SPORT OF CHOICE

Kimutai: Why I don't regret picking hockey

Joining Menengai High School in 2009 was the turning point in Kimutai’s career.

In Summary

• Kimutai admitted that it was a weird thing to step onto the hockey field for the first time but does not have any regrets.

• Despite his prowess in running, which saw him pass the National Police Service recruitment in 2015, athletics has never been in his mind. 

Titus Kimutai of Kenya Police sprints past USIU's Jamleck Maina during a Premier League clash at City Park Stadium
Titus Kimutai of Kenya Police sprints past USIU's Jamleck Maina during a Premier League clash at City Park Stadium
Image: /REUTERS

Contrary to expectations, picking hockey — by far a less popular game — ahead of athletics and football never troubled the indispensable Kenya Police forward Titus Kimutai. Born and bred in the athletics-mad Nakuru County, Kimutai settled for hockey, unlike what many budding sportsmen from the Rift Valley region would have picked — athletics — a decision he has never regretted.

“I used to be a goalkeeper in my local team’s under 15 side,” said Kimutai.

Joining Menengai High School in 2009 was the turning point in Kimutai’s career.

 

“One day, I arrived late for school and the teacher on duty said our punishment would involve playing hockey in the afternoon. Little did I know that he was in charge of the sport in the school. I escaped the punishment and the following morning, he made me wash the whole corridor,” said Kimutai, who scored four goals with as many assists for the law enforcers in an injury-ravaged 2019 season.

“He warned me not to miss going to the hockey field at game time and should I miss, another more severe punishment would follow. I obeyed his command and that is how I started playing and, eventually, loved the game.”

Kimutai admitted that it was a weird thing to step onto the hockey field for the first time but does not have any regrets. “It just seemed like an awkward sport. All I thought about was how I was going to get hurt, considering we were using sticks. However, I became used to it and right now, my love for the game is immeasurable. Lets just say, in another life, I  would still choose hockey,” he observed.

Despite his prowess in athletics, which saw him pass the National Police Service recruitment in 2015, athletics has never been in his mind.

“I can try out athletics but I have never thought about it. My prowess in running gave me the Police job after emerging second during the recruitment process which had over 500 people but I still feel hockey is my sport. Yes, I could make a career out of running but I have never been interested in athletics. I have never had the passion for it even though I am from Rift Valley, considered as the home of champions,” explained Kimutai.

He revealed that his game was moulded while he was in Form Two, where he used to train with Nakuru Sikh Union club over the weekends. This saw him guide Menengai to provincial games twice. He also played for Sikh Union between 2010 -2015. Kimutai joined Kenya Police team in 2016 after successfully undergoing training at the Kiganjo Police Training College, but found things rough.

“The presence of Amos Barkibir and  Kalvins Kanu made playing opportunities hard to come by,” he said.

 

As a result, he trained as a midfielder before the coaches saw his abilities in attack.

“I was drafted in midfield before playing as a striker as the coaches advised. I think they saw the hidden potential in me. Between 2016-2018 I played less. The worrisome attack the team had by then was partly the reason. Barkibir and Kanu were actually the ones who encouraged me to work harder. I looked up to them. I am still their biggest fan even though they left,” added Kimutai.

Everyone accepted that new strikers were a priority after Barkibir and Kanu left for Butali at the start of the 2019 season. Kimutai and  Govan Mbeki were given the challenge of mounting a Police resurgence.  Despite a bright start, his season was hampered by injuries.

“I  injured my ankle during the Shaban Yusuf tournament in Mombasa in October last year which made me skip majority of the remaining games. I am yet to recover fully despite visiting a doctor for a couple of times.”

The Constable, who is attached to Mwiki Police Station in Kasarani, added: “My greatest inspiration in hockey has been Richard Birir (a teammate). My role model is Butali’s Barnabas Odhiambo."

"Birir has been in my hockey life from the moment we came to know each other. He has really done a lot for me to ensure I do not give up. I trained with him at Nakuru Sikh Union club. I love the way he plays, composed and the magic he does with the ball is just superb. I always aspire to play like him.”

At his best, Kimutai is a nightmare for defenders with his electric pace, direct runs and is good at pinning and bullying defenders. He has made huge differences in big games. He said it is a matter of time before his partnership with Mbeki becomes deadly since the partnership combination is slowly building-up in training.

Despite his experience, the striker is yet to be called up to the national team but he is eager to complicate things for the selectors once the season gathers steam.

“The closest I have been to the national team was in 2010 when I came for the under 21 trials though I didn’t make it. The Afcon qualifiers in May would be the best opportunity for me. Given a chance, I would leave my heart on the field. But it is all for me to prove that I deserve a chance because it isn’t something you are just given, you have to work for it,” he observed.

Police were not at their best last season. Injuries and inconsistencies derailed their title ambitions and Kimutai believes they must forget how to lose if they are to win a first league title in three years.

Police won the title in 2017,  narrowly lost on goal difference to Butali in 2018 and in 2019 were out of the race as early as the first leg. And even though the start to the 2020 season — which was scheduled for the end of this month — stands suspended due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Kimutai believes a perfect start will be crucial once the action begins.

This, he said, will boost their confidence as opposed to last season, when they bagged just a point in their opening two matches.

“We started last season on a very low note and this had a negative effect on the team throughout the season. I believe the first match is very important for us and we are going to give it the seriousness it deserves. We didn’t play as a team the way we had anticipated. Our coaches are doing a great job to ensure the players understand their roles and positioning to make play easier.”

Kimutai said sportsmen and women must embrace the sport just like any other since it can put food on the table.

“Many players have been selected to go abroad and play professional hockey where they get paid just to play. You earn a living from playing. You can as well be recruited to Police service should your talent match the required standards,” he observed.

Zack Aura, Odhiambo and Willis Okeyo are some of the professionals still active in the game. The first two had stints in Italy while the latter has played in Bangladesh, Frankfurt and VfB Stuttgart. The trio has moved into coaching while still playing for Butali and Police.

Aura will this season guide Butali as a coach, Odhiambo is attached to Super League side Nakuru while Okeyo is in charge of United States International University-A Spartans.

Kimutai says he wants to make history with Police by winning the Premier League title as well as playing at the African Cup of Club Champions. He added that watching their bitter rivals Butali Warriors lift the trophy in the last two seasons left a sour taste in the team and they will not allow that to happen again.

“Being crowned the league champions and battling at the ACCC tounament would crown my career. We lost twice against Butali last season. We are not going to allow that to happen again. It really pained us,” he said.