John “Bobby” Ogolla has become one of the most reknown personalities in the increasingly popular Kenya Premier League. With his distinctive grey hair and booming voice, the well spoken Bobby who is eloquent in both English and Kiswahili is always an interesting interview.
Of late he has found success as interim coach at Sofapaka where as we write, he has led a resurgence of the league’s defending champions, leading them to two key victories following the departure of Robert Matano. Last season he played a pivotal role as assistant coach, helping lead Sofapaka to win the league in their maiden appearance. He has a way of connecting with players and imparting his vast experience.
Prior to Sofapaka, Ogolla had coached World Hope FC. He has also had stints in the national team. Twice as the assistant to Reinhard Fabisch and on one occasion as national coach.
But most fans remember him for what he did during his playing days. Back then he was nicknamed “the six million dollar man”, after a super hero character from a popular TV show from that era. The nickname arose due to Ogolla’s incredible physical strength which he parlayed while playing for Gor Mahia and for the national team, Harambee stars, often using his robust physique to outmuscle opponents away from the ball. Aside from his impressive physique, “Bobby” also had a distinctive dress style; specifically one sock pulled to knee length and the other sock at ankle length.
Perhaps the most memorable game he played was the 1982 CECAFA cup final that was played in Kampala Uganda. In the final, Kenya played the match fancied Uganda Cranes. The Cranes were heavily favored having reached the Africa nations cup final in 1982 and previously in 1978. It was a strong cranes unit with players like Jimmy Kirunda, Godfrey Kataregga and dangerman Issa Sekatawa who was the top scorer in the tournament.
Ogolla played his heart out marking the dangerman Sekatawa out of the game. Midway through the second half, Ogolla received a vicious elbow to his forehead from a frustrated Sekatawa. He left the game briefly and received 7 stitches on the sideline. If Sekatawa thought he could cow Ogolla he was sadly mistaken. Ogolla returned to the game, 7 stitches and all and continued to stand tall against the Ugandan attack. Kenya eventually won the game on penalties. It was this performance, playing with 7 stitches and a huge bandage on his forehead as that earned him the nickname “Six Million Dollar man”, thanks in part to the graphic narration provided by broadcasting legend Leonard Mambo Mbotela. In those days, when the national team played, the whole nation listened intently to the game on the radio.
Ogolla’s legend was so big that to date he is still thought of by most Kenyans and indeed Tanzanians and Ugandans as the best stopper Kenya has ever produced, perhaps the best ever from East Africa. Yours truly has met Tanzanians who can never forget Ogolla.
Ogolla was also a free kick specialist. Not only did he possess a rocket of a shot but was very accurate and scored several crucial goals from free kicks. He started his playing career in Kisumu in the mid seventies and joined Gor Mahia in the late 70s. He was a key member of the Gor Mahia sides that reached the Africa cup final in 1979, won the CECAFA cup in 1980, 81 and 1985, won the Africa cup in 1987 and in between, won the national league several times. He also played a key role in the national team that won the CECAFA cup 3 times in a row from 1981 to 1983, several times emerging as the best defender at the tournament.
Sometime in 1984, Ogolla was pursued by the now defunct Benham FC. Rumours flew around that Benham had offered him a lucrative job in exchange for his playing services. Mass depression engulfed Gor Mahia fans who beseeched him to reconsider. Its not known whether the fans pleas are what convinced him to stay at the club. But he did stay on for another 3 years before hanging up his boots at the end of 1987.
His coaching and tactical acumen come from several years of working with coaches like Len Julians and Reinhard Fabisch.
Commentary by: Muroro-Pacho