•When MINCUSS Women's Football Club was formed in the 1990s, Rosemary was automatically named goalkeeper.
•Friends and teammates describe her as a passionate and aggressive goalkeeper who would take no prisoners.
•Off the field, Rosemary was charitable and helped uplift the lives of many youths in her birthplace of Dandora slums.
When the MINCUSS Women Football Club was formed in the 90s, it was a no-brainer that Rosemary “Maradona” Aluoch was going to be the first-choice custodian.
In an era where many female footballers shied away from the goalposts, Rosemary took to the role as a fish to water.
For the next two decades, her reputation as the female version of Kenya One kept burgeoning.
Rosemary, the immediate former Harambee Starlets' goalkeeper trainer and kit manager as well as referee, passed away on October 4, 2020 after a short illness.
“She was a fearless goalkeeper who was not scared of facing hard shots even from male footballers because sometimes we would play mixed matches. She would not shy away from a tackle,” Sylvester Ochola, her coach at MINCUSS, says.
Her passion for football earned her the moniker “Maradona”, which was apparent in the way she passionately put her body on the line for the sake of the team.
“I remember a game against Cameroon during which she was the standout player. She gave everything to ensure the scores would remain low,”Ochola, currently the Health Club and Recreation manager at Parliament, says.
Just like the Argentine legend in whose veins flowed football, Rosemary had the DNA of a footballer. Those who came up against her attest that overcoming her in goal was virtually mission impossible.
“I remember the many times we faced off, Mathare United Women vs the Mighty Minicuss, you were already the best goal keeper Kenya had, you made scoring a hard task, with you between posts finding the net was an impossible mission for many,” Doreen Nabwire, former Harambee Starlets player and the first Kenyan female professional footballer.
When Kenyan goalkeepers were categorised according to their net-minding abilities, Rosemary was in a class of her own- as her long-time friend and former teammate Mary Adhiambo attests.
“She had a calming presence on defenders and whenever we were unable to stop an attack, we were comforted by the knowledge that we had Mara in goal,” Adhiambo says.
Old habits die hard and the allure of football was too strong to resist for Rosemary who was forced to come out of retirement.
"I remember we had gone for a tournament in Rwanda and out of the blues she came to join us even though she was not originally part of the squad. She fought for her place in the team and in the end deservedly earned it ahead of the upcoming keepers in the squad," Adhiambo says.
She may have been a no-nonsense keeper on the field but off it she was a darling who friends and family considered a keeper.
Born in the sprawling slums of Dandora – specifically Dandora dumpsite – her desire was to see the boys and girls from her birthplace surpass her achievements.
"I was a street girl living on this dumpsite before a good samaritan rescued me and the first trip I made abroad in Melbourne was because of him. So now I want to reform the girls and boys at this site so their lives can improve,"Rosemary was quoted as saying in an interview in 2019.
Apart from managing a boys and girls team in Dandora, Rosemary also helped rehabilitate youths struggling with teen pregnancies and drugs by empowering them with skills in sewing, baking and salon.
Rosemary's life began on a not-so-rosy note but this fuelled her desire to uplift her life and that of those around her.
The rest of her life has been worth emulating and evidence that our dreams are valid if we believe and persist in pursuing them. Rosemary will be laid to rest on October 17, 2020 at her rural county of Homa Bay.