Story by Willie Chopa
Former Gor Mahia striker, Maurice Ochieng “Sonyi” was at the beginning of the 2011 season, feted by the Standard Newspapers for having set the Kenya League goalscoring record. It was record he set in 1976 with an incredible 26 goals, twice the number that today’s scorers typically score.
Maurice Ochieng was indeed a deadly striker. But his record had much more to do with the fact that in 1976, Kogalo had a formidable unit that was a cut above the rest of the league. So good was the team that they finished the league with an unbeaten record.
The groundwork for this team was laid in 1973. In that year, a split in the Kogalo executive saw nine players depart to join arch rivals Luo Union. Among the departures was legendary keeper James Sianga and legendary striker William Ouma “Chege”. To replace the departed players, Kogalo went on a signing spree that brought James Ogolla “Kadir” from Bata, George “Best” Yoga, Charles Ondiek and Laban Otieno.
|In 1975, Gor Mahia were in contention to win
the league. The coach at the time was Italian Peter Pampuro.
Early in that year, Gor Mahia had beaten Abaluhya 5-1. There
was also some bad blood between Gor Mahia and Luo Union
because the latter had taken nine Kogalo players. In the
last day of the league, Gor Mahia and Luo Union were tied
for the league lead on 41 points. Both needed to win.
However Gor Mahia were held by Western Stars on Saturday.
They thus needed Abaluhya to beat Luo Union on Sunday.
However the two teams conspired to lock Kogalo out of the
So in 1976, Gor Mahia took no chances in
their bid to win the league. Fans in Kaloleni prevailed upon
chairman Zack Ramogo to sign dangerman Maurice Ochieng from
Kenya Police FC which at the time was in the top league.
While playing for Police, “Sonyi” had been a terror to
opposing teams including Kogalo. He was nicknamed “Sonyi”
which was the prevailing sheng term for a policeman.
Another key signing in 1976 was the talented Jerry Imbo. He was signed from Black Mamba, a team based in the Kaloleni/Makongeni area that regularly played in the national league. Indeed, aside from “Sonyi” and Jerry Imbo the Kaloleni/Makongeni area produced many of Kenya’s top players most of whom started their careers at local neighbourhood teams Black Mamba and Hakati Sportiff. Both teams played in the national league. Perhaps that area produced so many good players due to the numerous football fields present in Makongeni and Kaloleni that were maintained by Kenya Railways corporation, then Kenya’s biggest employer. Yours truly played many a game in the fields of Makongeni as a youngster in primary. Imbo played an instrumental role in the Kogalo midfield supplying defence splitting passes to Sonyi, John Chore, Yoga and other forwards. Imbo went on to captain the national team Harambee stars at the 1978 CECAFA cup. He later became the clubs coach in 1982.
Backrow: Duncan Migan, James Ogolla “Kadir”Francis Midany, Masanta Osoro, Oduwo “Cobra”, George “Best” Yoga, Mike Ogolla “Machine”. Alan Thigo, Jerry Imbo, Laban Otieno, M Ochieng
Frontrow: Festus Nyakota, T. Oyaki, J Otieno, “Burri”, George Ayuka, Ouma Ole Tunda, D. Okelo, J Aluko
Paul Oduwo “Cobra” earned his nickname for his robust tackles. But he was also known as an industrious, no-nonsense and tireless right back who patrolled the right wing overlapping and sending numerous crosses while tightly marking the opposing winger. Cobra had joined Kogalo in 1974 after leading Homa Bay secondary school to the national schools final where they lost to Khamis Secondary school, a team led by legendary goalkeeper Mahmoud Abbas.
Mike Ogolla “Machine” who had joined the club from Ramogi FC of Mombasa, later known as Lake Warriors is considered by many as perhaps the best sweeper ever to play for Kogalo. The no nonsense defender was joined by full backbacks Francis Mudany, Festus Nyakota and stoppers Duncan Migan and James Ogolla “Kadir” to complete the defence. So Kogalo had so many good players even on the bench.
|Legendary Playmaker Alan Thigo was the player-coach. He is perhaps the greatest playmaker Kenya has ever seen. Thigo was born in Kampala and had joined Gor Mahia in 1970 from Kisumu HotStars. As soon as he joined Kogalo, he was called up to the national team. He was a key performer when Harambee stars featured in the 1972 Africa Nations cup. In goal , Gor Mahia had George Ayuka and a reliable backup in Charles Ondiek.
The attack had mazy dribbler George “Best” Yoga on the right wing. Yoga was nicknamed “Best” after the legendary Northern Ireland striker, George Best. Yoga had amazing dribbling skills which often left many fullbacks confused. As an aside, his two sons were the winners of a juggling competition for Kenya youth a few years back. The midfield also had another national team player Masanta Osoro along with Imbo, Thigo, Ouma “Ole Tunda” and Oyaki amongst others.
Besides Sonyi and Yoga, Kogalo also had veteran striker John Chore and the reliable Jackson Aluko.
Kogalo went on to win the league in grand style with 18 wins 8 draws and 0 losses. They finished well ahead of rivals Luo Union and Abaluhya. Maurice Ochieng’s 26 goals placed him well ahead of the second scorer William Ouma “Chege” who scored 16.
A fund raiser held for Kogalo: From left Former Minister for sports Kenneth Matiba, also a founder member of Tusker FC, Raising his hand is former club chairman, the animated Peter Anyumba, behind him is then Vice Chairman Zack Mbori, and in front is former minister and founder of GEMA FC Njenga Karume
Winning the league was much needed feel good feeling for Kogalo fans given the scheming antics of Abaluhya FC that had seen Kogalo miss out on a chance to play continental football in 1975 after Abaluhya wrote a protest letter to CAF, and the match fixing between Luo Union and Abaluhya that saw them miss out on winning the league in 1975.
It was also quite a feat to finish ahead of the powerful Luo Union team that had 9 of former Kogalo players including key players like Sianga and Ouma “Chege” and had won the league in 1975. Luo Union also won the CECAFA club cup in 1976 and 1977. The free scoring Agonda Lukio of Luo Union was the leading scorer in the CECAFA cup in both years.
|Maurice Ochieng “Sonyi” later became assistant coach of Kogalo in 1984. In 1985 following the suspension of coach Len Julians by CAF due to the Zamalek affair, Sonyi took head-coaching responsibilities as Gor Mahia headed to the CECAFA cup in Sudan which they won beating arch rivals AFC Leopards 2-0 in the final. That victory cemented his legendary status amongst Kogalo fans. Sonyi was also the assistant coach when Gor Mahia won the Africa cup winners cup in 1987. In January of that year, he had promised fans that Kogalo would reach the final of the Africa cup. The promise came true and then some as Kogalo beat Esperance of Tunisia in the final to win the cup.
Jerry Imbo became coach of Kogalo and remained coach until January of 1983 when he was replaced by Len Julians. Maurice Ouma “Ole Tunda” has recently rejoined the Kogalo technical staff. Alan Thigo, now in his 60s, is still fit and active in the local scene. He has briefly returned to coach Gor Mahia on several occasions and even had a stint as assistant coach of Harambee stars.