Why soccer great Joe Kadenge deserves more respect

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BY DAVID ONJILI

Joe Kadenge comes from a golden generation of Kenyan players whose football brilliance was never rewarded by big money deals. Peter Dawo, Henry Motego, Maurice Ochieng, Abbas Magongo and Julius Owino, though not in his league and timeline, exemplify Kenya’s thankless football of previous year. Despite bringing both their clubs and the national soccer team glory they have nothing to show for as they live on the breadline.

Those, like the legendary national team and AFC Leopards’ striker, Dr J.J. Masiga who have not tasted the pangs of squalor escaped poverty by the reward of their efforts in education and not their prowess on the pitch.

Victor Wanyama is a perfect encapsulation of what modern football can be to a player, his big money move from Celtic in Scotland to Southampton and now at London based Tottenham Hotspur in the United Kingdom is a testament. He earns £70,000 (Sh9.3million) a week.

By his own admission, Joe Kadenge says that football back then was a sense of pride and that money was never paid to them. After games, players would be treated to drinks and food by happy fans and retire home, those lucky would get jobs in state corporations or thriving companies like Uplands Bacon Factory, Coca Cola and the Ministry of Works.

“During my time, we attacked the opposition from the start,” noted Kadenge in an interview with the BBC years back. He was made famous by legendary radio commentator Leonard Mambo Mbotela with his creed… “Kadenge na mpira” loosely translated as Kadenge with the ball; an appreciation to the mazy runs he made with the ball past opponents as he wowed fans.

His brilliance on the ball is well appreciated by iconic Kenyan political figure Mr Raila Odinga who describes him as one of the best ball dribblers the nation had in his era. Mr Odinga also goes on to appreciate his longevity as a player, appreciating him as one of the first celebrity players.

Joe Kadenge (8) in action against St George of Ethiopia in the 1960s
Hon. Raila Odinga congratulates Joe Kadenge during launch of the retired Kenyan football legend’s biography
President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) greets football legend Joe Kadenge at his Mariakani residence, South B on January 8, 2017

What has remained between the two is a friendship and constant appearance during national team, Harambee Stars games. Both Mr Odinga and a frail Kadenge have always appeared in public to watch games and the former international has never shied away to voice his strong opinion on football matters. At the heart of it has been his call to teams to play attractive football with many goals and not going to the field fearing to lose.

The former Maragoli United and later Abaluhya United player who would later go on to win the Kenya Premier League title in 1996 with the latter team wa born in 1935 in Soliani area of Tiriki in Vihiga County. He would make his name in the then famous Gossage Cup that was a tournament for the East African nations. In 1958, he was amongst the players who led the country to the Gossage Cup victory over archrivals Uganda. But it was not until in 2002, way past his prime that he was recognized with a managing role with the national soccer team Harambee Stars.

Despite the glory years as a player, Kadenge was later forced to be a taxi driver to sustain himself; it was only after the media exposed his plight that aid came. Mr Kadenge was later diagnosed with diabetes after suffering a stroke in 2006. As a father, he is proud of his sons Francis, Evans and Oscar who all have played football at different levels for clubs in Kenya.

Despite the glory Kadenge and his group brought the game, no great strides have been taken to improve the game. The Kenya Premier League remains an unprofessionally run league where teams mistreat players by delaying salaries and the league cannot attract sponsors to increase revenue. Former players who once gave the country memories are slowly being incorporated into county governments after the cry of football stakeholders.

Whenever the story of Kenyan football will be written, we shall remember the memories Kadenge brought the nation but will be awakened by the outright neglect of sports by our government that he aptly illustrated by his life. Credit must be given to Mr Odinga for respecting Kadenge’s contribution to football and always being a pillar for him. Yet, this model of an individual helping former players is not self sustainable, the Football Kenya Federation must educate players on investment so that they can have sustainable projects that will ease their life once they hang their boots.

At the time of going to press, Kadenge had been admitted at a Nairobi hospital and we can only wish him the best in health and gratitude for his contribution to the game.