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How Mutiso innocently fell for Mulama’s football story

By Gibo Zachary
Wednesday, June 17th, 2020
Innocent Mutiso during his work with Safaricom Chapa Dimba. Photo/COURTESY

Born to an iconic Kenyan sprinter, former Harambee Stars, Mathare United and Gor Mahia winger Innocent Mutiso never knew he would become a footballer.  

Hailing from Matuu, Machakos County and raised in Nairobi’s Huruma, Mutiso credits his football career to former Kenyan international midfielder Titus Mulama.

Maybe not keen to follow his mother’s route, Mutiso was nevertheless unmatched amongst his peers when it came to sprinting.

And it’s this great talent in sprinting that caught the eye of ‘Tito’ as Mulama is fondly known, and that’s where, an 18-year journey into football started.

“I was introduced to football by Titus Mulama who was a Mathare United player at the time. I think I would have been an athlete if I wasn’t a footballer.

My mum (Veronica Mutiso) was a great sprinter. She represented Kenya in the 1987 All Africa Games and won bronze in 400m,” Mutiso tells this writer in a phone interview.

Meeting Mulama

“Titus saw me racing against fellow kids, leaving them for dead and that is when he called me and introduced me to football.

He took me with him to Mathare United but then, it was a requirement that each player must be in an age-grade team as a way of giving back to society. So I joined Mulama’s side, TC Babes, an Under-12 boys team.

From there, I started to learn the ropes as we used to go to Mathare United’s games and everyone’s dreams in my generation was to play for Mathare,” adds Mutiso, the last born in a family of eight. 

As he ushered Mutiso into the junior team, Mulama had at this time (1998) graduated to Mathare’s senior team under then coach Jonathan Neeva, where he had the likes of Jack Oguda, Maurice Wambua, John Gureshi, Ali Mohamed and former Harambee Stars coach Francis Kimanzi to contend with in the midfield.

Mutiso’s sprinting exploits at TC Babes Under-12 team, saw coach Milton Obote and Ezekiel Akwana come for his services to play for Huruma Youth FC in the Extreme Super 8 tournament, where he helped the team reach the finals in 2005.

A year later, coach Michael Amenga, the current Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Technical Director, called him to represent Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) in the East Africa Youth tournament in Tanzania where they reached the finals.

“This tournament was a big success for me and I think it is from it that my football career started.

I was the tournament top scorer and Most Valuable Player (MVP) and upon return to Kenya, I was signed up by the Mathare Youth team under coach Gabriel Njoroge.

I played for the youth team for a season and after that, I was called up to the senior side in 2007 under coach Francis Kimanzi, a man who moulded me into what I am today.

He was like a father to me,” says ‘Babs’ as Mutiso is fondly referred to in football circles.

“In my debut season in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL), we finished second behind champions Tusker FC and in my full season with Mathare in 2008, we won the title.

In 2009, we finished second behind champions Sofapaka and in 2010, I got my first call-up to the national team Harambee Stars,” recalls Mutiso.

Mutiso’s first assignment for the national team was with Harambee Stars Under-20, under coaches Rishad Shedu and Vincent Ombiji in 2009 when he featured in the African Youth Championship.

The team played in three qualifiers in a home-and-away basis, beating Eritrea and Sudan but lost to Lesotho where half of the team was withdrawn for being overage. 

“My memorable moment was the away game against Sudan in the qualifiers. After a difficult first half, I scored the opener through a 25-yard volley in front of 50,000 fans at the El Merreikh Stadium.

The next day, we went for a tour and in the local market and people would come to congratulate me. It was a great moment,” says Mutiso.

Thrashed Tanzania

In 2010, Mutiso and the Under-20 national team took part in the Cecafa Youth Challenge Cup where they lost in the semi-finals to a Danny Serenkuma-led Uganda but finished third after beating Rwanda.

“In the group stages, we thrashed Tanzania, which had Thomas Ulimwengu and Mbwana Samatta, 3-1 and I scored one goal, Moses Arita and Paul Were scored, too,” adds Mutiso, who went on to captain the junior side.

After his services with the junior team, Mutiso’s time for Harambee Stars senior team came calling in mid 2010 where then coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee sought his services for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers and Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup. 

“Coach Mulee then resigned and Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno took over. I last featured for Harambee Stars in the Nile basin tournament in 2011 where we finished fourth,” says Mutiso.

After his time with the national teams, where he amassed eight caps as a junior and seven as a senior, Mutiso concentrated on his club career with Mathare until 2012 before decamped to heavyweights Gor Mahia in 2013. 

At K’Ogalo, he played briefly under coaches Zdravko Logarusic and Frank Ouna before Bobby Williamson came in and led the team to a first league title in 18 years.

Williamson left the following season to coach Harambee Stars and he was replaced by Frank Nutal who also led Gor to another top flight crown. 

Lowest moment

After these highs, the lowest moment in Mutiso’s football career arrived.  “It was in January 2015 that I decided to call it a day.

I tore my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) during a match and Gor Mahia dropped me instead of taking me to hospital.

I could not afford the surgery so I decided to quit,” says Mutiso, who decided to join football activism after that experience.

“I decided to run for Kenya Footballers Welfare Association (KEFWA) seat to help players fight for their rights and prevent others from being treated badly by their clubs.

After a year-and-a-half of advocacy, I was at a Fifpro congress where they heard my story and decided to pay for my surgery.

I did it at Kenyatta National Hospital and returned to play for Nairobi City Stars under coach Robert Matano in 2017 but I quit after he left,” Mutiso says. 

He goes on: “I have passed through the hands of some of best coaches in Kenya who have shaped me. In fact, it has been like a continuation of football teachers.

I got to learn a lot from coaches who had different philosophies and characters both on and off the pitch and I owe what I am today to them.” 

Mutiso is now a football pundit and he believes he still has a lot to offer. He would like to see former footballers walk the talk in taking Kenyan football to the next level.

“I’m a football pundit with various TV stations including K24. I’m also a mentor with Chapa Dimba na Safaricom and I have another job with an agency under the Ministry of Sports though I am not allowed to mention it.

I want to get into sports administration in the near future because I feel I have a lot to offer for the development of football in Kenya,” he said.

He, is however, disappointed in the manner football battles are currently being fought off the pitch.

“It is really demoralising that football is being played in the courts and it’s the players getting hurt in the process. I look forward to the day football will return to the pitch,” says Mutiso.