- It was a mark of the coach’s audacious faith that Yongo was brought in to replace Daniel Anyanzwa, to whom the sweeper’s space was something of a personal fiefdom
- Steve Yongo was one of three men who gave the position of player-coach gravitas in Kenya
- They will take him on his last journey this Friday, December 20, to Homa Bay County, in a location called Gwasi
New brooms sweep clean and the one we imported as Harambee Stars coach in 1971 by the name Eckhardt Krautzun did not disappoint.
He almost cleared the decks. And thus came into being a fresh breed of players informally referred to as Krautzun’s children, more evocative when said in Swahili than in English.
Steve Yongo, who died at the Kenyatta National Hospital last week, was one of them. They are the team that did duty for Kenya in the 1972 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, the country’s first such outing.
It was a mark of the coach’s audacious faith that Yongo was brought in to replace Daniel Anyanzwa, to whom the sweeper’s space was something of a personal fiefdom. At that time, if somebody was going to lose his place in the national team, he was the last of the probable candidates. But Yongo reciprocated Krautzun’s faith with stand-out performances not only at sweeper but in the various midfield positions that Krautzun experimented with him. It was soon clear that the sun was setting on the great Anyanzwa’s sterling career.
So competently did Yongo handle the holding and attacking midfield positions that he drew this gushing tribute from George Ogal, Luo Union’s team manager of the late 1970s: “He was the most complete midfielder I knew. In fact, speaking for myself, I would go so far as to say that he was the most complete footballer I knew. With Jonathan Niva to his left, Kadir Farah in front of him and Ben Waga to his right, he was amazing to watch.”
This was a large claim to make, especially when you take into consideration that the team was populated with figures such as Allan Thigo, Daniel Nicodemus and yes, Kadir Farah. David Okello, whose career at Gor Mahia was prematurely terminated by injury and who spends his time these days untiringly beating the drum for the recognition of long forgotten sports heroes, remembers Yongo for playing football as much off the pitch as on it.
“He was the ultimate football man,” Okello says of his fallen senior. “When we converged in a bar, usually at Kaloleni, Yongo didn’t allow the waiter to take away all the empty bottles of beer. He used any number that he needed to arrange them as if they were players on the pitch.
‘This is how you make a killer move,’ he would explain, moving the bottles around. ‘This is how to break a defence.’ He could use the bottles and their tops to simulate any situation. He was such fun to be with.”
And in the days when it was more enmity than rivalry, Yongo built many bridges with the fans and players of what is today Gor Mahia’s mashemeji (in-laws), AFC Leopards. “His humility and respect won them over,” Okello recalls. “He was the last person anybody would pick a fight with.”