How Ochieng’ became the only person to ever play for Harambee Stars
Former Harambee Stars’ goalkeeper-turned striker Francis Ochieng’ is an apt example of the edict that age is just a number.
Ochieng’, 37, has retired having served not only the national team but Mumias Sugar, Tusker and Ulinzi Stars at club level.
In retrospect, Cameroonian legend Roger Milla achieved international stardom at the 1990 Fifa World Cup in Italy at 38 years, an age at which most forwards have retired, by scoring four goals for the Indomitable Lions.
As for Ochieng’ who is a soldier, he is still going strong as he regularly features for the Department of Defence (DoD) team as a glove-man in the local military and regional championships.
Many people might be surprised to learn that it was Ochieng’ who was between Ulinzi’s sticks at the 2011 Cecafa Club Championships when the club lost to Sudan’s El-Merreikh whose goalkeeper Essam El Hadary became the oldest player in history to play in a World Cup match.
The script of Ochieng’, a sergeant at National Defence College, is peculiar much as it is incredulous in that he is the only Kenyan player to have featured as a goalkeeper and striker at the national team at different times.
“I started out as fullback two at Kabete Barracks during childhood football before trying out striking while playing for Water Works (Now Ulinzi Stars) at the Kiko Cup Championships in Lang’ata because the person meant to be scoring goals was wasting a lot of chances,” Ochieng told People Sport.
He added: “I must say this is when I realised I was multi talented of sorts but I think I still have more to offer despite my age.”
His turning point came in 1996 during the Coca Cola regional championships when he was told to stand between the posts since the regular goalkeeper Moses Kamau was not available.
All this time, Ochieng’ was balancing academics and football at Nairobi Milimani Secondary School where another former Harambee Stars goalie Duncan Ochieng’ was two classes ahead of him.
“I took the challenge in the Coke Championship head on and I remember the coach of the school team then a Mr Chole giving me words of encouragements. He was my mentor and I thank him for that,” said Ochieng’.
Duncan’s completion of O-levels then presented his younger namesake with a chance of showing his true colours in the Milimani squad.
“I learned a lot from Duncan’ from the moment I was enrolled in Form 1 and there was no looking back,” said Ochieng’.
A hard worker and who was willing to learn, Ochieng’ would transfer school and joined Vihiga Boys in 1998 where he was noticed by then Kenyan Premier League (KPL) side Mumias Sugar who recruited him as a full time goalkeeper.
In 2008, Ochieng’ was summoned in the national under-23 team (Emerging Stars) by Head Coach Jacob ‘Ghost” Mulee and made his debut against Mozambique’s Baby Mambas.
The same year, he featured for DoD in the military games in Uganda and became the team’s top scorer with six goals.
In his first season as a striker in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL), in 2008, Ochieng’ finished as the top third top scorer with 12 goals, a feat that earned him a place in the national team Harambee Stars as a goal getter and no longer a goalkeeper, despite the presence of established forwards in the country.
“I was scoring for fun in 2008 and when Francis Kimanzi named me in Stars squad for the Senior Challenge Cup in Uganda, he knew my capabilities. He gave me a chance to form an attack with Francis Ouma and Mike Baraza,”said Ochieng’.
In 2010 soon after recovering from an injury, Ochieng’ returned as a goalkeeper at Ulinzi but not before being invited for professional trials with a South African club.
However, the SA deal fell through following an advice from his father to stick with the army where a job as a soldier was guaranteed. In 2011 he played for Harambee Stars in the Nile Basin tournament in Egypt where the team finished fourth overall.
Ochieng’ retired from football in 2015 and went on a military peace keeping mission in Sudan.