The legend lives on; Parminder Singh Saini ‘Kake’ the great

Looking at Kenya’s hockey scene, currently, it is hard to envision a time when the country faced off against the world’s greatest. Hockey was the first team sport to represent Kenya in the summer Olympics,this was when Kenya was the undisputed African hockey king. It easily conquered the continental hockey scene, fast extinguishing any rivals that sought to out-dance it. Players like Alexinho Mendonca, Saude George, Avtar Singh Sohal, Surjeet Singh Panesar ‘Sindi’ are notably among Kenya’s first generation of Olympians who donned the Kenyan colors in the 1960’s and 1970’s. You wouldn’t mention former top hockey players in Kenya without the Parminder Singh Saini, fondly known as Kake. 

Kake was born in the lakeside city of Kisumu on September 19, 1957, he studied at Miwani Primary School and later joined Kisumu Boys High School where he played hockey for the 9-time National champions until 1976. He later moved to the United kingdom for further studies at Langley College, Slough, Berkshire and played for Slough Hockey Club. 

During that time, Kenya was making headlines in the World Hockey scene; In Barcelona, 1971, Kenya was the African representative for the World Cup. While the encounters between France and India did not go so well for the Kenyan side, they would recover in the last matches of the group stages. The result was a dual thumping of West Germany and Argentina, 3-0 and 2-0 respectively. After the tally, Kenya had to confront West Germany once more for the second-place playoff. The result was a victory for Kenya’s team, giving the nation a chance to occupy a place on the podium. This was the closest Kenya ever came to clinching one of the coveted global trophies. 

Kake earned his first international cap for the Kenyan National team when he was selected to play against India on 5 September 1981 in the six nationals tournament in Loisana, Italy.

Olympics in the 80s and the Consequent Decline

During his playing years, the Kenya hockey team would continue making waves at the international scene. 

In an interview with Kake in June 2020 for an article in The Hockey Newsbeat, he recollected his own experiences with the team during the Olympics. “The 1984 Olympic Team was the best, although we lost 2-1 to Great Britain we outplayed them, it was just bad luck. We trained well, the team was well exposed, we used to play matches with India, Pakistan, and other top teams at that time,” said Kake.  “At that time, top teams like Australia and Germany could not beat us more than three goals,” he added. 

What changed? Who changed? What can we do to get back there?

Well, as one of those that experienced the years of glory, Kake pointed to the limited inclusion of the Kenya teams. “Hockey used to be played in the whole country, the team was literally a national team, we had players from Mombasa across to the Western region,” he said. He also noted the limited exposure of the country’s current national team, citing the interaction with top teams that came from at least two international trips annually back then.  

In his view, if all factors remain constant, the country will never recapture its past glory. The focus has been too much on the capital at the expense of developing grassroots hockey. Besides, even in this area, the development is limited. This is such as in the presence of only two AstroTurfs, one which belongs privately to Sikh Union and the national one exhibiting worn in disrepair. 

Grassroots Hockey

Kake was a champion of taking hockey back to the grassroot, the Kisumu inter-estates hockey tournament that was started in the 1990s was an initiative of Kake and the Kisumu Simba Club. It churned out the best. No matter where you were, including international players, you had to come and represent your team. Winners were well rewarded and players selected to join Kisumu Simba.Unfortunately, most ghetto players couldn’t stand the discipline of Kake. So many disappeared along the way. The likes of Gatonye Wakinyos,Njenga, Mokili, would leave to later form the Fire Flickers Hockey Club in the late 90s. It also included Walter Oketch, Bob Mofito Aduda,Raymond Ochola, and Christian Achicha. The club folded up almost immediately due to lack of sponsorship.

The Kisumu inter-estates hockey tournament saw players like Emmanuel Oduol, a resident of Kondele ghettoes who actually inspired the generation that started playing hockey from the area. These are Steve Otieno,Carrey Bwana, Tom Tipo, Eric Odingo who captained the Kenya team at some point before joining the pro league in Australia in 1999. It also featured Tom Bello, Nixon Nyangaga, Tony Oneko, Ben Owaga, Denis Owoka,Eric Afaya, Caleb Olebo, Godfrey Nyangaga, Teddy Malala,Pius Owino and Beff Nyamosi. 

It is this generation that trained at the KMTC, Kondele that would terrorize the privileged estates of Ondiek, Patel Flats, Tom Mboya and Makasembo. Anderson estate had a big talented squad in Billy Agwambo, Samwel Oguk who was the core of the Kenya Police hockey team for years. Oluande, Jalango, and Lusiro Gona helped the Armed Forces team attract formidable players to join the military. Tom Mboya boasted of Ravinder ‘Pirpir’ Ruprah,the late Cliff ‘Zorro’Okello,Said Okwemba, Yasin ‘Yosh’ Abdi, Waseel Rampal Khan, Shamir Bux, and Sharkey Wizard. Makasembo had Oketch Batamba who to date has been instrumental in nurturing talent and development of young players in Kisumu. Ondiek Estate had the crème de la crème Cliff Odendo, William ‘Singh’Okech, Brian Aduda, Raymond Ochola and Eric Inyanje.

The legendary Kake oversaw the transition of Kisumu Simba to Butali Warriors and has been there to encourage and support Kisumu hockey until his demise.

Kake will be remembered for the time he donned Kenyan jersey with pride and honor he also helped in the development of the sport in his home region and at national level: 

  • He captained Kenya at the East African Championship in Tanga, Tanzania in 1983.
  • He played in the test series against India in Kenya and captained the team in the 4th test match in June 1983.
  • He was selected to represent Kenya at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games.
  • He represented Kenya at the All African Games in Nairobi in August 1987.
  • He played at the Lada Classic Tournament in Luton, England in August 1988.
  • He was selected to represent Kenya at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games.
  • He played at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tournaments in India.
  • He played for Africa in the inaugural Inter-Continent Tournament played in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in December 1990.
  • He played his last international match against Zimbabwe in Nairobi on 13 February 1993.
  • After retiring from playing, he coached Kisumu Simba Union.
  • He was Manager of the Kenyan national team at the All Africa Games in South Africa in 1999.
  • He was the vice chairman of Kenya Hockey Union from 2014 to 2015 and was a technical advisor to the national team until his demise.

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Kake will be remembered as an iconic hockey player, a great leader, a mentor and a father figure to many Kenyan players and the sports community at large. 

Fare Thee well Wuod Nyasae

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