Booker Agutu
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Perpetual litigant or seeker of justice? Kisumu Day coach on a mission to rid school games of cheats

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Kisumu Day Secondary School coach Booker Agutu makes a point during an interview with Nation Sport on June 24, 2024.

Photo credit: Alex Odhiambo | Nation Media Group

During 2023 Nyanza Regional Secondary School Term Two Games held at Maranda High School in Siaya County, one photo caused a stir on social media platforms. 

It was that of Kisumu Day Secondary School football coach,  Booker Odhiambo Agutu, writing a letter of appeal to the games organisers, Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA) after his side had ‘unfairly’ lost to Agoro Sare High School 7-6 on post-match penalties in the final.

In the letter, Agutu claimed that Agoro Sare had fielded an ineligible player in contravention of the tournament’s rules, and therefore ought to have been disqualified.

However, the appeal was dismissed by the Nyanza Region Secondary Schools Sports Association, and Agoro Sare's win was upheld, confirming their participation in the Secondary Schools Term Two National Games in Kakamega, where they finished fourth. 

At Kisumu County Secondary Schools Term Two games held on May 15, 2024 at Maseno School grounds, Katolo Secondary School were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player in football against Kisumu Day Secondary School.

Kisumu Day,  who had lost 1-0 to Katolo in the semi-finals, successfully appealed the result.

Katolo were disqualified, and Agai played Kisumu Day in the final on June 21, 2024 at Maseno School grounds, where Kisumu Day won 2-0 to qualify for Nyanza Regional championships. The championships will be played in Kisii next month.

These actions have left opinion divided on the 51-year-old Chemistry and Biology teacher, whom many have nicknamed "perennial appellant.” Still, many others have branded him “the stone the builders rejected” for his tendency to make successful appeals. 

Despite his aggressive approach to sports, Agutu, who is revered and loved in equal measure, is soft-spoken and is deeply committed to his team.

In his own words, the pain of seeing cheats wrongfully deny deserving players a chance to showcase their talents drives him to appeal wrong decisions.

With his signature three-legged stool which he uses on match days, Agutu is on a mission to restore sanity in secondary school games.

He joined Kisumu Day in 2016, and it is here that he got the "perennial appellant" tag following his numerous appeals lodged against other schools during the secondary school games.

Witnessing rule-breakers get away fueled his determination to ensure a level playing field for his teams.

“There are many people who don’t understand the rules of the games, or simply choose to ignore them,” Agutu told Nation Sport in a recent interview.

“I’ve been involved in sports for years, and I have learnt the rules inside out. I just feel okay even when people call me names, my goal is to ensure fair play.”

Agutu’s deep familiarity with regional hockey players, compared to the vast number of footballers, has exposed a troubling trend in football.

He highlights the issue of impersonation, where players who have completed their secondary education, return to compete alongside genuine students.

“We often scout for talented students while still in primary school, and we nurture them throughout their secondary school education. After investing in young talent, then they are made to compete against ineligible players! That is why I pay attention to the opponent because if we must compete, it must be on level playing field,’’ he asserts.

The school provides for the players’ needs and offers them a dedicated training environment during school breaks.

On average, Agutu recruits 30 players annually, and he selects the top 10 for the hockey team. He finds that students with a foundation in football transition well to hockey training. His appeals have had a ripple effect. 

Initially hesitant to speak up, other coaches are now following his lead. Agutu believes this trend will ultimately restore order to the games.

The proper procedure for contesting a player’s eligibility is outlined by Agutu. A protest must be filed during the match, followed by notifying the opposing team.

Then, within 30 minutes of the final whistle, a formal appeal with evidence must be submitted. The fee varies by tournament level and is refundable if the appeal is successful.

In most cases football coaches are frequently seen in the dugout dressed in impeccable designer suits or tracksuits, however, this is not the case with Agutu.

Booker Agutu

Kisumu Day Secondary School coach Booker Agutu during an interview with Nation Sport on June 24, 2024.

Photo credit: Alex Odhiambo | Nation Media Group

His signature look on the pitch side is far from ordinary.

Sandals, known as “akala” in his native Luo language, have been his footwear of choice since his teenage years.

Growing up in Rarieda in Siaya County, thorns posed a constant threat to his bare feet, making akala a practical necessity. His childhood, spent tending cattle, further solidified his preference for comfortable sandals.

Even during his high school days, shoes were a rare sight on Agutu’s feet.

The other element of his coaching attire is equally unique - a three-legged stool.

Purchased from a remote area in Teso land, he acquired two stools - one for his grazing duties and the other specifically for coaching. Even at his home, these stools remain unused by anyone else.

Agutu’s coaching attire is as much a part of his strategy as his plays. He remains steadfast in his simple sandals, known as “akalas,” and his trusty three-legged stool, nicknamed “Nyar Madara.”

These aren’t just fashion choices; they have a deeper meaning.

Both the sandals and stool were blessed by his late grandmother, Owade Nyolal. He believes they bring him divine favour on the pitchside.

He insists on a specific attire during matches.

According to him, if his players see him in anything else, even regular sports shoes, his presence on the field within two meters of the touchline might as well be nonexistent. His coaching magic hinges on this ‘unique uniform.’

Agutu’s coaching career boasts numerous achievements. In 2017, he led the Kisumu Day hockey team to the East Africa Secondary Schools title in Gulu, Uganda.

This accomplishment earned him a nomination for the SOYA awards, where he finished as runners-up in the  Schools' Coach of the Year category.

The following year, Agutu’s football team reached the semi-finals of the national championship, where they lost to Upper Hill 1-0.

In 2017, he led Kisumu Day’s Under 16 football team to the semis of the nationals in Mombasa, where they wer eliminated by Kakamega High School.

In 2019, he took over as head coach of Kisumu Day’s senior (Under-19) team, replacing Dan Otieno, who left for Kasagam Secondary School.

The same year, a disputed semi-final loss to Barding Boys High School, during the Nyanza Regional Games prompted Agutu to file an appeal.

He recognized one of Barding’s players as someone from his village in Rarieda who exceeded the age limit. The appeal resulted in Barding’s disqualification, allowing Kisumu Day to compete in the nationals.

Agutu’s coaching journey began in 1999 as an assistant hockey coach at Lenana School in Nairobi.

There, he helped nurture players like NTV's Bernard Ndong and John Kabu (Head of Curriculum Quality Assurance at United States International University-Africa).

The team’s victory at the national championships in 2000 is testament to their combined efforts. The head coach at the time was Ken Bunyasi, who now serves as the principal of Hospital Hill.

How does he benefit from coaching?

“I enjoy coaching, but as a coach, having a certificate of excellence from East Africa School Games also increases one’s chances of landing a job,” Agutu says.

He says that the certificate puts one eight points ahead of everybody else in job interviews.