After spending a decade playing in the lower ranks of Kenyan football, Bungoma-based Nzoia Sugar FC emphatically secured a memorable promotion to Kenyan Premier League in 2017 after conquering the National Super League.
The sugar millers toped the NSL charts with 91 points, gaining an automatic promotion to KPL the following season.
In their first appearance in top flight league, the team managed to finish in position 13 under head coach Benard Mwalala, who later moved to Bandari FC in Mombasa. Mwalala had been with the team for a period of four years when the team played in the National Super League.
Nzoia’s marvelous achievement was engineered by a young squad, majorly comprising of high school graduates from the Western belt region.
Mark Barasa Bikokwa, a talented forward who made a name in the Kenya Secondary Schools Sports Association featuring for Bukembe Boys High School, a secondary school football powerhouse in Western Kenya between 2011 and 2013, was pivotal in Nzoia’s promotion to KPL.
Speaking to SPORTS AFRICA on Wednesday, the Curren Ulinzi Stars goal poacher revealed what exactly contributed to his success at Nzoia before decamping to the military side.
The 25-year-old lethal forward confirmed to this website that it is his passion for the game that drives his career forward till today.
“I just loved football when still young. My football career started at Bungoma DEB Primary School. At this stage, we formed Sikata FC where we would play against the likes of John Makwata (Zesco United),” Bikokwa said.
“So I worked very hard because I knew one day football would give me a life. After my KCPE (2009) exams, I joined Bokoli High School but life was a bit hard for me because they valued academics more than sports.” He explained.
The soft-spoken ace would spend less than a year at Bokoli High School before transferring to Friends School Bukembe in 2010, an institution where arguably his talent sprouted.
“I stayed there for only one year at Bokoli, then I decided to look for the school which valued both academics and sports. By good luck I joined Friends School Bukembe in 2010. That year Bukembe had great players and competition was high,” Bikokwa recalls.
He went on to explain that it was his resilience that saw him break through to the first-eleven of school team at Bukembe.
“I worked hard and cemented my place in the first team. I scored goals and when still in Form Four (2013), Nzoia Sugar FC came for my signature.”
Upon finishing high school, the then prodigy fully joined the Sudi-based outfit and there he doubled his efforts. “I continued to work hard until Ulinzi Stars came calling.”
In his promising profession, Bikokwa who doubles up as a Kenya Defense Force soldier picked Bernard Mwalala as the tactician that furnished him to a fine product.
Mwalala guided Nzoia Sugar FC to the country’s top tier league before joining Bandari FC in 2018 before the former Nzoia Sugar FC player was sacked in 2019 following a string of poor results at the Dockers.
Similarly, Bikokwa also extended his gratitude to former and current Ulinzi Stars coaches Robert Matano and Benjamin Nyangweso respectively.
“The person behind my success is my brother, my mentor coach Bernard Mwalala. He believed in me and gave me everything I wanted as a player just like Robert Matano and Benjamin Nyangweso.”
The 2016 Nzoia Sugar FC squad was one of a kind and Bikokwa still rates his former teammates high especially for playing a role in his football journey.
“Actually, that was a good squad we had during that time. I will never forget the likes of Bolton Omwenga, Boniface Muchiri, Luke Namanda, Peter Juma and Valen Mahero. They played a big role in my football career.”
Mark Bikokwa’s stellar performance in the NSL and GoTv Shield Cup tourney caught the attention of former Harambee Stars coach Bobby Williamson after scoring 17 goals in the NSL.
He was included in the initial 31-man squad for the World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde and the regional Cecafa played November in 2015.
In the just concluded 2019/20 Kenyan Premier League season, struggling Nzoia finished 15th on the log with 13 points, miraculously escaping relegation.