Football stories are more captivating than movies. Despite there being over 250 million active football players worldwide, every story is differently gripping. I sat down with Nicodemus Omasete and came out with another gem of a football journey! The current FKF Embu County Branch Vice Chairman is all about grassroots football. You have to hear his story from the dusty fields of Kitale to the very apex of the game to understand the zeal that drives Omanicho aka Nicho Msafi.
Like most Kenyan footballers, Omasete’s story began barefoot on a dusty field. He did not have an immediate football background. However, the larger Omasete family was full of footballers. Lam Road FC, his local team at Lumuli, Kitale, had eight Omasetes in the starting XI! Young Nicho served as their ball boy, and it is on that field that the seed of stardom was sown.
Nicho has been through a tedious football journey that would not have gotten here without the grit and pure resilience. It involved moving homes, changing schools more than five times, dropping off, and even quitting football. Life kept handing him blows to make him quit. Nicho has done odd jobs in Nairobi and Siakago, all in pursuit of his football dream.
Many who see him in his current glory don’t know that he has also suffered numerous rejections during trials. Or how football connections got Omasete to Fortune FC and to his current role at Embu Water. And his future dreams for football in this country.
Read on to hear the full story in Oma Nicho’s own words. Highly recommended for young grassroots football players who are almost giving up on their football dream.
Young Omasete: A Small Seed in Rural Kitale
My journey began in a small village called Lumuli in Kitale, Trans Nzoia county. There wasn’t much football in my immediate family. However, my extended family was crazy about the sport. The local team, Lam Road FC, had up to eight players from the Omasete family in the starting eleven on some match days. These are the people who inspired me to get into the game.
I was too small to play back then. My uncles assigned me ball-boy duties. I would ensure that the balls got to the field on time and that they were properly inflated. After practice and games, I would collect the balls and kits and take them home. This made me a popular lad with the senior players. Kennedy Omasete, the team captain, was particularly instrumental in my development.
When I was in class six, I left Lumuli for Bungoma, my grandmother’s homeplace. The passion was already planted by then, and I became a total menace during school games. I was a lethal striker who was always in the first team during inter-school competitions. By the time I cleared class eight, scholarship offers were pouring in.
Omasete on Exodus: From School to School Without Settling
Friends School Muliro, Goseta High, and St. Anthony were all interested in enrolling me. I ended up joining Muliro. However, in my first week there, the principal was transferred. His replacement had no interest in sports. All of us who had joined on scholarships were asked to pay school fees going forward. With no means to make this happen, I went back home.
While at home, a friend of mine schooling at Goseta challenged me to come play with them. “How?” I asked. That is how Mariga introduced me to Mr Malinga, the games teacher. Mr Malinga took me in without an admission number. That meant I could not attend class. I’d spend the whole day in the dorm just so I could train in the evening. That kind of life was traumatizing; living like an outlaw. Young Omasete opted to go back home.
My next stop was St. Anthony. A CID officer who had seen me playing in a local tournament convinced my grandma to let me join the school. However, even St. Anthony was only interested in my football talent. They didn’t give me an admission number. I only stayed in the main house. Soon, I was back to my now familiar routine – going home. That said, I am grateful to this day that I made lifelong friends at St. Anthony. Sean Opwora and Alfred Chote are my brothers in the game to date.
Reprieve for Omasete at Last…or not!
While at home, I met Rodgers Wafula. He was playing for Kimimini Combined in a tournament sponsored by the area MP. Kimimini was a big team made up of stars from the country’s top leagues. The likes of Noah Wafula, Dennis Kalama, and Denis Nate were part of the side. My team, Big Tree FC, was entirely local. A true David vs Goliath duel.
In that match, I scored in the 89th minute to earn David a 1-0 win against Goliath. Rodgers was awed by this and approached me. He offered to help me get into Holy Trinity Mixed Secondary School. By then, I had pretty much given up on school. The in-out was exhausting! Also, tournament money was sweet and seemed enough to me. Imagine winning 200k back then!
But Rodgers was insistent. He visited my home with Mr Willy Bareso, the games and business teacher. They assured me of admission and a full scholarship. I was sceptical, but I agreed.
Holy Trinity was a blessing. The environment was great! Despite not being a football powerhouse, I felt comfortable here. I could go to class and play football. For the first time in the school’s history, we got to the semis of the area’s schools’ zonal competition. The principal, Mr Kivasi, was over the moon with happiness.
Our performance encouraged him to register us in the Alusa Cup, a grassroots football tournament. Our squad comprised the likes of Davis Wanyonyi, Boniface, Kiptoo, Rio (Tusker Youth), and Walter Kinjo (Radio Maisha). We beat St. Anthony in the semis despite finishing second in our group. The final against Kamusinga ended in a goalless draw and we beat them on penalties. History!
The milestone made Mr Kivasi reward us with a one-week party! He then went on a recruitment overdrive. In form 2, we beat Muroki Secondary 8-0 to finish top of the zonal level. I came out of that match with a hat trick!
We managed to get to the quarters of the District level. We were going toe to toe with schools like Goseta, St. Anthony, and Mbwake. Blessings continued flowing beyond that point. Blessed FC, a community team led by a pastor and sponsored by Germans, approached the school for our services. They chose several players, myself included. We would travel to matches fully funded and awesomely kitted every match day. We helped the team finish second in an 18-team league.
But the darkness was not completely gone. After that season, the sponsors withdrew and the team died. Back in school, the old bad omen was back. Mr Kivasi was transferred and replaced by a lady principal who didn’t care one bit about football. I was back on the road one more time.
Omasete on the Final Lap
I approached Councillor Alfred Waswa (Now MCA) who took me to a local day school. The school wanted me to go back to form two, something that did not sit well with me. I declined but accepted after a week of convincing. Around that time, I found a mentor in one Danson Wanga. He said that he wanted me to become a teacher.
The rest of my school life was pretty uneventful.
After completing form four, my cousin Wekesa invited me to Nairobi. He did not play professionally but encouraged me to give it a try. At Kitengela, I met Janet, Kitengela All Stars’ Team Manager. I joined her team for half a season then moved to Prisons Kitengela under coach Kooga.
Does Football Get Easier After School?
But football was not paying yet Nairobi life was so demanding. I found a job on the side – inspecting cables on Telkom communication lines. The pay was little, 6K, and took a toll on my football. There was no time to train. Therefore, I lasted just five months on the job.
A talk with my uncle Ronald Omela saw me on the next bus to Siakago, Embu. He found me a primary school to teach. While here, we founded Don United with Samson Maluki, Kaka, Odhiambo, and others. We joined the Embu County League where we qualified for the Mini League. The community around Siakago was very supportive. They showed up to mark the field on match days, cheered us on, and travelled with us for away games.
The Embu League was very disorganized at the time. Fixtures were released late as were the league standings. Sometimes the league would stop after five games. All this despite paying a registration fee of 24,000 shillings.
But my football momentum was back!
Frustration at the Trials and Finally Finding a Home
I went back to Nairobi Okongo trials feeling very confident. Here, frustrations awaited me. I had to leave my 8k teaching job. Julius, who had hosted me at Siakago, moved to Muthatari, Embu, where he worked with an NGO.
I went for another trial at Ushuru, where more frustration awaited. I was picked from more than 600 trialists, but there was never clarity about making it a formal deal. The coach, Ken Kenyatta, only played me in friendly matches. I travelled to league matches but was never named in the match day squad.
After several games, somebody intimated that maybe someone was pocketing my dues. I approached the TM, Safari, with my concerns. I also called our elder in Embu sports, Mr Kinoti, to intervene. He told me that I needed to buy a goat worth 70K to appease the coach. I had a wife and a young kid at the time. Additionally, I had to pay for upkeep and daily fare to and from Dandora. I just couldn’t meet the said demands.
As a result, I came back to Embu and started training with Kangonde FC. At Kangonde, I didn’t feel like I fit in, so I started attending training sessions at Kamiu. After a few days, I joined FC Inter Dunga Dunga at St. Michael’s. Here, I felt at home. We played strongly for two seasons and, in the third, qualified for the Mini League held at Makueni after finishing second in the league.
We managed the knockout stages of the tournament that brought together top teams from the entire Eastern zone.
After the tournament, I received a call from one Feriloy Ruguru, an experienced referee and match official in the national leagues. She referred me to Peter Murithi, team manager of FKF Division 2 side Fortune Sacco. I joined the side where I linked up with old comrades from different stages of my career.
In my first season with Fortune, we went the entire season unbeaten and were consequently promoted to Division One. We only drew 1-1 away to Coast Heroes. The second season was equally successful as we gained promotion to the National Super League, Kenya’s second tier after the Premier League.
Our success continued. We finished fourth in our first year of the NSL, proving that teams can grow from grassroots football to the highest level. As we entered the second season in the NSL, I got a chance to attend the CAF-D coaching course. I was appointed a player-coach. We finished fourth. I then went for a CAF-C licence course. It was an enlightening one month under coach Saleh at Machakos. When I completed my course, I found the team in position eight. I was handed a player-coach role and helped the team finish fourth.
I was appointed full coach of Fortune FC in our third season of playing in the NSL. We finished third in the first leg and second at the end of the season. We earned a promotion to Kenya’s highest football division- the Kenya Premier League! It was momentous!
Our joy was cut short by league disputes occasioned by an unstable time in the FKF leadership. The club is still in a dispute resolution process regarding the same.
Such a nice run, but…
Despite the good times at Fortune, the club had one major shortcoming: there was no official contract, which meant I didn’t have a defined salary. It was just allowances and goodwill. This is why I did not hesitate when an opportunity rose at EWASCO FC. I am now on a one-year contract with the Division Two side and really relishing the challenge to go again. It is my belief we can shoot to the very top. I am also serving as the Embu County Branch vice chairman, with a dream to help professionalize and grow the game in our county!
On my free days, I like to enjoy my retirement reliving my playing days in the Embu Legends team, a new family for former footballers.
And, that is my long story of the game I have grown to love with all my heart!
Omasete Q & A
What drove Omasete to take a coaching course?
CAF D was just an opportunity that came by. I had not taken much interest in coaching, but I attended because it was happening in Embu. For CAF-C, however, I chased it actively. My team was not performing to its level best, so I went looking for skills to propel them further. It took a lot of sacrifices to be in Machakos for a whole month.
How about the FKF vice-chairmanship?
Leadership has been on my mind since my time at Don. I hated how the league was run then. I participated from the outside in changing that. When elections came around, I was eager to be part of the transformative team. I am glad that we have made strides in Embu football, but we are not yet there.
Ultimately, Omasete will run for a national seat – FKF president to be specific. It is sad that most FKF benefits go to teams and people in Nairobi. We must change the rules to amend that injustice. We must separate some offices and make sure NEC members work. Today, they are just there to be seen.
What is your take on tournaments, mostly political ones?
Tournaments are just for fun. Mostly, they only benefit politicians during the political seasons. Even politicians who love football cannot do much with tournaments. The better option is to find a way to grow grassroots football. Take for instance the Cleo Malala tournament. The budget used to run it can set up a fully functional football academy that would change Kakamega and national football for the better.
Omasete’s word to players?
Players share little blame. My main word would go to coaches. I want to tell them straight: You are liars! You do not give enough direction to your players. Most of them, even the most talented, are on and off because there is no development of grassroots football. They end up quitting the game due to frustration. Coaches must speak to and with players without getting tired. They should be fair and not give players preference. Also, players should be exposed to the hardships of football at a young age. That way, we won’t have players giving up easily when they move to higher leagues.
We have stadium upgrades going on in Embu- Moi Stadium and Njukiri. What does this mean for our football?
We have to use the new facilities strategically if they are to help local football. Firstly, there needs to be a Stadium Management Committee to run these facilities. The committee must be independent of the ministry. It should comprise people who are actually involved in sports. Secondly, we must allow our local teams to use the facility. If we leave them to visiting teams and non-sporting activities, then these facilities will be of no use to Embu football and sports. Kisumu and Machakos stadiums are balancing the use of their facilities well; we should borrow a leaf from them.
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