A lot of talented footballers have resorted to crime and ended up six feet under
Football and the gun: It is a thin line between soccer and crime
By Patrick Korir | Thu 23 Nov, 2017 16:06

An adrenaline rush sends her stumbling clumsily as she scampered for safety and seconds later gun shots rent the air. Screams, commotion and a quick flash of events followed. The aftermath was two motionless bullet drenched bodies blown away for what is said to have been muggings they had made a bad habit. This time the long arm of the law had cornered them. 

One of them was later identified as a budding 14-year old budding goalkeeper who was in the ranks of an Under 15 team in an academy along Ngong road. That was in 2005. This is one of the cases of talent sent to the six-feet-under abode a bit too early, smoked away from the field after taking the crime lane. The footballer turned desperado make the perfect fodder for wild tales and experiences listed in this piece where the first wordings started going up as far back as 2013, are endless. 

As narrated from a wide sample group, the appetizer to crime starts at teenager and cuts across both gender – male and female. The reasons behind this are far and wide. Brown Bomber In September of 2002, 1995 Silver All Africa games silver medalist George Maina aka Brown Bomber, who bank rolled a football club known as Kibera Zulu, was sprayed with bullets in a dawn raid in Kibera alongside five other persons one being a footballer named Kevin Jakolo. 

Nick of time

According to reports then, they were part of a gang that was preparing to raid a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and police came in the nick of time to curtail their plan. It is said two pistols, several live ammunition, swords and machetes were recovered in the shack where they were all gunned down. In 2005 a footballer named Leftie from Kibera said to have been miles better than Jesse Were – now in the ranks of Zambian giants Zesco United went down to the gun, as well as his accomplices, for allegedly trying to hijack a public service bus off Ngong Road. A-cut-above midfielder named Fupi could have been in the ranks of top Dutch side NEC Nijmegen, a club founded in 1900. 

This was at some point in 2003. He had been scouted from Kenya and taken to the Netherlands for a series of trials and follow-ups made later. After an illustrious career with Mathare United, Fupi who was described as a great midfielder had to look for options to survive. For him it was one quick end. On one fateful night in 2008, he and his gang were cornered when making way with their loot at Hurlingham after their gate-away car was sprayed with bullets. Though with guns, they had no chance to fight back and the whole lot was cleaned out. 

More examples In 2009, Odando, a defender barely 20 with Kangemi AllStars was blown away in a robbery gone sour in Kitale. Unbeknown to his team, he is said to have mastered house break-ins with services outsourced to other towns including Naivasha and beyond. In 2011 a budding footballer dubbed Figo was part of a gang that was waylaid at near Highrise down Mbagathi road with their loot after a burglary in Dagoretti. Figo who is said to have been driving the car used to ferry stolen goods had gone past all road blocks only to meet his death, with all his accomplices under spasmodic gunfire. 

Botched robbery

The following year, Issa formerly of Leviticus and YSA from the Kangemi precincts was smoked away in a botched homestead robbery in Westlands. The budding midfielder was at the tail end of the mission – responsible for tucking in stolen goods in a car. When the alarm was raised, the first bullet from the responding flying squad took him out, and the rest of his four-man gang were out cold soon after as they scrambled to escape. In May 2013, former top tier footballer known as Marley or Modo was gunned down one Sunday afternoon in Githurai 45 area for allegedly stealing a mobile phone. 

While his family and friends totally disputed that claim, the police said he was a repeated criminal who had been warned severally, and if he did not stop he’d be gunned down someday – something a constable dubbed Katitu accomplished on that day by shooting him in the head three times. In cold blood, an unarmed gentleman was gone. In July of 2014, a much sought after fourth form striker known as Legu who had transferred from Langata High to Olympic High was sprayed to death in Kibera after being cornered in the ranks of a wanted gang that had been warned by Police time and again to mend their ways but to no avail. 

He was six month away from finishing school and into the waiting contract from a second tier side that had already picked him as their answer to the top tier in 2016. History The case of footballers associating with crime and getting a dead-stop from the bullet dates back in yore. A story is told of one Daniel Nicodemus Arudhi who led a double life, one on the pitch and one in the underworld. Bits and pieces of his cunning ways are captured in Joe Kadenge: The Life of a Football Legend, a biography by John Nene Born in 1944, Arudhi, who was part of Kenya’s squad that featured in the first ever Africa Cup of Nations in 1972, is said to have been prolific player on the pitch, was also a convicted criminal and often, a wanted man. 

During his time football did not pay, save for occasional allowances. The biography talks of how the player capped 39 times for Kenya between September 1963 and November 1972 – with 18 goals to his credit, was temporarily released from prison to play for the national team. Among his spectators at City Stadium that day was a heavily armed contingent of prison wardens, presumably knowing how wily Arudhi could be. At the end of the game, they cuffed him again and took him back to his cell in Kamiti Prison. 16 years after that game, on a cold June night in Shauri Moyo, his luck finally ran out, with a bullet in his back from Kenya’s own James Bond – six-foot tall and 136 kg reservist Patrick Shaw who was always scanning the landscape, with his famed Volvo and browning pistol to weed out the not-so-good from the society. 

Jojo

 Many years later, in 2015, and in what confirms that crime cuts across both gender, a former player with Kenya’s national women team - Harambee Starlets nicknamed Jojo was not spared; she was gone with the bullet after being cornered in her criminal spate in Dandora. The tales of footballers going down to the bullet are eerie, scary and in-exhaustive. From Kibera to Huruma, Bahati, Korogocho, Mathare, Kariobangi many a talented player have gone with the wind, fallen to crime. Those who survived the gun but failed to run away from the proverbial 40 days are telling the tale from hail jail, a place described by Mwangi Gicheru in Across the Bridge describes as the ‘house for all’, where all and sundry discuss matters on ‘equal terms’. 

Those yet to be cornered are constantly on the run, or in exile to slither out of the men and women of law, or neighborhood vigilantes scanning the horizon for their heads. Why do footballers engage in crime? But why are youngsters, from teenagers turning out to be monstrous criminals with an insatiable hunger for money, societal status and urge to fulfill a larger-than-life image when they have a gateway through football? Piecing up the story in itself took years and many who were interviewed, or were to be interviewed begged for their names not to be revealed - and those of the victims, and some simply failed to turn up. According to Fred Razor Naduli, a former Mathare United defender who later became a team manager for the same team, there are compelling factors that possibly lead players to taking the wrong lane. 

Lack of progression in the game, family setup and false hope, according to Naduli, are massive contributors to a change in direction leading many talented players to crime, what he calls the quickest route to riches though a tad bit too risky. "Ule msee tulikuwa tunaenda stadi kumwatch sasa ndio ule amekaa base anasumbua watu. Kumbe hii ball kuna vile haitatupeleka pahali .." – so goes a saying by a despairing young player. Kuenda ruti ku hustle, kuenda mraa or mboka are part of the underground lingo used across many hoods to mean one is on a crime mission. The realization that their role models went nowhere in football is a turning point for those not patient and they begin to fall to other distractions.

Role models

“Many players do not see the continuity in the game. Budding footballers all have role models but it comes a time they find the players they admired the most and wanted to follow in their path went particularly nowhere. As long as their role models are stuck they feel stuck - it impacts negatively on them and they slowly begin to lose faith in the game and begin to look to other means,” 

“More often than not they realize they have nothing to play for. There are not enough structures to absorb all and even though the game has rewarded a few patient ones, more often than not, many others give up and begin to look elsewhere,” “At this point they fall to distractions; they find some of the peers are well dressed and look to them to matchup. They are shown the easy way out which is to steal. Slowly they learn the way to the trade. Before long they graduate into hiring guns and in not too long they become hard core criminals,” Thirdly, as Naduli says, the taste of high life either acquired from brief international trips, would leave many high and dry. “You find that some players have gone out of the county for international tournaments and when they return they live on a high from some of the earnings. But when they earnings run out they have a status to maintain.

 With no more foreseeable trips back abroad, and need to maintain a showing in society, the easy though risky way out comes to mind; crime,” Maurice Onyango, the current Gor Mahia Youth coach who is also a renowned youth coach and scout, reveals various factors leads many to take the wrong turn and a lane to criminology. From where he sits, very few players have distractions up to the age of 13 but after, those with a keen eye will note an emerging capricious and fickle behavior. At 14-15, Onyango says some youngsters adapt criminal minds due to peer influence and, if not monitored, those in this bracket begin to start with pilfering from the homestead. 

“At this age you find that some of your colleagues have certain things that you do not have and since you want to catch up and you have struggling parents you start to steal petty things,” says the current Gor Mahia Youth “At 16, it could turn for worse as the petty stealing has gone on for a while, and the next step comes in; drugs, and for some, girls come their way. When those two combine, no young man wants to be seen as one not able to cater for his woman and with the unending influence from the hood from young gatherings anything will pass to get money,” This, as Maurice points out, leads to amateur thieving that could include muggings, pick pocketing, brokering of stolen goods such as mobile phones and drugs. This becomes the path to a breeding criminal as, after a taste of cash, the thirst for more builds up leading to a true criminal mind –and a hard core. 

Lack of mentorship

George Okwemba, an elder sibling to Harambee Stars defender Joseph Shikokokti who turned out Kangemi United (now AllStars) from 2005 to 2013 before walking to full time coaching contributed differently. For Okwemba who is best known as Tall for his towering height, lack of mentorship, search of quick popularity and urge for quick riches are what leads to crime. “There is a way that football does not offer much guarantees. Young players look to take up the places of their seniors but many fail to break to that rank simply because they fail to work hard,” 

“Before you know it these players start looking elsewhere for things to do. One of them is getting quick popularity and as you know society somehow idolizes criminals. Some get associated with it to feel powerful. A bad reputation in society is part of it,” “Others quit the game on the pressures of home as they are told by parents to go out and get real paying jobs and come back to help the rest of their siblings. With jobs not readily available, many take to crime where no certificates, qualification, experiences are required. Just guts.”

 For Shadrack Ateka, a former Ulinzi, AFC Leopards and national team defender, identity crisis and lifestyle are the major contributors to crime. He brought about another perspective of where players from not so poor backgrounds have gone to drugs are in need to maintain its supply. “Young players are in search of identity in the society and they find it in crime. Because of pressure especially from peers they believe they will find it in kidungi (gun). Those that have gone to unga (drugs) need to sustain the supply by getting a quick fix from crime. Those in this category in this category are not only from poor backgrounds but also the rich.” 

Survived the gun 

Teddy Rogers, an offensive midfielder who once turned out for Mathare United before joining Utalii FC had to watch the game from the stands after a career threatening knee injury put him out of football and as such he was not earning from the game. Then an offer to help him survive came by; to raid a home and collect a television set and other household goodies; in it was a collective Kshs 27,500. It was the 4th of July 2000 and it was a bad period for Teddy. 

He was expecting a child and with no pickings from the game he had immediate needs to attend to. It went awfully wrong as he was cornered – on his first day out. The owner of the house raised the alarm but being naïve he was nabbed for not knowing the right escape route. Remand of three years followed and even though his co-accused was later nabbed and taken to remand too, he was acquitted after two years while Teddy was convicted and jailed for life. 

17 years later, Teddy, the man with admirable demeanor off the pitch and flamboyance within the field, now a grandfather after the son he was expecting before falling behind bars bore him a beautiful daughter, is still at Kamiti on death row. He was the hope of the family and while serving his term, his life became harder as his colleagues who have been pushing for his pardoning have had to bury his father, two sisters as well as the mother of his lone son. In 2005 one roving winger dubbed Bebeto (or simply Bebe) was picked out for being in the right place – his house, but with the wrong company. 

The police in their normal search burst in to the house to find the young men playing poker. Upon search he part of his cronies were found to have firearms and were all taken in. He was imprisoned at Kamiti but was later acquitted and returned to play the game for another season and a half. He now leaves a quiet life out in Huruma. Can it be prevented, remedied? According to Maurice too many lads are left to their own and fall squarely at the hands of peer groups that takes them off course. 

 “A very close watch by parents is the starting point and very important at teenage. Many miss out on this and the repercussions based on pressures from the society are real.” Adds Maurice “The moment there is a change in behavior it needs to be addressed immediately. Change in dressing and unknown sources of money and other property such as acquired phones need to be addressed immediately,” 

Absentee father

“However you note that lots of families are broken and you find the homestead has an absentee father and with the mother or guardian busy trying to make a living, the role of counseling from CBO’s (Community Based Organizations) comes in very handy,” Naduli tends to agree and says there is need for mentors, togetherness and fall back plans. 

“When we used to play we kept very close tabs of each other such that when one of us failed to turn up for training we would go and find out. It became easy to find out what was distracting them. That togetherness helped many stay focused and away from vices. We were our brother’s keeper unlike in the current generation,” “Combined football and schooling is important and when once is not in the field the can concentrate in school and avoid being idle. In the event the football does not work there is a fall back plan. Lastly, having mentors goes along way. As we played mentors used to come our way and talk to us through challenges and how to tackle them.” 

Both Maurice and Naduli point to one thing; always read the signs. Tell-tale signs e.g. regular missing of training due to ‘injury’ is an indicator that a player’s off the field activities need to be checked very closely. Tall, who admits his own sibling had also gone astray – and it took lots of mentoring to straighten him up concurs with Maurice and he says “Noticing the first signs is very key and giving appropriate advice right on time is the way out. Once crime becomes a system it becomes normal and will be near impossible to stop. 

Trying to reform one deep in criminal ways is almost impossible,” “There is need for mentors to come forward and work with clubs to chat with players on need to work harder and work their way up and shun peer pressure and crime as eventually the game will pay,” While agreeing that mentorship and counseling will go a long way, Ateka also talks of the need for close monitoring and acceptance that there is a problem first then seek solution. “Clubs and players nowadays have a disconnect and its time each club makes and elaborate effort to know all their players on and off the pitch. Do you know your players home, his peers? That understanding is important,” 

“Families and clubs go silent when one of their own is identified as being behind crime. They need to speak up as a way of admitting that there is indeed a problem and stop playing PR and that could help collectively address the issue. I call upon the federation and the Government to use the convicted to publicly share their experiences and how their ways has affected more and help budding players from following in their footsteps,” 

Getaway from crime

Is football still a getaway from crime? I am reminded in my conversation with legendary Dr. Dan Shikanda in late 2016, during the height of football pre-election campaign; he let out unforgettable quotes that I duly noted during our many conversations; “During my time my peers told me I was the best. But I was not. The best was lost to drugs and crime.” 

Separately he said; “Because of football I went to school for free as I was offered scholarship all through my education to become the person I am today.” Tall concurred and added that from his hood, he can count no less than 20 lads who have been offered scholarships in high schools and colleges just because of talent in football. Ateka, now a coach at Ligi Ndogo further says; “A small percentage of players make it big and the bigger percentage falls to crime,” but Tall firmly believes that “If players have a long term vision for their own game and be patient enough to see it through they will certainly overcome all distraction crime included, and make it.”

This story initially appeared on the seventh issue of the Soka Magazine 

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Soka Magazine   Features  
Patrick Korir

Twitter: @tipkorir

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