Sammy Pamzo Omollo; From Cricket to Football

On a dry and chilly morning I find myself at Camp Toyoyo deep inside Jericho Estate in Nairobi Eastlands area. Nowadays the area can be called near East, as Nairobi has expanded eastwards making Kayole and Njiru the Far East of Nairobi. KPL All Stars, a select side of KPL players preparing for a trip to Spain are playing a friendly match against KPL side Posta Rangers. I am here to meet Sammy “Pamzo” Omollo, the Rangers coach. To the rest of us he is Pamzo, but to those who know him well, he is “maviatu” which translates to shoes in relation to the hard tackling defender he was in his playing days.

On 10th December 1994, Kenya Breweries FC now Tusker FC lost the final of African Cup Winners Cup 5-2 on aggregate to DRC then Zaire side Daring Club (DC)MotemaPembe in Kasarani. The Brewers had held the DRC side 2-2 away in Kinsasha. Everyone thought they would kill the match at home and follow in footsteps of GorMahia in 1987 and win the continental trophy but ended up losing 3-0 at home. Sammy Omollo was in that Brewers defense. The side had great names like Henry Motego, Patrick Nachok, Shem Nyaberi and Vincent Kwarula.

Omollosigned for Kenya Breweries in 1990 but spent two seasons between 1992 and `1993 atGorMahia sandwiched between stints at Kenya Breweries. He later moved to Indian side East Bengal FC in 1996 for two seasons then moved to Mohun Bagan A.C. for three seasons.He featured in Asian Champions League and won trophies with the two sides. He was the best foreign player in Calcutta now Kolkota during his time in India. Beyond the tackles, Pamzo was a leader on and off the pitch. He later signed as Assistant Coach of East Bengal and won the league in 2015.

Here I was with a man I heard about on the radio while growing up. I am seated behind him on a seat between the benches of the sides playing. He is leaning on the shed about a metre to my left. He turns his head to look behind him. I suspect he wants to sit down so I offer my sit. He turns down my offer in a polite way that can disarm a ruffian. A gentle giant Sammy is, standing at about six feet four inches, his aggressive play on the field in his days is the opposite of who he is off the field.

The match is on and Sammy shouts instructions to his charges. The boys are not giving the select side an easy time. We can here the rough swiping sound when players’ boots come into contact. Rangers score in the first half and the players go to rest.Rangers bring new players for the second half. After some time, Pamzo shifts from a four man defense to a three man defense and All Stars equalize the match ends in a draw. I spend some time chatting with All Stars Assistant Coach John Kamau then catch up with Pamzo and we walk to his car.

We find a bunch of Zetech College players who waylay him at the parking. This is when I see another side of Pamzo. One player grabs his football boots to hold him hostage and a playful exchange ensues. In between a friendly match and possible trials for a few players is discussed. He is given his shoes back and we leave. He tells me how he loved his time as Zetech College coach. The boys seem to miss him too.

We talk as we drive in his car to Buruburu. “Rangers’ is focused on winning KPL this year. People say that we are a defensive side but we are simply a good side off the ball.”Pamzo says about critics to his 11 match unbeaten run that came to a stop on May 20th to Ulinzi FC.  “We create a lot of chances even when we win by a solitary goal; we just need to work on our finishing.”

Pamzo is happy with his side that has a mixture of young and old players. JokinsAtudo, Dennis Mukhaisi, Moses Otieno, Jerry Santo, HashimMukhwana, Luke Ochieng’and Joseph Mbugi are some of the experienced players at Rangers. Surprisingly this lot was with Pamzo at Tusker in 2011 when he won KPL with the Ruaraka based brewers. “All we need to do is stop four clubs, Gor, Sofapaka, Ulinzi and Tusker and we have the title.” That is Pamzo’s summary of the sides that stand between them and the title. “This involves beating the four sides in the second leg then we collect as many points as we can from the other matches.”

Pamzo is not a fan of artificial turf but says we have to adapt and use them for lack of a better option.  “We grew up playing on grass pitches though the pitches we have now are bumpy and the artificial turf is level.” He is still worried about the ankle and knee injuries that come with playing on synthetic turf.

On current players, Pamzo says you have to handle them with care. A coach must always come between players and their phones. His take is players should avoid negative news from social media and friends before matches. Another thing is a coach cannot give players a dress down- they will break and leave. “In our days we were tough, you break up with your girlfriend and you get onto the pitch and play like her departure was a blessing.”  That does not happen now, and many times he has to call a player a side and comfort him to get the best out of a player.

Playing semiprofessional football is very challenging. Our players have to go for training then leave to go for other jobs so as to earn a living. “Rangers as a club is fortunate as every player is an employee of Posta. When someone is not playing he reports to the office for other duties.” The technical bench members have contracts which bring stability. Former defender Pascal Ochieng’ has retired from playing and he is currently the team manager.

According to Pamzo, the best league in Africa is South African Premier Soccer League, but the tough leagues are in Nigeria, Ghana and Egypt.  He would love to take Rangers to the continental next season after winning the regional CECAFA Kagame Cup.  “I played continental football in Africa and Asia and I would like my players to experience that too.”

“If I am not sweating over football, I spend my time in cricket.” That happens to be Omollo’s first love. He grew up in Pangani area where he played cricket in the neighborhood. Steve Tikolo and the Sujis are his childhood friends and once in a while he goes to cheer Nairobi provincial side Swamibapa. “I was a good bowler but I was good on the bat as well.” Sammy is definitely an intelligent man- for those who know.

That’s Sammy PamzoOmollo, married and a father of two. I have hanged out with his son Denzel who I learn is now 13 years old. The fruit may not fall far off from the tree. Time will tell.


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