It is darkest before dawn, that’s what they say. After a series of anti-climaxes, that’s what you want to hear; that it is darkest before dawn.
Coach Brenden Ichingwa Mwinamo- a Master’s Degree holder- knows too well how dark it can get when success was all everyone saw imminent. He has been on the touchline when a single- and unfortunate- goal tossed him out of the 2013 Kakamega County school games right in his own backyard. The Green Commandos of Kakamega High School pre-maturely bowed out of the 2013 edition of the Kakamega County School games after Vincent Atsango’s 73rd minute goal was all that the match ever saw, and Mautuma Boys High School valiantly stormed into the next stage; Regional school games. A year later the boys in green gallantly marched all the way to the pinnacle of Schools football, and dismissed arch-rivals Kisumu Day High School in the final- all this while, conceding just one goal from the moment they began the 2014 campaign. They clearly had taken it in their stride- that it is darkest before dawn.
‘’We’ve had our ups and downs as a footballing powerhouse but we never give up. Look at how our players fare even when they finish school. We hone good football, so the few set-backs we have suffered over the past few years aren’t much of a deterrent. This however, is a very different year,’’ Coach Mwinamo- after seeing his 2017 squad off a Saturday morning training session- begins.
“We hone good football, so the few set-backs we have suffered over the past few years aren’t much of a deterrent” Brenden Mwinamo
A graduate of Moi University School of Education, Mwinamo was first posted to Kakamega High School as a young teacher in the year 1996- he has never left the school since. It’s here that his coaching role with the Green Commandos begins under the watchful eye of the now deceased Chris Makokha. Alongside, Vitalis Kangaya, the two would keenly take instructions from the late Makokha whose stepping down a few years later, meant all eyes were now on them. Coach Kangaya, before being promoted to principal’s position- and subsequently transferred away from Kakamega High- bagged his gold medal in 2008 after seeing off Waa High School in the final of the national school games staged at Machakos. Mwinamo was to wait another six years before he could claim his, and it came on home soil.
National School Games
The Green Commandos haven’t graced the national school games for two years now, suffice to say-they haven’t had a chance to defend the title they last won in 2014 on a national rostrum. 2015 had their controversy involving regional rivals St Anthony’s Kitale to blame after an unexpected re-match saw the boys fall 1-0 in Machakos before the actual national games began. The following year, an upstart Lokichar sent the Green Commandos home after taking the lead in the first half and defended it with their lives in the next. Kakamega had fallen to St Anthony’s in their opener before being held to a goal-les draw by eventual regional champs Friends School Bukembe. To hit the semi-finals therefore, they only had to beat Lokichar, and they didn’t.
‘’That’s how they all play against us, and over the years we have gradually accepted that there is never an easy match for us. To be honest, the team we presented last year was still very young and this is the year they have just gotten to their peak. So expect a difference this year’’ intimates the teacher of English at the school.
Here’s a team that missed promotion into the country’s second tier of football by just one point- one which the coach attributes to the difference in schedules between his team and other Football Kenya Federation Division 1 teams. The Green Commandos registered for league football in 2012, starting out with the Provincial league. They would gain promotion every year until competition became stiffer in the third tier; Division 1.
‘’League football for a school team like us came with a few merits and demerits. We play tough opposition week in week out and so when our school games season commences, most matches are a piece of cake for the boys due to the contrasting quality between league teams and our school rivals,’’ Mwinamo revels in this. ‘There are challenges though. Take this instance; we finished third on the log in the 2016 Div 1 season, just a point off GFE 105 FC. We never honored our match against eventual league champions Isibania FC because at the time we were honoring our school games so they earned a walkover at our expense. When we hosted them in the second leg, we ended their unbeaten run and bagged all the three points here in Lubao Stadium. I believe we should be playing in the National Super League (NSL) by right were it not for the few challenges of balancing between the league and school games,’’ laments Coach Mwinamo.
“We play tough opposition week in week out and so when our school games season commences, most matches are a piece of cake for the boys due to the contrasting quality between league teams and our school rivals,’’
“I believe we should be playing in the National Super League (NSL) by right were it not for the few challenges of balancing between the league and school games,’’
Former Harambee Stars goalkeeper Barnabas Lihanda has isolated a few players for a juggling session as Coach Mwinamo takes over the remaining batch. Chief among the players Lihanda- a coaching assistant- has taken is Moses Mwangi- you’ll probably remember him for scoring Ulinzi’s first goal against Kakamega Homeboyz in the April edition of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) Under 20 final. He is not the only to have played the three editions of the tourney here. In this squad you will find Mazembe James (Thika United), Job Ochieng (Mathare United), Mainge Yusuf (Western Stima), Joshua Otieno (Sony Sugar senior team/ Also part of the Sportpesa Allstars team that fell 2-1 to Hull City), John Kuol (Chemelil Sugar), Alpha Onyango (Gor Mahia FC), Brian Bwire (Ulinzi Stars) and Henry ‘Gaucho’ Juma (Gor Mahia). All of them, regulars at their junior clubs where for the three Kenyan Premier League under 20 editions (April, August and December) they battled out against each other. Ochieng with Mathare United and Mwangi with Ulinzi Stars each won a title.
This list only adds to the pedigree that the Green Commandos have always been synonymous with. A quick look at the gold medal winners of 2014 and their subsequent landing spots after school will tell you that indeed it was The Team.
Erick Ouma did only one season with Gor Mahia before flying to the Georgian top flight where he currently has aroused interests from Turkey and Belgium. Central defender Joseph Okumu on the other hand needed less time, just six months at Chemelil Sugar and South African Premier Soccer League Side Free State Stars came calling. Apollo Otieno (Chemelil Sugar), Vitalis Akumu (Western Stima), Timothy Odhiambo (SoNy Sugar/Ulinzi Stars), Edwin Mukolwe, Wekesa Alfred and Harun Nyakha (AFC Leopards), Alphonce Ndonye (Mathare United), Stephen Etyang, Monyi Kevin and Selemani Manjenga (Palos FC) each left the institution recently with a gold medal.
‘’I see tones of similarities between my 2014 squad and this one here. Discipline and commitment are prime among those similarities and we strictly emphasize on the two here. We would rather lose with a disciplined side than win with an indiscipline lot. You can see for yourself the level of commitment herein. Schools have closed but the boys chose to stay back and prepare for our weekend league match against Nyakach United,’’ an evidently proud Mwinamo says.
To finally forge a team of immense repute like the Green Commandos does not come easily- obviously. Along the way has one deal with issues ranging from non-conformity to lack of finances. Mwinamo admits to have seen good players not make it through all the four years of high school and pities the lot. A few, he admits- come from difficult backgrounds hence the trouble with settling down in school.
‘’I have seen talent here, sometimes too good it hurts when you can’t get the player focus on school in the hope of helping them secure their future. They only need to look at any successful player who has been here. From Clifton Miheso to Dennis Oliech, they all lead enviable lives as a result of the qualities instilled to them while still here,’’ the Applied Linguistics post graduate says
“I have seen talent here, sometimes too good it hurts when you can’t get the player focus on school in the hope of helping them secure their future,”
Sustaining the team in the Division 1 league also came with its hurdles, because after all- there is no other school that does what the Green Commandos dared to do. It is the third tier of football in the country so Coach Mwinamo has to now travel too far for most of his away league matches. There comes the obstacle- one which he feels if more well-wishers come on board, will help assuage the burden. When the team needed to make the long trip to Lodwar for the 2016 regional school games, the Green Commandos hit the headlines when Kakamega Alumni (KA) came together and saw the team airlifted to the remote venue. This is what makes Mwinamo revel in his coaching role at the school.
‘’Kakamega Alumni have been helpful over the past, and so have a few friends of the school. Some of our jerseys as you can see are branded and that is courtesy of Cleo Malalah who currently is the Member of County Assembly for Mahiakalo Ward in Kakamega County. Jackson Kilima and Reginald Asibwa have helped ease the burden on a number of occasions and these are the gestures that keep us going as a team. Shows us that there are people who genuinely love and cherish our efforts here in Kakamega,’’ says Coach Mwinamo.
In February 2017 Joshua Otieno arrived in the United Kingdom (UK) 24 hours before the cream of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) - otherwise called the SportPesa AllStars-took on English Premier League side Hull City at the KCOM. Two months before, he had never set foot in Kenya’s Capital Nairobi City. The 16 year old form three student is a Green Commando.
He wouldn’t get enough time to prepare for the match, and the two seconds in which AllStars Coach Stanley Okumbi threw him in as his last substitution against Hull didn’t help either for he didn’t even touch the ball. Joshua later remained in East Yorkshire even as his fellow teammates travelled back, a noble request by Hull Legend Dean Windass who also forms part of the Hull Academy Coaching staff. Even though the select team would fall 2-1 at the hands of Hull, Coach Mwinamo is happy for his boy, and couldn’t ask for anything more.
‘’Otieno did not find himself at Hull for nothing. It’s all credit to the kind of beautiful football we teach here. As a person, he is a disciplined and determined student. It was just the other day that we were having a friendly match with SoNy Sugar senior team and Otieno was a ball boy on the day. At the time, even the coaches at Sony still hadn’t cast an eye on him. We finished the match I just saw three little boys coming to me and saying ‘when we finish primary school we’re coming to Kakamega’. True to their word, the following year they arrived by themselves when we were admitting form ones. Otieno was one of them,’’ recalls Mwinamo.
‘’Otieno did not find himself at Hull for nothing. It’s all credit to the kind of beautiful football we teach here. As a person, he is a disciplined and determined student. It was just the other day that we were having a friendly match with SoNy Sugar senior team and Otieno was a ball boy on the day
Joshua will be part of this year’s Green Commandos campaign- an offensive right wing player who also sits in the deep-lying playmaker’s position when things get thick. Just like the 2014 march was gallant, Coach Mwinamo wants nothing less when he begins his 2017 season. He wants to win it, and then call the old-boys back for a re-match just to keep alive the Commando spirit of togetherness.
‘’The old boys want to visit us I’m told. The 2014 lot especially have been calling and they say they are organizing themselves and then choose an off-season break when it will be convenient for us both. I’ve told my current squad about the news and even challenged them to win this year’s national title first so that when the likes of Erick Ouma and Joseph Okumu come, it will be ‘champions vs champions’,’’ Mwinamo laughs at his last comment- perhaps in his mind, trying to figure out which team he will be supporting when the match materializes.