In my dreams, I am standing right at the heart of one of the most important soccer stadiums in the world. Maybe Camp Nou, or Wembley. I can’t hear my heartbeat over the sound of a roaring crowd. They’re chanting something. What are they chanting? I can barely see through the sweat dripping down my exhausted face. What are they chanting? I look around and in a split second, my vision clears and my ears hear what they’re saying.
‘Kenya! Kenya! Kenya!’
They’re yelling my country. They’re saying my name.
And then I wake up.
I always wanted to play soccer. I lived it. I breathed it. I was it! I knew all the names of anyone who played for any major team, local or international. I could not be moved from a television screen during a game; that was the quickest way to end a friendship with me. I would practice the moves I saw flashing on my screen. Trying to get Zidane’s fancy footwork. The ease of original Ronaldo’s flair. Pele’s raw talent. I wanted it all. My eyes saw glory, and valiant victory.
Well…that’s not what happened! Sometimes dreams come true in a different way, you know? You make a plan, they say, then God laughs, and shows you a different plan. But don’t get me wrong: I am still a dreamer. My name is Sammy Sagero, but my friends call me Miseh. And I’m not an internationally famous player, but I help to mould people to get to that level. I’m the coach of one of the leading teams in the Coast Region: the Kaya Stars.
And like I said, dreams don’t always come true the way you want them to. Being on that field is already an exhilarating dream, for most people – to be a soccer player is to be in the business of great dreaming, and then translating that dream when you wake up, into reality. If life has dealt you a hand, you had better play that hand. You appreciate a different kind of dream. A journey is still a journey, and not just because you chose it. The journey can choose you.
This is the story of how.
To say my umbilical cord must have been cut using a football – the one sewn with polythene paper bags or the leather-inflated one – is not a farfetched notion. My memories of growing up are always chasing a round thing on some open patch in my native Sigalagala home in Ikolomani, Kakamega County. I played long and hard, gaining experience through school and community tournaments. By the time I joined Musingu High School in 2001, I was an obvious pick for the school’s first team. And then I continued playing for one and half years after high school, before I joined the University of Nairobi, to train as a teacher.
Back then, it took the universities’ Joint Admissions Board about 18 months to place student into universities. Like most parents of my generation, a choice had already been made for me. By then I knew which round thing I wanted to chase next, and next to which players. Top of the list was the homegrown AFC Leopards, Western Stima or Posta.
I was ready to be included in the hall of greats that Ikolomani had produced: the likes Piston Mutamba Of Wazito FC, Jason Likono and Denis Mukaisi of Posta Rangers, Collins Shivachi of AFC Leopards and Sammy Meja of current league leaders, Tusker FC. I could see my name being touted in the same breath as theirs. People I went to school with in Musingu, talking about ah, that guy? He was such a mkora! But grudgingly accepting that yes, on the field, outside the books, they knew I was a fire.
My parents, of course, did not care about a fire on the field, or embers, or even ash. They wanted results. I could play on the university team – but I had to go to class. Failure was not an option. They were spending money, and so I was spending time, energy and resolve. To produce the grades required of me, I basically ran out of any spare time I needed to give this particular dream.
But school? School was good. It was…interesting. It was taking me away from the ball, but there was a different goal here; learning about people, learning how to teach them, and changing the world one pupil at a time. When my thinking shifted, I tell you, I felt it. I felt my dream take on a new form. I started to pay more attention to smaller teams and players, and not just the big names that I myself wanted to be associated with. I begun to be curious about what essentially makes a good player, outside of interest and talent. What are those supporting factors?
After university, the Teachers Service Commission sent me to Wajir to teach at Hadado Secondary School. I was tasked with building a solid school soccer team – my interest in the sport has always been immediately apparent. As a boy, I had stood on the sidelines and watched local teams being coached. I knew and understood the discipline it took to take instruction, and how someone needed to organize a regimen that the team could get behind. I saw that teams thrived when their coaches had vision. So I simply photocopied what I already knew, to use for what I wanted the team to become. From the experience I had had being a player, both with and without a coach, I turned the fortune of the school team around. They made it to the county’s semi finals of the Kenya Secondary Schools’ ball games. They are still going strong. And that was the first planted seed of my legacy.
Shortly after, I was transferred to Kakamega High School.
A little bit of history: Kakamega High’s Green Commandos were the most formidable team we ever played while I was in Musingu High. The fear, maybe, had not completely left me when I remembered our fierce encounters at regional level. Tempers always ran high. We took our sport very seriously. And now, to be the coach of what was still a competitive team was an honour I had not foreseen. It felt like I was coming into my own, and coming full circle at the same time.
It is the skills I learnt at Kakamega High, while serving as the Team Manager and Understudy Coach that brought the success I have seen with the Kaya Stars, both as the school team of St. George’s Kaloleni Boys School, and the Chapa Dimba Coast Regional Finalists.
Not that it is all smooth sailing. It never is – if there is anything I have learnt from this journey, it is that. All dreamers must be ready for nightmares. An example? The Kaya Stars’ participation at the Coast Regional Championships was confirmed while I was away in Nairobi, working as part of the teachers marking the 2019 KCSE Exams. Convincing the headmaster to call back the team for training camp, during the holidays, was a hard step. Fortunately, my record spoke for itself, and the school administration was willing to be supportive.
But then I also had to get permission to leave the marking centre – to go teach kids soccer so that we were ready for the regional championships. And on top of that, I needed the school to avail a small sum for the cost of travelling to and setting up the camp. Then I had to talk to the parents of these kids – these kids I believed in. I had to make their parents believe in this part of them too. Many parents were skeptical, and did not feel it was an investment worth undertaking by paying another round of transport money, considering that many had gone as far as Nairobi, and even further. The fact that I was their teacher already, however, helped. And the backing from the administration helped the team’s cause. Soon we had most of the team in camp, even in my absence.
The Coast region has some of the best younger players in the country. Which is why I was spending all my breaks and free time on the phone, first with the parents to get them to allow their children to leave home, and then with my players. I still had not been allowed to leave the marking centre – so I was basically coaching them on the phone. And this was only possible because I fully trust the team. I trusted that they would do what was expected of them when it was expected and how it was expected. Blind coaching is not something I encourage, but I know this team pretty well. And at this point, my choices were rather limited.
The permission to leave the marking centre came a nail-biting day before the tournament begun. At 11:00pm, during the crush of the busy December holidays, I got the very last seat on the last Mombasa bound bus. After a week of persistence I was on my way to the place I loved. The soccer pitch.
The Chapa Dimba na Safaricom stretch came as an extension of what is now my new dream: raising a generation of world-class stars. And ironically, I need coaching for that too. You know, when you are coach you tell yourself things. Things you can’t tell your players. It’s a silent inner confrontation. It stares straight at you and tells you, ‘Our team is weak, and we are going to be crushed.’ And you have to teach yourself to not think that. You’re teaching your players, the same way you’re teaching yourself. That was the spirit we had when we applied to be a part of Chapa Dimba.
Being in the Chapa Dimba finals was a result of hard work, cooperation, a great working relationship with the school and the parents, and most of all – the work that these wonderful players put in. We went into the first game hivi hivi, but after a while, it was evident we were the better team, by far. Once I assured the players we could win this, they settled and played the game we had agreed. We won 2 – 0. And even as we win, we lose sometimes as well. But, the tough times help with focus and resolve. Yanga Stars FC from Malindi denied Kaya Stars a great opportunity of representing coast at the National finals of Chapa Dimba. Yanga FC were by no means a push over, but they were a team we could have beaten. In the end, they beat us 4 – 0.
I still dream, for myself and my team, that soon we will reign as champions in the region and the country. I also believe that the thousands of boys and girls playing in the tournament are getting a perfect platform to take them from Kenya, to the world. The stories of skilled players are now going to come from all over the country. We are slowly and surely making a generation of sportsmen that the country has never seen before – all thanks to Chapa Dimba. I can only hope that these young players will be the constellations of a universe of soccer stars who will give back to the community through sports.
I get a lot of inspiration from the current Liverpool Coach, Jürgen Klopp. I love that he is constantly learning and constantly winning. You can see his team is getting better by the minute. Every game is more exciting than the one before. The game evolves. I wish for that same evolution and growth, that verve, that same joy, for my Kaya Stars. I only hope and pray that I am an adequate guide to show them the way.