‘I’m living my dream’ – Gusii FC coach Ongwae
Andrew Mark Ongwae’s life has always revolved around football. When people asked him what he wanted to be when he became an adult, he always answered in three simple words, ‘A football player.’
And as he now ponders on his future as a coach, his story is also an age-old tale of great talent and ambition.
At the beginning, football was nothing serious to him. He only wanted to play it because it was the only thing he loved doing.
And as things would turn out to be, Ongwae, the former Harambee Stars defender, has known nothing else in his life but football.
“All my life has been football. Since I finished school, there was a time I was working at Nation Centre but left after three months.
The reason I left was because I found it hard to juggle between football and work. The work denied me a chance to travel far and at times even training.
When the boss asked me to chose one, I told him to pay me since I have chosen football. That was in 2006,” says Ongwae, on how he is doing with Gusii FC as head coach.
His football journey started as early as he was in lower primary school and from the moment he first played football, it was clear to everyone watching him play, that he had a special gift in the game that was setting him above his peers.
“When I finished Class Eight and joined Tabaka High School, I had already made a name and some old students knew me including the school captain and without much introduction, I was selected to the school team and made a first eleven line up every time the team was summoned to prepare for a match,” says Ongwae.
Even after completing high school, his undying love for football did not allow him to divert his attention and maybe pursue other things, he kept going.
“When I finished my high school studies in 2005, I was called by a friend who saw that I am good at football.
He invited me to go and try it at Agro Chemicals who were by then playing in the Kenya Premier League (KPL).
I remember we were like 70 trialists and the coach (late Henry Omino) only wanted to sign five players.
Trials were not easy and every Friday was axe day, but I made it through until the final week and I was selected among the five players to sign for the team,” he says.
However, his stay at Agro Chemicals was not rosy and after some months he left the Muhoroni-based side and returned to Nairobi where he signed for Amani Yassets in Riruta, a team that was in the second tier, National Super League (NSL) then.
His incredible defensive prowess lured the then KPL side World Hope FC who came looking for his left back defensive services where he played and trained with Victor Wanyama in 2006/7 and partly 2008 when he was on holiday from Celtic.
“Same year (2015) I signed with World Hope and they sent me back to play for Yassets on loan till 2006 mid season.
After that I joined the team back in the premier league and on return I promised myself to compete my place in the team, I trained hard and that helped me to cement my position in the left back until 2008,” he said.
It is his hard-working spirit and determination at World Hope that attracted the then Harambee Stars coach Francis Kimanzi to give him a call-up to the national team alongside other big names like Andrew Oyombe, John Njoroge, Jamal Mohamed, Dennis Oliech, MacDonald mariga, Noah Ayuko, just to mention a few.
His star continued to grow and his call-up to the national team saw Gor Mahia seeking his signature in 2009 and as any other ambitious young player, he could not resist the offer from the Kenya’s most successful club.
“It was a huge transfer move for as a wanted to reach the peak of my football career. Gor (Mahia) as it’s today, was a big name and I was excited to join them.
And joining them, I had the ambitions, I wanted to get regular playtime and I once again made sure I got a place in first eleven,” says Ongwae, who at that time played along with Jerim Onyango, George ‘BlackBerry’ Odhiambo, Peter Opiyo, Collins Okoth, amongst others.
He played for the Green Army until the end of the 2010 season where he helped them finish second behind eventual champions Ulinzi Stars.
He then left for in 2011 and joined the then newly promoted Congo United at the coastal region.
He played there for six months before coming back Nairobi to join Nairobi City Stars, where he played for the Kawangware-based side Ken Oliech, Kevin Oliech, John Mark Makwata, until 2014 December when he decamped them to sign for Shabana who had been promoted to KPL.
However, Shabana’s dream to play in KPL didn’t come through after a tussle between the federation and KPL saw two parallel leagues- Football Kenya Federation Premier League and Kenyan Premier League Limited league created where Shabana ended up playing in the FKF Premier League, the second tier.
“I stayed with Shabana all through as team captain until December 2015 where Muhoroni Youth FC came for my services and I had to join because things were not easy at that time.
We had endured a tough time as the Shabana management had abandoned the club,” he says, adding: “I, however, had a short stint with Muhoroni before coming back to Shabana in 2016.
We finished second that season behind Zoo FC who got promoted that year and came for my signnature.”