NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 5 – On October 23, 2010, Mathew Ottamax Owino, one of Kenya’s best shot stoppers that the country has produced, grabbed the headlines when he stormed the pitch at Nyayo National Stadium in a bid to attract the attention of the referee to stop the derby pitting Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards so as to save lives after a stampede occurred.
On that fateful night, seven fans were killed by the stampede and as Ottamax recalls, if only the referee could have heeded to his attention, lives would have been saved.
“I thought I had seen enough by the time I decided to storm the pitch. Fans were dying outside. Out of anguish I decided to go in to let everybody know. I thought if the match had been stopped we would have saved lives. It is for that reason that I acted so,” Ottamax, who won titles at both Gor and AFC in his playing days underscored.
This explains an all-rounder personality that Ottamax holds and apart from being kind, the former Harambee Stars goalkeeper is aggressive, authoritative and speaks his mind.
To start with, as far as the current football stalemate is concerned after FIFA downplayed the Sports Dispute Tribunal (SDT) request of the forming a normalization committee to run Football Kenya Federation (FKF), Ottamax says a ban would be necessary so as Kenya puts its football house in order.
“Personally, I will support the government on this issue, there’s nothing to write home when it comes to football in this country as far as management is concerned other than the players and technical bench members giving their best to achieve results.
“The so called leaders are busy embroiled in wrangles mostly for their selfish gain, I think its high time the government should crack the whip on these rogue officials at the expense of players and technical bench members, I think treat an eminent FIFA ban as a sacrifice to better football future in Kenya,” the 46-year-old, who graced Kenyan football for a long period pointed out.
FIFA said its ready to hold a meeting with FKF, SDT representatives, Ministry of Sports and other relevant stakeholders to find a solution, but the Cabinet Secretary for Sports Amina Mohamed said the sitting is uncertain, since FIFA are yet to write to them officially.
Tracking back during his days, Ottamax outlined that football administrators had the players interest at heart unlike what is happening today. He said that this encouraged players to give their all on the pitch.
“There is a lot of difference comparing what is happening today, having played for both teams (Gor and AFC), in our time it was about passion, dream and hope to make it to European League though it was rare those days. We never prioritised money, bur today it’s all about players downing their tools any time but its understandable, life has changed today the economy is hard,” the lanky former custodian recalled.
He continued… “In our days we also had passionate leaders in sports who will do anything to see the welfare of players is taken care of. I remember the likes of former AFC Leopards chairman the late Peter Onalo, former Gor Chairman Lesley Okudo and ex-Re Union and KFF Chairman Peter Kenneth.
“There was no much money but your welfare as a player was taken care of, those who went to school they made sure their education is well sorted. In my case, I had my school fees paid by the former Re Union Chairman from Form One all the way to college.”
Voicing his opinion on the reason of why Kenyan clubs perform poorly, Ottamax said inconsistency in training venues is the main reason.
“Training ground matters a lot it has affected the players performance of both clubs (Gor and AFC), you need to duplicate what you are doing in the training pitch to match venue, if you remember the last time AFC won the league, the matches were being played at their training ground at Nyayo Stadium, so for us no team will win at Nyayo, the same with Gor Mahia at City Stadium,” Ottamax, a Kangaru High School old boy, opined.
The home advantage thanks to the sell-out crowds that turned out for the respective matches worked in favour of the home team.
“Today, fans have been drawn away by wrangles within the federation officials, we need to put our heads together and bring back the sanity that was there before, I enjoyed playing in a sell-out crowd. I was used to pressure, they were a motivation factor when I see those crowds they push me to perform even better.
-Started football Journey-
Ottamax began his football career at Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) where he ended up representing the team at the inaugural Norway Cup tournament in 1990. He then was signed up by the defunct Undugu FC that was playing in the second lower league.
His first trade in the Premier League came in 1991 when he was snapped up by Re Union under the leadership of Peter Kenneth, in a team where he played for four seasons until 1995 when Gor came knocking.
Ottamax was at Gor for only one season where he was the first choice keeper ahead of Joseph Asembo, Michael Kisagi and Tobias Mahira, going on to be in the K’Ógalo team that won the League in 1995.
The following year in 1996, Ottamax did what was considered impossible then, signing up for Gor’s arch rivals AFC Leopards where he played for three seasons, standing in between the post ahead of Charles Bushira who was his role model, Kennedy Kenyatta and Bernard Ouma.
At AFC, he won the league in 1998, the last time Ingwe claimed the title and also won the CECAFA Club Championship in 1997.
He then crossed boarders to turn out for Ugandan giants Sports Club Villa in 1999.
Ottamax was a goalkeeper trainer at Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.
He now works at Forty 40, a sports entertainment and Restaurant in Westlands where he is the sports ambassador.
“I have had many enjoyable moments in my football journey mostly during my formative years at Mathare Youth, Undugu FC and Re Union, I made so many friends, travelled the world and made a name for myself, it has opened so many doors for me even my current position in entertainment industry as Forty-40 restaurant ambassador,” the father of three told Capital Sport.
“I know many will want to hear about Algeria game because it made many Kenyans happy, myself I did not enjoy the winning moment because of the pain inflicted to me in the hands of North Africa, it left me with a broken nose. When I went to retrieve the ball they were pouring water behind the goal post to make it slippery, so I slid and hurt myself but it did not deter me from doing my work in fact it inspired me,” he narrated.
“I have had good games outside Kenya because I remember when we played Nigeria Under-23 in Lagos they could not get a goal past me the match ended 0-0, though we lost 3-0 at home in the return leg in Mombasa, I was inspired with the experience because this is the team that went ahead to win the 1996 Olympics. I interacted with Jay Jay Okocha and Kanu who to us they were big stars.”
“Many expect me to mention the Djibouti match where I had a howler but that was not the case, my worst moment when was I was dropped from the national team by the late coach Reinhard Fabisch, I was wrongly accused of something that I did not know about, my problem as a young boy is that I was a super hyper and extrovert who expressed freely to the authorities, it earned me friends and enemies but most of the time it landed me in trouble with people who did not know me well,” Ottamax recalled.
“My best coach was Vojo Gardasevic, he encourage me he is the one who spotted me from Re Union and wanted me to play for Gor, he gave me my first chance to play for the national team, Harambee Stars
-Advice on players after retirement-
“It’s a bit tricky if you did not plan ahead but its not difficult to live a decent life in retirement, my advice to young sportsmen and women is lets invest earnings and free time in college education that can lead to employment or self-employment. Players train in the morning so in between there instead of wasting that time do something meaningful and this is something that our players lack, they get allowances and lump sum money and the first thing they think is buying a car.
“My first signing on fee was 50,000 shillings and those days it was a lot of money, when I signed for Gor from Re Union, I was given by the then former Gor chairman, he told me to take the money and give it to my mum and that’s what I did.”