James ‘Kadir’ Ogolla: Kenyan tough defender strikers dreaded
He is one of Gor Mahia and national team Harambee Stars living legends with a difference.
He was a trailblazer in the team’s defence lines and a hard nut for many strikers to crack.
Certainly, one cannot talk about Gor and Stars’ history without a mention of his name as he did the teams proud in the width and breadth of Kenyan football in the 1970s.
The perplexing bit is that while most players of his generation have since died, he is still alive and belies his advanced age of 64 years.
Meet James “Kadir’’ Ogolla, one of the most dreaded defenders to ever come out of Gor and Stars who ruled the football landscape in the region like a colossus.
As I sit with him for the interview at his residence in Nairobi’s Ofafa Maringo Posta Staff Housing quarters, the first thing that strikes me in him is his affable mien and brutal honesty of which I knew first-hand.
Ogolla, who also played for Stars in crucial matches, never received any caution from referees during his career and that should tell you something about his aptitude as a player.
“I never received any yellow or red card and I was a firm believer that football is not a sport to hurt your opponent.
This is the same person you will shake hands with after the match which is within Fifa’s fair play rules,” said the former Kenya Posts and Telecommunications employee in a matter-of-fact tone.
In retrospect, Maringo Estate has produced other legends like ex-Gor striker George “Best” Yoga and Paul “Oduwo” Cobra as well as Dan Shikanda which lends credence to the neigbourhood’s popularity as the epicentre of great football stars.
Ogolla’s football career started at Nakuru All Stars before he joined the now defunct Limuru-based Bata Bullets where he played alongside Chris Obure, Sammy Nyongesa and Jorum Roy.
Ogolla, who played at position four (central defence), was so swift and flexible and Bata Bullets could no longer hold onto a player of his calibre which saw Gor search for his signature in every nook and cranny in 1973 and were successful.
“Gor came calling, lured me into their ranks and I did not object. We were like a family at the club and each one of us had a role to ensure we protected the reputation of the club,” offers the father of five.
Ogolla, alongside another Gor legend Allan Thigo, who previously played for Kisumu Hot Stars, were the marquee signings who added muscle in the team’s growing fortunes.
“I remember I met the likes of William ‘’Chege’’ Ouma, Steve Yongo, Okeyo Kapila, Mike ‘Machine’ Ogolla and James Siang’a who were among the finest players in the region then,” said Ogolla.
Gor must have been convinced with Ogolla’s pedigree in that he was already playing for the national team while at Bata Bullets.
Ogolla then recounts his experience with the national team, saying: “Harambee Stars was an all-round good side and we had the likes of Abaluhya’s (now AFC Leopards ) Aggrey Lukoye and Noah Wanyama (Victor Wanyama’s dad) as well as heading specialist Charles Ochieng’ of Luo Union.”
Ogolla played for Stars in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Malawi in 1974 in the process brushing shoulders with some of the best players outside the borders.
However, he reckons that the deadliest player he has ever met on the pitch is Zambia’s scoring wizard Godfrey Chitalu, who was nicknamed ‘Mr Fix It.’
“Chitalu was hard to mark and you had to devise clever ways to restrain him lest he turned you inside out and scored. That’s how dangerous he was,” Ogolla explains.
Back to Gor, Ogolla helped the team win the league title unbeaten in 1976 ably assisted by other high-profile players such as Festus Nyakota, Jerry Imbo and Maurice “Sonyi” Ochieng.
Ogolla retired from football a year later after having left an indelible mark in his career.