Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cyprian Fernandes: The late Oscar D'Mello

With Thanks to Coastweek

Oscar De’ Mello - A Former International Goalkeeper

he played along with  Elijah Lidonde, Joe Kadenge,
Stephen Ochieng, Isack Lugonzo (who later became
the mayor OF Nairobi
) and Alfred Okoth
Oscar was a family friend. My brother Johnny hero-worshipped to the point of following his goal-keeping style. I worked for a year at Oxo with him. He was something of a big brother.


Coastweek -- Oscar De’ Mello, Kenya’s former International football Goalkeeper and a man with immense sense of humour, is no more.

The grand old man died last Thursday, aged 79 at a Nairobi hospital after a short illness.

In mid 1940s to late 60’s, Oscar was the only non-African Goalkeeper to have played for Kenya and Tanganyika.

A month before he passed away, he had the opportunity to give his soccer experience to guest writer WILLIAM FARIA.

Oscar, a Kenyan of Goan-Portuguese descent, developed a love for soccer at a very tender age and his interest developed more in the sport than in academics, though he was also good at his studies.
Born on 21st August, 1930 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (then Tanganyika), Oscar’s life, hasn’t been a bed of roses like the rest, as he was orphaned at a very young age, but later he rose to become a soccer legend.
He was however raised and brought up at St Joseph’s Convent in Dar, when the then Bishop Edgar Miranta took custody of the siblings who included his brother and four sisters.
Oscar spent most of his time while in school, on the field and whenever teachers found him absent in the classroom.
Coastweek -- Oscar during
a recent interview at his Kileleshwa home, Nairobi.

They would look for him at the playground, knowing that he would be there and sometimes on his own, so much so that soccer seems to run in his veins.

He started off his career in the forward line, but at the age of eleven, a bout of Asthma attack forced him to switch to the goal, as his colleagues insisted that it was a better place to rest between the goal-posts, to prevent him from consistent coughing after running.

When he was 14, his eldest sister got married and so the new family decided to take care of the remaining siblings and they left the convent.

After schooling, Oscar got employed as an apprentice with the then East African Railways and Harbours (EAR&H), doing clerical work in Dar, earning a meagre 100/- per month, this amount was however quiet reasonable in those years, he recalled.

He first approached the Goan Institute in Dar, but they declined to accept him, prompting him to instead form a club called Dar Wanderers in 1945, making it a multi-racial team comprising of all his ex-school mates.

He made a major breakthrough in his career at SIXTEEN

At 16 years of age, Oscar made his first major breakthrough in his career.

This was when he played his first international match representing Tanganyika against a UK team that visited the country.

From here on, it was no looking back, as he kept playing international matches for Tanganyika for the next ten years.
Being a non-African, Oscar was not selected to represent the country for the East African challenge Cup, which was called Gossage Cup then, as it was only meant for Africans and Arabs.
When a naval war ship H.M.S Kenya from England docked at Dar, they had semi-professional soccer players on board.
The foreign team played three matches with African combine, Asia and European, they played Africa and beat them 1-0, they had a barren draw with Asia and trounced the European team 11-0.
The European combine requested they meet again and wanted to make a change, bringing in Oscar as their guest goal-keeper.
Asked how he was exclusively selected to play?
He remarked: “Goans were never considered as Asians in the pre-colonial era, they were categorised as Europeans, because of their western lifestyle and the Portuguese relationship they have”.
Coastweek -- Oscar De’Mello
demonstrates how he
did it in his hey days.

In the first half of the match, the opponent’s goal-keeper never had a chance to handle the ball, in fact the foreigners dominated the match and a constant threat at their host goal-mouth, where Oscar was the custodian and he pulled several magnificent saves.

“At the end we settled for a 1-1 draw and the sailors carried me shoulder high, saying that I was the man of the match, a thrill I never experienced in life.

“They even hosted a party in my honour at the club they were staying and I felt overawed,” he reminisced.

While still a member of the Referees Association as a third class referee, Oscar abandoned Dar Wanderers in 1950 to join Sunderland FC, whose patron, Ali Bin Said saw the potential in him requesting that he plays which he obliged.

He was thus the first non-African to play for an African team in those days.

In 1956 Oscar moved to Nairobi

“In 1956, an ex team-mate, Peter Pinto approached me saying that OXO EA Ltd an agent for Tanganyika Packers had a vacancy for a clerical officer in Nairobi and asked me if I was interested to take up the offer which I whole-heartedly did and decided to travel to Nairobi.

The same year, I joined one of the top teams in the City called Nairobi Heroes which was a multi-racial team and I felt comfortable here,” he said.

Pinto and self steered Nairobi Heroes to a success and the Football Association of Kenya (FAK) spotted Oscar’s myriad talents and he was soon selected to represent Kenya in all its international matches.

“I played along with prominent big names like Sir Stanley Matthews from Blackpool, England who was also knighted by the Queen of England,” he recollected.

In 1960 he organized Nairobi Heroes to play outside matches in Tanzania and Mozambique.

Oscar however admits that the team never performed well in Lorenco Marques, as he claims he had too much on his head.

“One of the main reasons was that at that time, I was busy courting my long time girl friend, Zelia, whom I later married and she bore me two beautiful daughters, Louisa and Valerie,” he said with a broad smile.

daughters, Louisa and Valerie, were Kenyan tennis aces

Louisa and Valerie later grew up to become Kenya’s international Lawn Tennis stars in mid 70’s and brought Kenya fame by representing the country in several international events.

Today both sisters are still active tennis players in Canada.

“Nairobi Heroes were second in the Commercial league table, but in 1965, there was a mass exodus of Nairobi Heroes players due to Africanisation.

“Around or about the same period, I also acquired Kenyan Citizenship.

“I had to quit the club and join Nairobi Spurs and the same year became a member of the FA of Kenya, he disclosed.

In the early 60’s, Oscar recalls that while officiating as a match referee, during the Abaluhya FC (now AFC Leopards) v/s Luo united (now Gor Mahia), he was stoned by spectators at the then Doonholm road stadium (Nairobi Stadium today) for not favouring one of the teams.

“During my hey days in football, a white man who watched my performance in between the goal, approached me and requested that I travel to Europe to play professional soccer.

“To tell you the truth, I was really confused and didn’t know what to do, but on the other hand, the person never opened up to tell me how much was involved and what I was worth and hence I turned down the offer,” Oscar affirms.

In the early 70’s Oscar’s soccer career came to an abrupt halt, when he suffered a serious knee injury through a torn cartilage.

This prompted a major knee operation, causing the Kenyan champion to hang his boots forever.

Government appointed Oscar as FAK treasurer in 1973

There is still more reason to exalt, when in 1973, the Government appointed Oscar the treasurer of FA of Kenya, with Martin Shikuku (who later became the Butere MP) as Interim Chairman to sort out the mess in the Federation.

The late Michael Kijana Wamalwa was also appointed in the committee.

He says that ten percent of the gate proceedings at the FA Cup never reached the federation.

All clubs affiliated to the FA of Kenya were asked to appoint a new committee to ensure the fair running of soccer in the country.

“In fact FA of Kenya, had experienced similar problems of what is currently going on today in KFF- mismanagement,” he explains.

Oscar represented Kenya at FIFA 1974 Congress in Mexico

In 1974, Wamalwa proposed that Shikuku and I represent the country in the FIFA congress in Mexico during the World Cup matches.

“I was overwhelmed and proud to represent Kenya.

“This was my most rewarding task in my football career, to attend a congress of this magnitude and also have the opportunity to watch the World Cup matches live, which included the finals played between Argentina and Germany.

“Not many people were happy with me heading the treasury of the FA of Kenya, because I was conscientious with money and every cent had to be accounted for.

“At the next AGM, the members ganged up and oust me as the treasurer, as they wanted someone who was more flexible with the funds.

“I did not complain, but quit honourably, knowing that I left behind a legacy of trust and honesty, accepting defeat,” he adds.

During his soccer career, he played along with other famed players like Elijah Lidonde, Joe Kadenge, Stephen Ochieng, Isack Lugonzo (who later became the Nairobi mayor) and Alfred Okoth.

Oscar said he represented Kenya in many foreign matches including Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi, and Ethiopia.

He also played against All India (which fielded at least nine Olympic Games players), played against England, Sweden.

Oscar hit by tragedy as wife, Zelia, dies in a car crash

Oscar’s worse time in life came in 1980, when his wife Zelia died in a tragic road accident near the Museum Hill road in Westlands.

“My wife had just come from Parklands Sports club, to find out when the girls will be playing their next Under-18 match.

“She was driving her Honda Civic car, when suddenly an over speeding bus failed to stop at the junction and rammed into my wife’s car throwing her metres away and she was later pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital, he says with tears rolling down his cheeks.

Zelia’s death was a big blow in Oscar’s life as she was a driving force behind his success and this totally shattered the family.

“I considered Zelia as the pillar of my life and she was good in everything, giving me every encouragement in life,” says Oscar.

This prompted him in later years, to marry a young Kenyan woman, Ambia, with whom he has a son, Tony who is 11 years old and a pupil of St Mary’s school in Nairobi.

Like father like son, Tony is already fully active in sports and loves to take an advice or two from his dad’s rich football experience.

The man who had immense sense of humour looked younger than his age, because his diet was very simple.

He loved to have fruits with corn flakes and honey for breakfast every morning.

His day started off at 5 a.m. On getting up, he would first pray to God for having given him another bright day, before he could get into his sports gear and jog a little within the compound of his posh Kileleshwa mansion, which was built 40 years ago.

Besides soccer Oscar had been also active in Hockey having played in the Gold Cup. 

His hobbies also included playing Table-tennis, Cricket, travelling, stamp collecting etc but soccer superseded everything in life for him.

He spent most of his time watching soccer on television and loved to fill the Suduku crossword puzzles in the newspapers every day.

The former soccer star received a lot of guests from abroad who stayed at his home, where he was always available to provide the necessary hospitality.

He went through his archive with nostalgia, as he showed this writer a heap of scrap-books and albums with the many press-clippings and photographs of himself, which he collected over the years.

In his sporting days, he met personalities from other fields and also came across other soccer stars like Sir Stanley Matthews of England and Brazil ’s Pele , Kenya ’s Seraphino Antao among others.

The star’s popularity on Nairobi streets

I was marvelled by Oscar’s popularity in Nairobi.

Though many would not know that the grand old man, was once the pride of Kenya’s soccer, he was still a respected figure in the public.

He was not only a household name in the soccer fraternity, but in the entire Nairobi city. 

Wherever I went with Oscar, places like the malls or the Casinos, both the old and young loved to crack a joke or two with this jovial character.

He said Kenya is inhabited by a people with natural affinity to Sports and the country can excel well in professional soccer if the right mechanism is put in place. 

“We can become a super-power in the sport, not only in Africa but the world at large,” he asserted.

He observed that it is distressing to see the standard of soccer deteriorating in the country, adding that something is flagrantly wrong with the management.

Oscar believed that for a country to have a strong and successful team there is need for politicians to keep off meddling in soccer activities.

“They should however give other technical and financial assistance but not run the affairs of the soccer body, “explained the once ardent former goalkeeper.

Oscar has held numerous positions in 1981.

He was a council member of the KLTA and was in the sub-committee of the Junior Tennis and the Public Relations officer.

Besides playing active soccer, Oscar worked for Brooke Bond in 1963 and later joined Lufthansa Air Cargo in 1974 where he was appointed as the Cargo Sales representative and retired as the Deputy Cargo manager in mid 90’s.

He later ventured into private business, but due to numerous obstacles for example mistrust by his clients he decided to wind up his business.

Oscar transversed across the Globe during his hey days, but kept repeating time and again that there is no better place to reside than Kenya.

This he believed was due to the friendly and undiscriminating attitude of the indigenous Kenyans and also the country’s climatic conditions, that has made Kenya to be considered as the paradise of Africa, and indeed here he finally rest in eternal peace, ultimately making Kenya his permanent home in abode.

Oscar will be sadly missed not only by his family members, but to the huge Kenya populace his name is engraved in nostalgic history.

He will be mourned by the whole community.

A circle of his friends at the Casinos in Nairobi where he spent most of his time, described Oscar as a “perfect gentleman”.

Oscar’s remains were cremated in a private funeral ceremony on Wednesday, after a church service at the Holy Trinity Church in Kileleshwa, Nairobi.

We pay our last respect to the fallen soccer legend and wish his family the strength during this trying time.

May God rest his soul in eternal Peace. Goodbye Oscar!

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