In the annals of Kenyan football, the 1980s and 1990s were marked by the prowess of Patrick Namai, a former Harambee Stars defender and midfielder whose skills on the field earned him recognition and admiration.
His journey from playing for notable teams like Ministry of Works (MOTCOM) FC, Rivatex FC, to the iconic Kenya Cooperative Creameries (KCC) FC is etched in the memories of football legends and fans alike.
However, what many may not be aware of is Namai’s current reality—a stark contrast to the glory days of his football career.
Today, his livelihood hinges on an unexpected trade—he is in the business of burning and selling charcoal in Eldoret.
“I played football, good football, but luck was not on my side. If things had gone well, I would have become a star, even like our very own Victor Wanyama who captains Harambee Stars and plays for English Premier League Tottenham Hotspurs. But here I am, a poor man now selling charcoal,” Namai said in an interview .
.His eyes, once vibrant, now carry a subtle heaviness that speaks volumes about the challenges he faces. Charcoal burning has become his means of survival, a job that starts at 6 am and continues until the day’s tasks are completed. His workstation, just five kilometers from the Kapseret bypass, is a testament to the twists and turns life has taken him through.
Born at Pumwani Hospital in Nairobi, Namai’s football journey commenced in Eldoret, where his family settled after his father’s transfer to Kenya Railways. His early passion for the sport flourished during his primary school years at Eldoret Union and Kapsoya Primary Schools.
Inspired by his uncle Elphas Omboko, a former player for the Uganda national team, and his mother, a formidable striker in her school days, Namai’s trajectory in football was set.
Kakamega High School became the arena where Namai’s breakthrough occurred. Not only did he refine his skills there, but he also represented Kenya in the U13 category in Italy—an experience etched in his memory. Playing at the San Siro Stadium, home to AC Milan and Inter Milan, Namai’s prowess caught the attention of none other than the legendary Paolo Maldini, who gifted him a jersey in 1986.
Post-high school, Namai became a sought-after talent, with various club buses lining up outside Kakamega High School vying for his attention.
His journey took him through MOTCOM FC, Rivatex, and eventually KCC until 1998 when the state-owned company collapsed, plunging the football firm it sponsored into turmoil, taking with it the dreams of countless talented players.
Namai’s regret echoes through his words as he reveals the pivotal moment when he chose football over pursuing higher education.
The collapse of KCC further compounded his woes, leaving him to navigate the challenges of life after football.
Despite his dazzling form and nearly a decade of representing Harambee Stars, the financial landscape of football in his era was vastly different. Players relied on allowances, and the allure of lucrative contracts was not as prevalent as it is today.
One of Namai’s standout moments with Harambee Stars was in Zambia, where he scored the winning penalty, earning him the nickname “Agotse.” The victory, under the blind coach Chris Makokha, marked a historic moment for Kenyan football.
Yet, the cheers from that day have faded, replaced by the silent struggles of a man who once brought pride to the nation.