Captain, leader, cop – Sofapaka’s Maelo

Captain, leader, cop - Sofapaka's Maelo
Sofapaka FC captain George Maelo in his paramilitary uniform. (PHOTO/Courtesy)

Every team needs captain to lead it; an individual who can not only perform but can inspire those around them to do the same. The captain acts as the official leader both in the dressing room and on the pitch.

Sofapaka FC have quite a unique leader in George Maelo, the towering right back whose double act includes pulling the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) club’s jersey and service in the paramilitary.

He is a six-footer, calm and speaks when he has to. He commands authority even before he utters a word.

Close to a fortnight ago, Sofapaka drew 0-0 away at Zoo Kericho FC in a match that turned out to be the last round of KPL action before COVID-19 virus’ disruption of Kenyan football and indeed the country’s sporting activities.

It’s March 6, Friday evening and coaches from both teams have just finished their post match interviews at the Kericho Green Stadium. Maelo walks into dressing room and instructs his teammates to stand up and pray and then follows the team talk led by coach John Barasa.

It takes a maximum of 15 minutes and the players are out of the dressing room ready for their trip back to Nairobi.

He walks hurriedly towards his car, turns on the engine while ordering his friend to belt up. Before he drives off I request for an interview which he agrees to but requests for brevity as he must ‘rush to Nairobi for work.’

In the end, it’s not as brief as he had hoped and he ends up reeling me in to a remarkable routine of a cop with a true love for the beautiful game.

Now an inspector in the General Service Unit (GSU), Maelo’s love for the game started way back in his Primary School in Bukembe, Bungoma County. He moved to to Chesamisi High School where he was the team captain in Form Three.

“No one could keep me away from football. I remember one time in High School when Form Fours were requested not to fully participate in co-curricular activities. I got so agitated that the then principal Mr Daniel Mwaturo allowed me to be in the school team,” Maelo said.

Straight after Form Four Maelo joined Nzoia Sugar FC where he had a short stint before the team was disbanded.

‘Role Model’

Red Berets then came knocking at his doorstep. He played for them for a few months as a civilian and after impressing he was awarded an opportunity to join Red Berets officially as a policeman in 2007. Two years later the team was dissolved.

In 2016 while playing for the newly formed Kenya Police team in Division One, Sofapaka approached his bosses over a move as they sought his services. He made the switch.

Being a cop and footballer is no mean task and Maelo explains how he’s had to learn to balance the two.

“Our police bosses understand that our work involves working with civilians including teammates and fans whom we share a lot. Any time I’m training or playing of the team it’s also part of community policing; I’m a role model to many and that’s humbling,” Maelo said.

One of his oddest assignments is when he has to be on the stands as a cop overseeing stadium security when there is a match on.

“When Harambee Stars are playing at Kasarani or when one of our KPL teams is taking part in continental action I’m always the one in charge of security.

“My training in the forces makes me understand that when I’m on the pitch I’m a player and when I get out I’m an inspector. It helps me maintain discipline on and off the pitch because I have to maintain the good image of the Police,” Maelo said.

Having captained Sofapaka for two years, the inspector of police also spoke about the extra role he plays as a leader of Batoto ba Mungu.

“It’s my role to guide my teammates to invest in life after football; to remind them it’s important to study and invest wisely in readiness for life after football.”

Maelo’s dream is to play for the national team.

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Story By John Kyanda
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