Linus Sang: From The Corridors of St Anthony To Butali’s Sweetness

A hockey player and a coach, arguably one of the best goalkeepers to have graced the Kenya Hockey Union (KHU) Men’s Premier League in recent times. Linus Sang needs no introduction to the sports fraternity. The St Anthonys’ alumni has lifted the league title, the African Cup of Nations and played in the Club Championships, just to name a few. After almost a decade playing professional hockey and most recently making a significant move to Butali Sugar Warriors, Linus Sang sat down with Magongo Kenya’s Tyson Babu and here is his story….

Magongo: First of all congratulations on joining Butali, one of the biggest clubs in Kenya. How does it feel being part of the team?

It feels so good being part of this wonderful club and I personally think it is the right path for competitive hockey. I’m not saying that I didn’t play competitive hockey in USIU but in Butali, we are always looking forward to club Championships and those are among the competitive matches that I would like to play on a regular basis.

Magongo: From our research, it emerged that a good number of teams wanted your services. Of all those interested sides, why settle on Butali?First of all, I must admit that it was not an easy decision but I chose Butali because my aspirations match with those of this club. Most of the players here are not new to me as we have previously played with them at Strathmore…so it will be very easy to gel in with their style of play and work together. Career-wise, I also had had to go for Butali because for me hockey is not all about playing but it should also sustain you to some extent….so Butali gave me the best option on that front.

Magongo: Coming from USIU, a side largely made up of young upcoming players, how difficult has the adjustment to Butali been?In USIU, it was difficult for me as I was among the most experienced players so I was always kind of shouting to my teammates in a bid to improve their game and catch up with the speed of the league. But things should be easier in Butali because all players are experienced and willing to give their best.

Magongo: And how would you describe the four years with USIU?
It wasn’t easy playing for USIU because I really wanted to go to the Club Championships with them…and I feel bad leaving there without having gone to those continental games. There was also an issue with kitting as USIU didn’t have a kit, so I had to always borrow one every time I play. But I understand they now have a new one which will help the current goalkeeper. The four years were however very good and I enjoyed every moment.

Magongo: So when and where did your hockey journey start ….and what motivated you to play this particular sport? My hockey journey started back in 2004 when I was in St Anthony High School, Kitale. I was actually a footballer before joining hockey but when I saw the latter had a good chance of going to the nationals, I decided to go for it. The school also had only one keeper (Elly Tangaza, now at USIU) .I opted to fight for his position.

Magongo: Growing up, did you play any other sport? Yes. I played football, basketball, handball, rugby and loan tennis.

Magongo: Strathmore University is the team that believed in you and gave you a first professional platform. Tell us about your time there. I joined Strathmore in 2009 and was glad to win the league three times with them, making the University the very first to win the league three times. One year after joining them, we won the league in 2010, 2011 and 2012. That in return gave me a chance in the national team and also enabled me to participate in the Club Championships for the first time. We also had a very good coach in Meshak Senge, who doubled up as the national team coach. So I’m very grateful to Strathmore for the exposure and to Mr. Senge for the skills.

Magongo: You played at Greensharks…Yes

Magongo: So it is rumored that while they had released you to USIU only for studies, you recently turned down the chance of re-joining them and instead opted for Butali. Tell us about that. Okay. What we had initially agreed with Greensharks was that I was going to USIU for my studies, so it was like a full transfer to USIU where I would re-join Greensharks thereafter. But I had the alternative to join any other club once I finished my studies so it wasn’t a must that I return to Greensharks. I finally opted for Butali because they are at least putting something on my table. To answer your question, my move from Greensharks to USIU was not on a loan format.

Magongo: What do you like most about playing as a goalkeeper….and did you always want to play in that position? What I like most about being a goalkeeper is that with the experience that I have gained in my playing duration, I have been able to challenge very many top strikers in the country and also in Africa.

Magongo: Have you maintained the same jersey number for most of your professional career? If so, is there any significance behind that number? Yes, I have maintained it. My jersey number was 18 back in Strathmore and I have maintained it since then. Number 18 looks simple but for me it displayed my transformation from being a rookie to an experienced player. It’s just like when you turn eighteen years and you are now considered as having changed from a child to an adult, where you are expected to make independent decisions. Same applies to me as a goalkeeper because I make my own decisions on what I’m supposed to do while on the field. So number 18 has always been in my heart.

Magongo: Your worst moment in hockey? My worst moment was when we went to Ismailia, Egypt. That was the most pathetic preparation I have ever seen because we were not well kitted as goalkeepers and I ended up playing with a helmet that has no back, which might have led to serious injuries. Due to poor preparations and kitting, we ended up conceding so many goals and all the blame was put on us. There is no way you expect good results from the team when it is poorly kitted and has had poor preparations. So for me that was the worst tournament I have ever played in.

Magongo: What about your best moment? My best moment was while we were in South Africa for the African Cup of Nations where I ended up being crowned as the best keeper on the continent.

Magongo: Which former teammate or coach has helped you the most in your career and why? My best coach is Mr. Seka from St Anthony. He has been a true hero for me and I actually consider him as my father because when I was in high school, he is the one who encouraged me even when I didn’t think if I could play as a goalkeeper. He is still the one who coaches me up to now and I always make sure I visit him for some coaching every time I go to Kitale.

Magongo: Who is the funniest guy off the field that you have ever played with? The funniest guy has to be Allan Iningu. Even when he was at Nairobi Simba while I played for USIU, I very much enjoyed how he played. He was always dancing with guys on the pitch even when the game is going on, which made me very happy.

Magongo: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your very first Premier League match? (Giggles) I would rate my performance as 2/10. In that match, I was very naive and scared because that was my first time playing on Astroturf. Imagine coming from grassy fields to the Astroturf…so my performance in that game was very poor.

Magongo: Do you have any pre-game rituals? No, I don’t have a pre-game ritual. I’m a simple guy so I just go through a simple warm-up and I’m ready for the game.

Magongo: Who is your most favorite player in professional hockey? My favorite player has to be Jaap Stockmann, a goalkeeper who plays for the Netherlands national team

Magongo: If you could steal the skills of any local player, from whom would you steal? I would definitely steal from Zack Aura….that dude has skills!

Magongo: To matters affecting the sport, what are some of the challenges that you as hockey players face? It’s all about lack of sponsors because for a club to succeed, you need a sponsor. I have been a bit lucky to have played for Strathmore which is sponsored by the University, same as USIU. That is different from Greensharks where we had some difficulties because it is a self-sponsored team.

Magongo: The national team has in recent times experienced a drop in performance, for example the African Cup of Nations that was held in Egypt. As a regular in the national team, what do you think is the cause? First of all it’s all about sponsorship. We players are not after money because we love representing our country. But there is no way a player can spend so much from his pocket only to get back half of what he has spent from the national team…..that’s not logic. We need to be treated just like other disciplines, for example rugby which gets adequate funding. Another cause is poor kitting….Two years, ago, we used to be given sticks, shoes, stick bags and other equipment every time we went for national duty. We keepers were in fact always given our kits at least one month before the tournament so that you can train and get used to it. But right now we are not being given the kits and are instead depending on those owned by the club. In fact for you to be included in the national team as a keeper nowadays, you must have a kt.

Magongo: There has also been a decline in the number of fans attending hockey matches. What steps do you think should be taken to address the issue? Fans first want good results from the national team. When we perform well in the African Cup of Nations, the fans would most definitely avail themselves during league matches because they assume they will be entertained just like in the international competitions. Fans also want to see a union that runs smoothly and is transparent. There is however a good turn out during matches involving the top teams. For example if there is a match between the top five sides in the league, the terraces are always full. The only games that witness low crowds are those of bottom-placed teams.

Magongo: Besides playing, you are also a coach at Hillcrest Schools. How has the coaching role turned out for you so far? So far so good. Coaching at Hillcrest has at least given me an insight of what other coaches feel; the pressure and the desire to win. I can say that it has been a very good experience both as a player and as a person.

Magongo: What is the difference between being a coach and being a player? Being a coach is wider because you are like a team leader and manage the whole group. Incase of poor results, it is the coach who is blamed but if guys perform, it is the team that gets commended.

Magongo: So would you like to advance your coaching role, perhaps manage a Premier League side in the future? For now, my focus is on playing but I wouldn’t turn down that offer should it come in future.

Magongo: What are your season’s targets with Butali? My season’s targets are maximum number of clean sheets and winning the league with Butali.

Magongo: Favorite type of music? I would say house music.

Magongo: Last question. Describe colour yellow to a blind person. I’m colour blind (Laughs)

Magongo: Thank you very much for your time and all the best with your new club this season. Thank you…..and all the best to Magongo Kenya.

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