36 year old Harold Ndege, born and raised in Kariobangi South Nairobi, is one of the few Kenyan footballers who are living a decent life even after hanging his boots early on; a decision he says he will never regret. Ndege, who currently works as County Director of a Non-Governmental Organisation in Kisumu.
“I have played for only one club in my entire life and that is Tusker FC, then known as Kenya Breweries FC. I joined the team while still studying at Nairobi School and they shaped me to what I am today. I am very passionate about the club and my dream is to one day rejoin at a managerial level,” Ndege tells me as we settle down at the Kenya Academy of Sports Offices at Kasarani, where he is currently working as a sports consultant for National Super League (NSL) side FC Talanta.
“My teenage life was very rough and I experimented with a lot of things. I was getting comfortable at Nairobi School and it was affecting my performance in education. My parents are still up to date very strict with education and when they realized this, they shipped me out to Chianda High School. I thank them for this because if that did not happen I would not be who I am today,” he says
He joined Tusker in 1997 as a rookie but officially signed a contract in 1999 after clearing High School.
“My mother always believed in me and knew I loved football. She pulled strings without my knowledge and I was invited for trials. I impressed the then Head Coach Jacob "Ghost” Mulee but there was only one problem - I was only 17 and therefore could not sign a professional contract. My dad always wanted me to pursue education and not football but through their Team Manager, the late Shadrack Oyando, who was his pal, convinced him to allow me join the club. They offered to let me train with them as an apprentice until I turned 18 and my greatest gratitude goes to the coach,”
“I officially joined the club in 2000. Playing alongside great players like Henry Motego, Vincent Kwarula and Fred Serenge while as an apprentice are moments I will forever cherish. Later I played with the likes of Edward karanja, Victor Onyango, George Waweru, Jeff Oyando, George Maina, Robert Mambo, Abubakar Yusuf, Daniel Agina, Franklin Obare- a squad that terrorized opponents not only locally but even in the region. The same squad was one minute away to qualifying to the CAF champions’ league group stage in 2001” he adds.
His football career blossomed and just one year after joining the club he was called up to Kenya B National team where he featured against Zambia and Zimbabwe in the COMESA Cup, the team losing both games; 0-4 and 0-3 respectively.
In 2001, Ghost Mulee led a restructuring of the playing unit at Tusker FC and the likes of the late Albert Njeru, Kevin Malumbe amongst others were released. Ndege survived the chop but this affected him mentally.
“All the released players were my close friends and my age mates and I personally felt their pain. This was a moment of self-reflection for me and I asked myself hard questions like; if I get dropped in future which other team will I play for, if I get injured and unable to play what happens to my life and I’m not trained on any other skill?”
The following year Ndege quit the team and boarded a plane to India to join Karnatak University for his undergraduate studies.
“My life was never going to be the same after what happened to the team in 2002. We had won the league in 1999 and 2000, CECAFA title in 2000 & 2001 but in 2002 we really struggled and a restructuring was imminent. As a first team regular I wasn’t on the chopping block but had to deeply soul search and ask myself difficult questions with regards to my life after football,”
“My dad was always on my case as he wanted me to go back to school; I made up my mind to do so. My cousin, Dr. Zacheus Omondi, a doctor in Ireland, & a former striker with tusker FC (then Kenya breweries & was part of the squad that lost to DRC’s Motema Pembe in the confederation cup final in Nairobi) was my inspiration in joining the club and leaving football for school. Having gone to medical school and played at the top level at the same time, he prevailed over me to go back to school and improve my chances of a good life after school. He was right."
“Through my family networks, I managed to get a scholarship at Karnatak University in India and KBL were very supportive, the team itself actually contributed Ksh 30,000 towards my fundraiser,”
Ndege graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree - Finance Option in 2005 and came back to Kenya but went back to join the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts University in 2011 for his MBA specializing in finance . He came after a year and worked as a Financial Consultant before joining Old Mutual as a Financial Advisor in 2014. He later moved to his current job as the County Director of Safe Promotion Funds in Kisumu. Besides that, he also works part-time as a Sports Consultant as well as Football Analyst with a weekly football column with the Standard Group’s Nairobian and occasional appearances on KTN’s Zilizala Viwanjani and Morning Express Sports.
He also served briefly as the CEO of Kenya Footballers Welfare Association between September 2013 and April 2014. Looking back at his football career and his bold decision to quit football while still relatively young, Ndege says he has no regrets.
“I made the right decision at the right time and have no regrets whatsoever. My advice to footballers is to be very careful and ensure they have a plan B after football. If you turn 23 and haven’t yet gone professional then you need to make those tough decisions regarding your life. Not everyone can go to school and not every footballer wishes to follow that path but there are many opportunities out here; you only need to be brave and make that bold step. The life cycle of the average Kenyan football is six years, what happens after that?” he poses. “There are only a few exceptions of players who have defied age and continue playing to date - Japhery Oyando, Duncan Ochieng, Hillary Echesa, George “Wise” Owino, Charles Okwemba are perfect examples whom I played with or against then. What happens to the majority?”
“In Kenya, football is not yet fully professional and the players should use it as a stepping stone to something else and not as the sole bread winner.”
Ndege gives credit to his parents; Francis and Veronica Ndege, Tusker Company & football club, Jacob “Ghost” Mulee, Anthony Origi, as well as his former teammates as people who have played a huge role in who he is today.
At 36, he is not married however and is not in a rush to do so. “It’s not yet time to settle down. I don’t want to peg my life against other people’s lives. Everybody has a different life trajectory. I am not dating at the moment and it is by choice. I will settle down at the right time,” he concludes.
Ndege is among the favorites to clinch the recently advertised position of a CEO for NSL side FC Talanta and this excites him.
“I applied for the job and if successful then I will quit the NGO world right away and join Talanta. I love football and it’s my dream to work at a managerial level and the club provides a perfect springboard,” he concludes.