonah Mwangi played for MOW, Kenya Pipeline then Sher Karuturi. The greatest stars in attacking Bonventure Maruti played for Gor Mahia before turning professional in Sweden. Maurice Sunguti played for AFC Leopards, Express FC Uganda, Yanga FC in Tanzania and then played professional football in Sweden. Abdul Akhonya (deceased) played for MOW and Shabana FC then Utalii FC. Most of these players also donned the National team jersey.
All players in this team are proud to have played for the Green Commandoes. Two decades down the memory lane these football icons are still fresh in the minds of football fans all over the country. Those who watched this team will never forget the memories. Those who did not watch them will never know what they missed.
After the dream team, GC went on a trophy drought until 2014 when the games were hosted by Kakamega High School. The winning coach was Brendan Mwinamo. This time there was no Chris Makokha, no Simeon Mulama, no Japhary Oyando and no Bonventure Maruti.