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Female football coach behind meteoric rise of Highway football
What you need to know:
- Success on the pitch has not been a fluke for the mother of three and wife to a footballer, who has had coaching stints at AFC Leopards and Kariobangi Sharks youth teams
- CAF B coaching license holder Beldine Odemba has been the talk of Arusha town -- where the East Africa Secondary School Games concluded on Friday, as the only female head coach in the 10-team boys’ football tournament, not only for her admirable tactical acumen but the history she has written, guiding Highway Secondary to their first national finals in 40 years and again to the final of the tough, regional competition, and her selfless, singular dedication to building the boy child to achieve his full potential
In Arusha, Tanzania
Kenya may have failed to reclaim the overall team title at the East Africa Secondary School Games that ended on Friday in Arusha, but one of its school made history in the Tanzanian town.
Debutantes Highway Secondary School reached the boys’ football final for the first time where they fell 2-0 to Uganda’s Kibuli Secondary School at the Sheikh Abeid Stadium.
And the woman, yes you read right, woman behind their fairy-tale run to the final was Beldine Odemba.
She became the first woman to coach a boys’ football team to the final of this competition since its inception in 2002.
It is quite a feat considering the other nine teams that took part in the discipline all had male coaches.
She created a buzz at the games with posts about her doing rounds on social media.
Confident, smart, vocal, calculative and knowledgeable about the beautiful game, you could not help but be impressed by her presence on the touchline.
In the semi-final, she masterminded the fall of 13-time record champions St Mary’s Kitende of Uganda as Highway booked their place in the final. After that famous victory, she joined the team and the rest of the technical bench in kneeling down for prayer at the Tanzania Game and Track (TGT) grounds.
“Highway is more than a football team or school. We are a community. The players understand me so well and I have a good working relationship with the rest of the coaches making it easier for the team to succeed,” she said, as we settle down for this interview on the morning of their final against Kibuli.
Born in Dandora, Odemba’s love for football was inspired by her brothers who played in the Mathare Youth Society Association (MYSA) tournaments.
“There was no girls’ team back then so I had to play with the boys for so long until I was encouraged to look for a girls’ team. I eventually started coaching, though with no experience or any formal training after I stopped playing.
After high school, she studied print media and photography before returning to work for MYSA in their editorial department.
“I managed their date base and was also the editor of their magazine for some time and did a lot of administration jobs for them. However, I got bored doing this and returned to my first love- coaching.
In 2016, she took some coaching courses offered by the Football Kenya Federation as her interest for football was rekindled. In 2017, she was appointed as assistant coach of the Kariobangi Sharks under-15 head coach and under-17 assistant coach.
“We enrolled the team in the sub-county league and it was promoted to the county league in the following year,” said Odemba, who holds a CAF B coaching license, and has also coached the AFC Leopards Youth team.
It is while working with age-group teams that she came across a number of talented players who dropped out of school due to lack of fees.
“I was able to get some of the needy students that I coached admitted at Dagoretti High School, Upper Hill School and also Kakamega through some help. Their talents helped them get scholarships in these schools,” she revealed.
“I was referred to Mr Irungu Nduati of Kangema High School and was told that he loved extra-curricular activities. He was impressed that my aim was to change the lives of the young ones not just through sports. I would bring him students and in turn I would pay by coaching the players,” she added.
Nduati was transferred to Highway in 2020 and the two re-united in Nairobi, plotting the school’s rise in football.
“I have taken almost 30 children to Highway since I joined and I am happy with their progress. It gives me great pleasure in seeing the young ones develop through football,” she said.
Before their fairytale run to the final of the regional games, Highway had not appeared at Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association (KSSSA) National Games for 40 years.
Highway knocked out champions Dagoretti High School 5-4 on post-match penalties during the Nairobi Region Term Two Games semis, before they lost to Waylight Secondary School 1-0 in the final.
They were however declared the winners after Waylight were disqualified for fielding an ineligible player. “I think we played well in that final and should have won. We got a chance to play at the nationals after Waylight got disqualified and went all the way to the final and we lost again. It was a bitter pill to swallow,” she recalls.
Highway were beaten 1-0 by Ebwali Secondary School in that tightly contested final.
Ebwali coach Francis Muhambe confessed he was impressed with Odemba’s tactics.
“She is a brilliant coach, always reading the game and not afraid to make tactical changes if need be. We need more coaches like her,” said Muhambe after their win in Nakuru.
In Arusha, Odemba’s charges were considered novices, but they certainly emphatically answered their doubters and Beldine couldn’t be more proud of them.
“These boys are winners. What they achieved at this championship is quite remarkable and I am glad I was with them. I know we will be back at this stage and hopefully lift the title,” said Odemba, who has also served as team manager of Harambee Starlets.
Away from football, Odemba loves taking pictures, spending time with her family and also engaging in sports development.
“I am a mother of three girls who don’t want anything to do with football, but love modelling. However, my one-year-old son loves kicking things and I know he will play football,” said Odemba, who is married to Naivas FC player Hassan Rashid.
“My husband is my greatest support system and he pushes me to be the best I can be. We are a footballing family and I am lucky to have in my life,” she said.
Highway principal Nduati believes Odemba is destined for greater things and more than capable of managing football team at the highest level.
“We are lucky to have her at Highway and I know she will be successful. Look at what she has done in her first year. Hopefully, we get to keep her for a long time,” said Nduati.
Records and trophies are not what Odemba is all about. Having a positive impact on the players is what makes her sleep soundly at night.