Football in Kenya can sometimes be referred to as a thankless career.
To some footballers like McDonald Mariga and Dennis Oliech football has not only brought joy, prestige, it has also brought in its strides enormous success and wealth never imagined before from Kenyan footballers.
But not all are lucky and one of the unlucky ones is a once revered left back (Number 3) for club and Kenya for a long time. He had the tenacity to check the no. 7’s of the opposing teams and also run the width to score crucial goals.
He earned over 100 caps for Harambee Stars under different coaches in his hey day before finally stepping out of the scene.
This is non other than former International Francis ‘Killer’ Oduor who is now wallowing in abject poverty in Kisumu as he contemplates how he will put his next meal on the table for his large family that comprises his siblings, parents and his immediate family.
Beyond the meals there is school fees to think about for his three children.
Life has been a struggle for Oduor especially after the post elections violence that rocked Kenya after the 2007 general elections.
Outskirt of Kisumu
Before then he had a steady job working at Sher Agencies [now Karuturi Flowers] and also doubling up as a player at the football club [now Karuturi Sports].
His life was almost cut shot when the violence erupted in Naivasha. His house with all house hold goods was razed to the ground but somehow his sister was able to retrieve the most important item in his career - his passport from the inferno.
Soon Francis escaped Naivasha with the help of a former player – Mwangi and got to Kisian in the outskirts of Kisumu to begin life afresh.
A player who made rave reviews in newspapers, television stations and radio stations alike has now been forgotten and thrown to what we refer in Swahili as “kaburi la sahau” and now a shadow of his former ‘great’. It was even a struggle for the former defense kingpin to get Kshs. 30 to cover 10km from Kisian to attend this interview in Kisumu.
In an exclusive interview with this writer the former AFC Leopards
long serving captain Francis Oduor revealed how at one time he went for trials at English Premier League side Portsmouth FC but arrived late in London and lost the golden opportunity.
He had another chance to head to Peru but contractual obligations at AFC Leopards
locked him down and club Chairman Mr. Peter Onalo declined to release him.
Oduor now tells of his life as a footballer, heart aches, frustrations and the miserable life he is living now as he seeks the government support to at least live by the glory he made for Kenya back then.
His children Derrick Oduor in form 3, Vandy Oduor in form 1 and Emmanuel Oduor are struggling to make it in school because of school fees and yet they feel their dad gave a great service to the country. Is there a way out for the former phenomenal player?
: Please tell the readers when you where born and how you started playing football?
I was born in 1971 in Nairobi but I went to school at Akudo Primary school in Manyatta before I moved to St.Andrews Secondary School – all in Kisumu. While in school I played for Red Santos under coach Tele Santana then within a short time I moved Kisumu Railways which was playing in the provincial league.
How did you find your way into the premier league and subsequently Harambee stars senior team?
It was also a surprise to me because while at Railways coach Gaddafi took me to Sony Sugar
which was by then playing in the Nationwide league/Super league and I did not even last three games. We were to play Nzoia in a premier league qualifier in their backyard but the match could not be played because the fans had threatened to “circumcise” us and so the game was moved to a neutral ground - Afraha stadium in Nakuru town.
This was the beginning of my rise as the Coach Gerry Saurer [deceased] was on a holiday and he decided to come to the stadium. On that day he spotted me and called me up to the Kenya U21 side that was camping at Kasarani. After joining I was slowly integrated into the senior team that comprised the likes of Tobias Ocholla.
I traveled with the team to the African Cup of Nations in Senegal though I did not play. At that point Saurer who was also the coach of AFC Leopards
signed me which by that time was high standards. I played at Leopards for more than 8 years as a captain and dependable player.
How did you manage to evade the bitter rivalry between AFC Leopards
fans and Gor Mahia
fans since you might have been considered allied to the latter tribe?
It was funny because many Gor Mahia
thought my name to “Otwori’ in stead of Oduor. So it was believed I was from Busia and that made it even easier to play for AFC Leopards
There are sentiments all around that you squandered the fortunes you made from football can you confirm or deny this rumour?
Those are people with the wrong information. People have wrong perception as players we used to earn a lot. Then we used to play out of passion as there was hardly any money.
Personally I came from an extremely poor family background with eight siblings. My elderly parents left all the responsibility of the family on my shoulders at a very young age. From what I earned I had to pay for bills, upkeep and school fees. From my earnings I was able to relocate the whole family from our ancestral home of Gem Dudi to Kisian on the outskirts of Kisumu where we currently live.
What is the most memorable moment as an Harambee stars player?
It was the game between Kenya and Algeria where we beat them 3-1 at home and they were needed to score two goals but we defended so well and they only managed a goal. It was a sweet victory for us and Kenya as a country considering it was a difficult tusk beating a North African Nation.
Francis why have you not joined Coaching courses that are being done across the country?
It’s unfortunate that everything has been commercialized nowadays. It’s difficult for me right now as it involves money which I really don’t have. Sometime we former footballers feel belittled by people who have never even stepped in a football field to play but in turn they want money.
Do you think the government officials or football officials have neglected you and forgot so fast of your heydays?
It is very frustrating if I remember how political leaders used to jostle for a handshake but now they are too busy to even see me. I have tried seeing former patrons like Alfred Sambu, Minister Wycliffe Oparanya, Deputy PM Musalia Mudavadi but their imposing bodyguards have thwarted my noble intentions. The football federation should also strive to get roles for us so that our expertise cannot go to waste and on the other hand it can make as earn a decent live hood.
What are your thoughts of the current crop of players plying the Kenya premier league do you see any new changes?
To be sincere the Kenya premier league has grown in status and its lucrative deal with SuperSport is a step in the right direction. There is a lot of transparency and teams benefit with the same trickling down to the players. Nowadays players sign lucrative contracts that at least secure their future.
I am also proud of initiatives like Sakata Ball which at least recognized me as a former player and invited me to give talks to the players as well as scout for the best during the regional finals in Kisumu.
Who are some of the coaches that you have played under in your career as a footballer?
They are so many the likes of [Gerry] Saurer, [Reinhardt] Fabisch, Jack Johnson, [Patrick] Naggi, [Mohammed] Kheri amongst others.
What are you currently doing in life?
I was an assistant coach at Real Kisumu but I recently quit. I am now coaching Magadi Secondary School in Manyatta slums in Kisumu on a temporary basis. It has been a difficult journey indeed for even my friends are not accessible anymore.
Francis what is your parting shot to the readers?
: I know a lot of my fans can still recognize me but I would like the government through the ministry of sports to see how they can assist me with maybe a job so that I can sustain my family. Even the football federation should consider getting me a coaching job with one of their junior teams to help me earn a living.
It pains me that I was the bread winner of my family but now I am back to their level as I cannot assist the many challenges that are there. I still believe I have so much to offer but I have not gotten another opportunity after my life was shattered by the post election violence forcing me to retreat back to the village.
Francis Oduor can be reached on 0714190165.