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How Waw dodged his dad's push to become a priest

The Star logo The Star 29/09/2020 The Star

a man holding a baseball bat © Provided by The Star John Waw in a relaxed mood


•“My dad would even burn my boots bought by Evans Kadenge or gloves bought by Gideon Wanekeya both of whom were my coaches at Nzoia Sugar,” he says.

•Waw says he owes a lot of gratitude to one of his teachers, Mr. Benedict Makunga who did all he could to inspire him to greater heights.

John Waw nursed a deep desire to turn into a football luminary but his dotting father wanted him to become nothing else but a priest.

Caught between the love for his father and the relentless pursuit of his passion, Waw was left a desolate soul in a puddle of dilemma.

So deeply entrenched were their polarising stances that father and son soon got entangled in a protracted vicious battle, each pulling acrimoniously towards his own selfish ends, his father proving to be a wet blanket right from the scratch.

The situation got slimy one day. A visibly enraged Patrick Onyango grabbed his son’s new pair of football boots and hurled them right into a raging inferno, where they were irredeemably roasted to ashes.

“My dad would even burn my boots bought by Evans Kadenge or gloves bought by Gideon Wanekeya both of whom were my coaches at Nzoia Sugar,” he says.

Onyango was determined to achieve his objective. As soon as the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams results were posted in 2001, he took Waw to a nearby seminary with one thing in mind; to convert him to a man of the collar.

Waw narrates: “I did my KCPE in 2001, passed well, was called to Kamusinga High School but since I come from a christian family, my parents wanted me to become a priest and not to play football. I was forced to join St. Peter’s Seminary Mukumu.”

The struggle was by all means real and chaotic. So determined and obstinate was Waw that he twice took French leave from the seminary to join schools which his coaches had meticulously selected for him without his father’s knowledge. Waw and his coaches had their minds firmly fixed on his future as a footballer.

They sought to offer him an environment that was rich in football culture, an environment that could only be found within the compound of a school of Thurgem’s calibre - a former Kenya Secondary School Games national champion.

Father and son’s simmering differences eventually spilled over to the public domain and Waw’s coaches found themselves in the thick of things. Even though the kitchen was heating up, Waw stood his ground and said no to a new life of celibacy. He knew quite too well that a faint heart never won a fair lady.

“I never studied in the seminary until Form Four because I felt I had no call to priesthood. I felt I was missing something.”

With the help of his coaches, Waw stealthily abandoned St. Peter’s Seminary and traveled several kilometres away to Thurgem to pursue his dreams as a budding footballer. His plans were, however, nipped in the bud when his father got wind of the development. Waw got himself into hot water.

Onyango was furious! He had a bone to pick with people he suspected might have had a hand in his son’s disappearance. He was determined to have them pay through their nose. To drum up some sense into the heads that had caused him all the trouble, he decided to throw some poor souls into prison to teach them a lifetime lesson. Four Nzoia Sugar players—the late Ken Simiyu, Kadenge Evans, Noah Abich, Oluoch and Elisha— found themselves behind bars.

He held them responsible for his son’s disappearance, believing they had engineered his departure from St. Peter’s to Thurgem. “I transferred to Thurgem secondary school but my stay there lasted only two weeks because my dad, a very principled guy, imprisoned Noah Abich, Kevin Oluoch and Elisha Omollo who were by that time playing for Nzoia FC.”

“All of them were former students at Thurgem and had played a role in my disappearance yet my dad never wanted any other school apart from St. Peters.”

Waw says that the players were keen to assist him get a good school, a place he could nurture his talent in football. They had observed his prowess in goalkeeping and wanted to propel it to a higher level. It is Kadenge who actually gave him his fare to Thurgem but all along keeping his plans dark. “I had to come back for Abich, Elisha and Oluoch to be released.”

No sooner had the players been set free than Waw unleashed another terror on his father. The following morning, at around 4 am, the late Anthony Shikubu sneaked him out of the house and took him to St Anthony’s Boys High School, Kitale.

His father’s reaction?

“He now didn’t know whom to blame but since Kadenge was so close to me, I was told he had vowed to get him sacked after he had reported to the company that he was messing up his colleagues’ children.”

Kadenge survived the axe after failing to make a clean breast of it despite the influence that Waw’s father wielded as the managing director’s chauffeur. “The company dismissed the case after Kadenge said he had absolutely nothing to do with my disappearance.”

His father eventually allowed him to remain in Kitale after being convinced by the principal Sir. Cosmas Nabungolo who is the current St. Peter’ Mumias head. It was not until three months later, however, that he came to learn about his son’s disappearance. “In St. Anthony’s, I was very much welcomed by the principal Sir. Cosmas Nabungolo who even bought mattress and other necessities for me to make me comfortable.”

“My dad came to know of my whereabouts after three months when a colleague of his at Nzoia Sugar Company saw me play for St. Anthony’s in the Allan Bradley tournament staged at Kamusinga High School.”

His father had no choice but to let him remain at St. Anthony. He realised he had all along been flogging a dead horse. “Yes, he had no choice because Nabungolo was a more respected person and he dug in never to let me go.”

John Waw was born on May 1, 1986 in Boro in Alego, Siaya County. He is the sixth born and the youngest among the boys in a family of four brothers and four sisters. He attended Nzoia Sugar Company Primary School between 1994 and 2001, where he cut his teeth in football.

“I started my career in football at a very young age way back in lower primary and after school, we would be trained by the current Nzoia Sugar FC chairman Evans Kadenge, who was himself a Nzoia player at that time and former Nzoia keeper Gideon Wanekeya,” said Waw.

Standing at 6ft 7in, Waw never started out as a goalkeeper. He initially turned out as a midfielder before his youth coach advised him to consider giving goalkeeping a chance.

“I was a midfielder in primary up-to Class Six before I transitioned to goalkeeping following my mentor coach Gideon Wanekeya’s advice,” says Waw.

“He said in Kenyan top flight, good goalkeepers are scarce and I can make prowess through the position since he had seen by potential and capability,” he said.

Waw was steadily growing in stature both as a skillful goalkeeper and a dependable team member. His outstanding performance in the school games won him instant slots in the district and provincial squads.

“Twice, I went up-to the national level, that’s in 2000 and 2001. By then, players were chosen from each school to make up a team from the zonal level to national level, I hope you understand.”

He had fully settled his mind on goalkeeping and even managed to scoop best goalkeeper awards in both the provincial and national levels of the school games competitions.

“In 2001, I was named the best keeper in the provincial and national games and received Sh1,000 in cash. At that time, that was a lot of money.”

He was even more successful at St. Anthony’s Boys High School. In 2004, they were national finalists before he captained the school to a national crown in 2005 when they beat Mombasa High School 1-0 at Bukhungu Stadium in Kakamega.

Following the sweet triumph, they proceeded to represent the country in the East African School Games in Mbarara, Uganda where they ultimately crashed to St. Mary’s Kitende of Uganda in the semi-finals.

Waw says he owes a lot of gratitude to one of his teachers, Mr. Benedict Makunga who did all he could to inspire him to greater heights.

“Makunga gave me three golden rules: Rule number 1, work hard; rule number 2, work hard and rule number 3, work hard because hard work beats talent. I respect him so much. He is still alive and now in Webuye.”

Besides playing in school, he also featured for a team in his neighborhood. “I was playing for a youth development side called Piston FC Bukembe, alongside George Maelo, Alloys Mangi and Riziki Mwema. We were only participating in tournaments, moreso December tournaments which in luhya land are many.”

“I was with Piston FC upto the time I was in Form 2 in 2003 and later began training with the Nzoia Sugar senior team to get more experience.”

However, the team was disbanded just when he was now ripe to join the bandwagon. “In 2005 after completing high school, the team was disbanded just before I could join them. So I joined Agro-Chemicals which was being coached by the late Henry Omino,” says Waw.

“Omino had already approached me during the national school games and it was during this period that I also received offers from Thika United and AFC Leopards SC.”

Asked what made him choose Agrochemicals instead of Thika United and AFC Leopards, Waw said he was eager to secure more minutes on the pitch. “I was still young and so I wanted a place I could get enough playing time so that I could stamp my authority early enough in Kenyan football,” he said.

Waw fondly relives his maiden match. “My first match was against Coast Stars and we won 2-1. I can never forget the experience. The second match was against AFC leopards at Nyayo on a Saturday and we won 3-0. We faced off with Kenya Breweries now Tusker at Kasarani on a Sunday and we lost 2-0,” says Waw.

In 2007, Chemelil head coach Zedekiah Otieno (currently with KCB) gave him an opportunity to join the Millers. Zico was his coach at the Kenya U-20 National Team and got really impressed with his goalkeeping skills.

“I was at Chemelil between 2007 and 2010 June when I left for Mahakama Nairobi after they approached me. I stayed at Mahakama for 6 months and came back to Chemelil where I remained until 2012.”

He later joined Oserian before moving to Kakamega Homeboyz who came calling in January 2013. He plied his trade for the Kakamega-based outfit until December and then joined Mathare United in January 2014 for two seasons. Waw would later rejoin Chemelil Sugar in December 2015 before decamping to fellow sugarbelt side Sony Sugar in June 2018.

It was at Sony that he vividly recalls being confronted by irate Gor Mahia fans, who were mad with him after he denied them victory by blocking a penalty.

“Most memorable match was against Gor Mahia at Nyayo Stadium, where we won 2-1 after saving Gor penalty and the fans were on my neck. They threw bottles at me, forcing the authorities to whisk me to the dressing room.”

Waw wound up his stellar career at Sony Sugar after he picked up a serious knee injury that eventually forced him to hang his gloves. He underwent a procedure which left him delicate and exposed.

“I finished my career at Sony Sugar in 2019 after getting a severe knee injury and underwent surgery to hang my gloves.”

How did he sustain the injury?

“Just through training but I had sustained the first in Chemelil and had undergone the first surgery on the same knee, that was on December 23, 2016. “I did my first surgery at Kijabe on December 23, 2016. I underwent a second one in Ladnan Hospital Pangani under surgeon Jeff Mailu and I can’t thank him enough for making me heal well again. I’m so indebted to him.”

Waw is, however, quick to point out that Sony never catered for his medical expenses while he underwent surgery. The club gave him the cold shoulder when he needed them the most. He had to mobilize funds through a WhatsApp group for friends.

“A friend of mine, David Tosh Omengo helped me so much when I got injured by soliciting funds and standing by me throughout the journey till today.”

That notwithstanding, Waw has decided to burry the hatchet. All that is behind him now as he focuses primarily on his new job as the goalkeeping coach at Kenyan Premier League side Sofapaka. At Sofapaka, he’ll be joining his former teammate at Piston George Maelo who happens to be the captain of the Kenyan Premier League side at the moment.

“I was approached by the head coach John Barasa and I landed the job on September 23rd. I want to make sure the keepers are in their best shape to compete at the top level. I also want to achieve the laid down goals with Sofapaka as a team,” said Waw.

Ironically, his journey as a coach began at Sony Sugar, where he acquired his skills under the watchful eyes of the then goalkeeper trainer James Odhiambo ‘Bonko’ and head coach Patrick Odhiambo who is now Gor Mahia’s assistant coach.

The former Kenya U-20 first choice custodian was with Sony until 2019 when he left to join Division One side Soy United in August after being approached by the club’s patron Edwin Chahilu.

Indeed, as he moves to Sofapaka, he leaves behind him a trail of impressive scores. “I helped the team finish in position 2 in Division One league behind Silibwet with a difference of only one point. They booked a place for National Super League playoffs that will be played on October 10.”

At Soy, he had the responsibility to guide Simon Masaka, Emmanuel Otieno, Frank Prise and Victor Onditi. His role model abroad is coach Arzul de Goleiros of Santa FC while locally he is inspired by Sunil Shah.

As he embarks on his new challenges in life, Waw takes time to appreciate all those people who have always been there for him during his most trying moments. He regrets that his mother is not alive to witness his success in football after all the sacrifices she made for him. We never miss the water till the well runs dry.

“Before anything else, I want to thank my mum, the late Mary Ngesa, who stood firm to make sure I succeeded in my career. She supported me very much. She passed on September 20, 2012.”

“She could go ahead and buy training kits after dad destroying them or rather hide them for me. I miss her so much. I wish she could be alive to see her boy making progress.”

The father of 8-year-old Tashim Waw says his wife Cellyne Allyson Asole Nyar Ahero has been his greatest pillar all along. “Very very supportive,I call her my prayer warrior. Having a lady who loves and understands football helps a lot. I call her Manchester queen because she is a Manchester United diehard.”

Waw has the following words of wisdom for emerging footballers: “Work hard because hard work beats talent,stay focused, stay disciplined and above all God comes first; pray wherever and whenever you can for your career.”

How does he spend his free time?

“I love spending time with the young keepers but also create time for my family,” concludes Waw.


Name: John Waw

Date of Birth: May 1, 1986

1994-2001: Nzoia Sugar Company Primary School

2002: St. Peter’s Seminary

2003: Thurgem High School

2004-2005: St. Anthony’s Boys High School Kitale

2005: Agrochemicals

2007: Chemelil Sugar

2010: Mahakama

2011: Chemelil

2012: Oserian

2013: Kakamega Homeboyz

2014: Mathare United

2015: Chemelil

2018: Sony Sugar

2020: Sofapaka (Goalkeeping Coach)

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