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Kisumu simba, the pearl of Kenyan Hockey!

No no other sport has put Kisumu County on the sporting map like hockey.

The town’s Simba Hockey Club has produced some of Kenya’s finest players — including celebrated Olympians — since its launch in 1960s.

Winning the National League title five times to feature in the Africa Cup club championships is just one of Simba’s many achievements.

It is a success story characterised by focused leadership, good selection structures, determination and commitment through the first, second, third and current generation of players.

Even though Simba draw its players from schools and estates within and around the county, Kisumu Boys and Kisumu Day have been the hunting grounds for talent.

It is the Sikhs who pioneered Simba and provided a firm foundation that has been the envy of many local hockey teams.

A key to Simba’s success has been Thind Aridham because it is through his hands that many national team players have been developed —especially the first generation from the 1970s and late 80s.

Besides Aridham others who contributed to the growth of hockey not only in Kisumu but the country are Manjeet Singh Sembi, Parminder ‘Kake’ Saini and Raghbir Singh Chatthe.

The fact that Aridham was a former Kisumu Boys headmaster, having left the school in the early 90s explains why his former school reigned supreme to win back-to-back national school championship titles.

The first generation of players in Kisumu Simba are credited with Kenya’s success in finishing fourth at the inaugural 1971 World Cup in Spain, the country’s best ever performance in a global event.

They lost to India 2-1 in extra time in the battle for bronze, a feat no other African country has achieved. The national team also claimed 12th position at the 1973 World Cup in the Netherlands.

It was during that period that Kenya took part in the Olympic Games, finishing sixth in 1964, eighth in 1968, and 13th in 1972. They returned in the 1984 Olympics, finishing ninth and then coming in 12th in the 1988 Games.

Kenya also won silver in the 1974 and 1983 Africa Cup of Nations and achieved gold — its first ever — in the All Africa Games in 1988 in Nairobi.

Some of Simba’s first generation include Parminder ‘Kake’ Saini, the current coach, the late Michael Omondi, Sathnam Sira, Simi Goyal, Samuel Oguk, Roy Oyier, Billy Brah, Amarjit Singh and Emmanuel Oduol.

Before 1990, there was no national league but championship events that included the MR De Souza Gold Cup, the Kenya Cup, the Dashmesh Cup and the Inter-provincial Tata Cup were dominated by teams from Nairobi.

Kisumu Simba is the only team from outside the capital to win the Dashmesh Cup (in 1983) the MR De Souza Gold Cup (1984), and the Kenya Cup (1985).

Simba’s second generation of players in the 1980s and 1990s boast of their achievements in the Commonwealth Games, All Africa Games and the Africa Cup of Nations.

Some of the most notable players of the generation were Meshak Senge, Cliff Odendo, Luziro Gina, Sylvester Otieno, Joel Abdallah, William Oketch, Eric Odingo, Joseph Ndambuki, Brian Aduda, Godfery Nyaganga, Samuel Kere, Sammy Ougo, Godfrey Wagachunga, Said Kwemba, Abel Oketch, Dennis Owaka and Barack Odaga.

Simba’s third generation that covers the 1990s to date are well known for their performance in Club championships.

Some of the players are Cliff Okello, Kamal Sembi, Ravinda Rupra, Billy Molla, Robert Amadi, Bramwel Lijodi and Paul Gumbe.

They won the National League in 1995, 1996, 2002, 2004, 2007 and 2008.  They were to also participate in the Africa Cup Club Championships in 1996 and 2003 where they finished fifth each time and in 2009 where they won bronze.

Back-to-back titles

Simba sports secretary Kamal Sembi reckons they were able to win their back-to-back national titles in 2007 and 2008 because of the commitment of their players.

In addition they were able to draft in Armed Forces players like William Oketh, Meshak Senge, Said Okwemba, Barack Odaga and Dennis Owoka after the military side folded.

But it has not all been a bed of roses for the Kisumu County club, with finances being a major headache.

Even though Sembi, Kake, the Sikh community and other well-wishers have supported the club, Sembi said it has become expensive to fund the team, which was the only premiership side from the hockey granary of western Kenya before Western Jaguars came in last year.

Simba’s run in the last two seasons has, however, suffered a dip, which Sembi attributes to lack of consistency in training.

“Most of the quality players we have are based outside Nairobi while some of the local players do not have the experience for the big stage,” he explained.

kisumu simba (light blue) in action

Kake said there were no incentives in terms of cash and playing equipment from the Kenya Hockey Union.

“In fact, the Sikh Community will in the long run get tired with us,” he said, adding that the club faced closure if no financial help was forthcoming.

Sembi said they spent close to Sh4.5m in each year that they took part in the Africa Cup Club Championships — in 1996, 2003 and 2009 — plus a further Sh1m a year on matches in Nairobi.

“There are other expenses that individual players incur and it’s difficult for them,” Sembi said. “The individual funding has drained our pockets to the limit and for sure it will reach a moment we shall be forced to disband the team.”

Kake alongside the Sikh community has sponsored the team for the last 20 years before Sembi came in 2002. “The only impediment to sports

growth is lack of finances and this is what is threatening to bring down Kisumu Simba,” he said.

Sembi and Kake complain that although Simba has produced Olympians and quality national team players, the club and players have yet to be recognised, even by Kisumu politicians.

“The team belongs to the people of Kisumu County. It will be a shame to fold when hockey is the only sport that is represented in a National league from the area,” Sembi said.

Source: Ayumba Ayodi

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