•Ochieng understands too well the challenges the children have to endure on a daily basis.
•He grew up in an almost similar environment and his decision might have been propelled by his personal experience
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year, a group of footballers plying their trade in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) converged for a noble cause.
The top flight players rolled up their sleeves to serve humanity when the rest of the world remained aloof and shunned responsibility.
They visited Baraka Community Development Initiative— a children’s home located in Kayole, Nairobi —where they donated foodstuffs and sanitisers to cushion the starving orphans from the adverse effects of Covid-19.
It was a surprise move considering that most footballers in the country and the world over were going through a difficult period in their careers at that particular moment.
The government had embraced drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus, including imposing a total ban on public gatherings. The consequences of that decision ran deep. It effectively brought an end to sports activities and sent the fortunes of teams and players into a downward spiral.
This was at a time the country was enumerating huge loses from the drastic economic downturn occasioned by the pandemic and most institutions experienced dire financial constraints. Employees were sent packing and the few, who survived the axe, suffered huge salary deductions and worst still, there are those who went for several months without pay.
Most Kenyan footballers belonged to the latter category and it therefore surprised many that some of them still even had something extra to share with the orphans.
In the action of these footballers, a doozy blue moon rose and shone amidst the blinding darkness and the grim faces of the orphans suddenly broke into affable smiles. Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) defensive midfielder Brian Ochieng ‘Rio’ was among the players who made the difference in the lives of the Baraka orphans.
He says their action grew out of the need to show the orphans that the world is aware of their plight and the society still cares about them after all.
It was a well calculated move meant to offer the orphans some glimmer of hope in life amidst the existing adversity. “We were eager to show those children that we are all equal. We wanted to put a smile on each of their faces and to reassure them that the society had not neglected them,” says Ochieng.
Ochieng understands too well the challenges the children have to endure on a daily basis. He grew up in an almost similar environment and his decision might have been propelled by his personal experience. Born on October 5, 1997, Ochieng is the last born in a family of three children.
He spent his formative years honing his football skills in the sprawling Kayole estate, a low income residence tucked away in Nairobi’s Eastlands area, where most families struggle to put food on the table.
He was five when he joined Victory Youth, where a football coach called Remy introduced him to the basics of the game.
Ochieng initially attended a public primary school at Thawabu but when he was in Class 5, his parents transferred him to Goodwill Primary School, a private institution located along Kayole Spine Road.
His exceptional abilities made him stand out. Barely into his twelfth year, he was already battling it out with boys older than him for a starting slot in the school team. “By the time I was in Class 5, I was featuring regularly for the school football team,” says Ochieng.
Goodwill’s headteacher, Mr. Calvin proved to be such a great pillar of strength and a source of inspiration to Ochieng.
Mr. Calvin was an ardent football enthusiast who never hesitated to inundate his pupils with a dozen reassuring words.
“Our headmaster was so much into football. He encouraged us all and even registered our school to compete in the Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) sponsored league.”
At this level, Ochieng never got proper exposure. He lacked a proper stage on which he could display his skills in football. Goodwill, being a private institution, was excluded from all the annual sports activities which the Ministry of Education organised for public schools.
“We never got to play in the inter-school games. We would only feature in some specific tournaments such as the MYSA league.”
Ochieng eventually sat for his Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams in 2010 and joined Athi River High School.
He, however, lasted there only for a short while before being transferred to Got Agulu Secondary School in Bondo, Siaya.
Although his parents’ decision to change schools was pegged on the desire to uncover his academic potential, Ochieng was pleased to find a conducive environment at Got Agulu that shaped his football career. “My parents took me to Got Agulu for better grades but much to my joy, the school had a good football culture too.”
“We managed to secure a quarterfinals slot at the provincial stage of the school games competition in Homabay, where we were eliminated by Gekomoni who beat us by a solitary goal,” says Ochieng.
Ochieng was in a class of his own. His talent, coupled with hard work and determination secured him a place at Kayole Youth, a side that was participating in the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Nairobi Provincial League.
There, he found Barry Otieno, the current FKF Chief Executive Officer serving as coach, assisted by Daniel Mwaura.
“I joined Kayole Youth when I was still in school and played there until in 2015 when I left and joined Savannah Cement in Kitengela.”
After featuring for Savannah Cement for two good seasons, he decided to try out for Talanta. His decision paid off when he sealed a deal with the Kitengela outfit during the 2015 midseason transfer window.
As much as it was a corporate side, Savannah ran into trouble with players over recurring debts. It reached a point Ochieng couldn’t take it any more.
“Savannah were experiencing a challenge in paying us and so I thought it appropriate to seek greener pastures elsewhere. That’s how I landed at Talanta,”
At Talanta, he watched his first match from the dugout before coach John Kamau ultimately fielded him in their subsequent fixtures.
“I joined a Talanta side that had already bonded quite well. It was not easy to penetrate into the first team.”
“My first match for the team was a National Super League match against Wazito which we lost 1-0. I only got a chance to play because our captain had sustained an injury,” says Ochieng.
Although Kamau fielded him in the unfamiliar fullback position, he made a good impression of himself and gradually consolidated a slot in the first team.
In 2016, he joined Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB). Coach Kamau had joined the Bankers from Talanta and was eager to have Ochieng in his team as he strengthened his squad to challenge for promotion.
Ochieng looks back on his journey with the Bankers with a lot of pride. He relives his major achievement in helping them gain promotion to Kenya’s top flight stage.
“Although I have never won any silverware with KCB, I’m proud to be part of the squad that earned the side promotion to the Kenyan Premier League,” he says.
It was the year that saw the Kenyan Premier League slots raised from 16 to 18 teams with KCB and Vihiga United included in the fixtures after a legal tussle involving two clubs ended in disarray.
On February 2, 2017, the president of Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Nick Mwendwa, confirmed the Independent Club Licensing Committee’s decision to drop Muhoroni Youth and Sofapaka while confirming the promotion of KCB and Vihiga United from the second tier league to fill the gap.
FKF had reached a decision to lock out Muhoroni Youth and Sofapaka completely after they failed to comply with the Caf Club Licensing requirements within the stipulated time frame. They were relegated alongside Thika United, but they went ahead to appeal against the federation’s decision.
KCB and Vihiga United had finished fifth and sixth respectively in the National Super League (NSL) and joined Nzoia Sugar, Kariobangi Sharks, Zoo Kericho and Nakumatt at the top flight.
Asked to mention the KPL side that has always posed a greater threat to KCB in matches, Ochieng singled out Sofapaka, saying that any encounter with them always prove to be a tricky affair.
“In my opinion, Sofapaka have always been a hard nut to crack because the midfielders of both teams are friends who reside in the same neighbourhood and as such know each other quite well. This makes it quite difficult to outwit each other.”
“Last season, they scored in stoppage time to beat us both at home and away and this season it was also a tough encounter with them because we found the back of the net in the eleventh hour to beat them.”
Ochieng, Dayo Sissoko, Cercidy Okeyo and Elli Asieche all come from the same residential area. Is there any KPL team that gives him trepidations on the eve of a match?
“I initially experienced an adrenaline rush when I was still a novice on stage. These days there is absolutely nothing that gives me the goosebumps,” says Ochieng. He confesses that Gor Mahia’s Ernest Wendo is his biggest nightmare. “He is very hard to beat because he is usually tough and has a huge body frame compared to my tiny one.”
He further says that he draws a lot of inspiration from South Africa-based Kenyan international Anthony Akumu of Kaizer Chiefs as well as Sofapaka’s Elli Asieche.
His international role model is 24-year-old Onyinye Wilfred Ndidi, a Nigerian professional footballer who plays for Premier League club Leicester City and the Nigeria national team as a defensive midfielder. Ochieng says he owes his parents a lot because were it not for them,he wouldn’t have come this far. “They are the ones who have made me play football up-to this time,” he says.
“My dad used to play football and my mum has always been a big fan. When I once felt discouraged and felt like giving up, they urged me on. They would also buy me new football boots and also provide bus fare.”
Ochieng has the following piece of advice for budding footballers: “They should put God first because nothing is possible without him. Also, they should appreciate the fact that nothing comes easily and therefore they have to work extra hard and believe in themselves,” says Ochieng.
“They must also maintain a high level of discipline because competition has grown given that Kenya is experiencing a surge in the number of upcoming players,” he concludes.
Name: Brian Ochieng
Date of Birth: October 5, 1997
2003-2007: Thawabu Primary School
2008-2010: Goodwill Primary School
2011-2012: Athi River High School
2013-2014: Got Agulu Secondary School
2007-2010: Victory Youth FC
2011-2015: Kayole Youth FC
2016-2017: Savannah Cement
2017-2018: FC Talanta.
2018 to-date: KCB FC