Kadenge na mpira…..Remember that? That was the phrase mostly used to describe Joe Kadenge, Kenya’s best footballer of all time, who passed on yesterday aged 84.
At his prime, Kadenge had no equal. He scored goals for fun, breaking numerous records for the now defunct Maragoli United, Abaluhya United (now AFC Leopards) and Harambee Stars, which he played for for 14 years.
Born on July 7, 1935 in Isukha, Kakamega county, Kadenge attended Musingu Intermediate School in Kakamega or ‘Kachmega’, as he would put it, and went on to display his magic with Nakuru All Stars before he joined Maragoli.
However, it was during the glorious Gossage Cup years that Kadenge became popular, beginning with his debut in Zanzibar in 1957, the year he also showcased his talent playing for Nakuru Combined during the Remington Cup.
The following year, he inspired Kenya’s 2-0 Gossage Cup victory over Uganda, scoring one goal and assisting the other.
Gossage Cup, a tournament among Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Zanzibar, began here in 1926.
It was sponsored by soap maker William Gossage, who was also Kenya’s Commissioner for Community Development.
Gossage folded in the early 70s, giving birth to Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in which Kadenge inspired Kenya’s inaugural victory.
He would become a household name in the early 60s while playing for Maragoli and scored the fastest goal ever in the Kenyan Premier League before he moved to Abaluhya, winning the top flight title in 1966.
No one remembers Kadenge’s heroics than Steve Ogale who was secretary general of Abaluhya from 1971 to 1981.
“Kadenge was an entertainer,” Ogale told People Daily yesterday. “He would dribble past all the defenders, beat the goalkeeper and remain with the goal at his mercy, when you expected him to score, he would pose then score cheekily,” adds Ogale.
The 78-year-old reminisces how “stubborn” Kadenge almost refused to join Abaluhya.
“In the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, we had teams from almost all the Luhya sub-tribes such as Maragoli, Bukusu, Isukha, Marachi among others. However, after Kenya’s independence, we agreed to dissolve the teams and form one strong side to represent the community. This is how Abaluhya was born in 1964,” says Ogale.
He went on: “This did not go down well with the Maragoli. They thought they had the strongest team and did not see the need to dissolve.”
“Kadenge, who was their star player, was also not conformable with this and we had to send elders to talk to them before they agreed to dissolve. Kadenge was among the last to join Abaluhya.”
That was godsend as Abaluhya enjoyed great success with Kadenge, playing as a right winger or No7 as he called himself, and Noah Wanyama (Victor Wanyama’s father), on the opposite flank. They terrorised defences while scoring goals for fun.
Abaluhya would morph into AFC Leopards after President Daniel arap Moi ordered the disbandment of “tribal outfits” in the 70s.
“We have lost a great man and great striker. In the national team, he was an example to everyone not just because he scored many goals but because he was an outstanding character,” said Ogale.
Veteran journalist Mukalo Kwayera said: “Over the years, I took a ride in Kadenge’s taxi. He was always humble.
He liked cracking jokes and most of his conversations were centered around football.
He decried moral decadence in society and lamented about lack of commitment from today’s money-minded athletes.”
But while he enjoyed a cult-like status, he had little to show for his brilliance. He literally run on empty until his demise.
Kadenge, who suffered a stroke in 2006, retired in the late 70s but it was not until 2002 that he was named Harambee Stars manager and only received a Head of State Commendation in 2010.
Until the stroke, Kadenge had been operating a taxi to make ends meet, a sad tale for a man so revered for his football talent.
“People have been singing my name for decades, but life has been very hard on me. Most people think I am rich, but they are wrong,” he said in 2013.
Kadenge has been relying on fund raisers from well wishers to pay his medical bills, with his last high-profile visitor being President Uhuru Kenyatta two years ago.
At the time, Kadenge who was seriously ill, was praying that the Head of State meets him before he meets his maker and got his wish when Uhuru, from an international trip, drove directly from the airport to his home in Nairobi’s South B to see him.
The President gave him Sh2 million and an NHIF medical cover.
Kadenge’s love for hats was football-related.
He scored a goal against a visiting English team during a friendly match at the City Stadium and the then Mayor of Nairobi threw his ‘Godfather’ hat to the field in disgust! Since then, Kadenge vowed to sport the Godpapa hat, just like the mayor.
The legend was inducted in the Hall of Fame during the 2005 Sports Personality Of The Year Awards (SOYA), and in 2010, he was invited by Fifa to represent East and Central Africa in the opening ceremony of the World Cup in South Africa.
Football Kenya Federation (FKF) appointed him the first Kenya Football Ambassador in 2012.
Kadenge is survived by his widow and nine children and like him, his four sons, Francis, Evans, Rogers, and Oscar were all footballers.
Francis, Oscar and Rodgers followed in their father’s footsteps by featuring for Leopards while Evans played for Nzoia Sugar.