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By Paul Okong’o

Mark Riley was born on 23 April 1950 in Kindelako near Tabora in (Tanganyika) renamed Tanzania 26 April 1964 after political union with Zanzibar. He attended Stamford School and RMA Sandhurst, where he came on the verge of the British Olympic team as a Pentathlete.

Mark played at lock for Nondescripts and against many touring sides for both Club & Country. Mark together with twin brother Jonathan (John) were some of the most solid locks that have ever graced the Kenyan rugby grounds.

In the Tuskers tour of 1975, his brother Jonathan had effectively taken care of the ex-British Lion lock Peter Stagg in the match against Ndola Wanderers and even in the test match. A year later both Riley’s had again taken care of Stagg when Nondescripts played Zambia in Nairobi, the only local side to defeat the tourists after Kenya, the prestigious invitational side the Scorpions and East Africa composed of the best players from Kenya. Uganda and Tanzania all lost. The twins also both played at lock on 12 June 1976 when East Africa defeated touring Rugby Roma Olympic Algida of Italy 9-6 in a close contest at the RFUEA Grounds, Nairobi.

On the 1978 tour of Zambia by the Kenya invitational side he was named man of the match in the semi-final contest against the Roan Antelope Club. Kenya XVs participated in the tournament marking the Golden Jubilee of the Roan Antelope Club and won the competition ensuring the trophy got a permanent home in the RFUEA trophy cabinet in Nairobi.

Mark Riley Nondies

On the local front he was a member of the Nondescripts Lions which lost to Nondescripts Tigers in the 1978 Kenya Cup final. Those were the days of split rugby. However, in the Enterprise Cup final with Mark at lock Nondescripts retained the Cup with an emphatic 39-0 win against the auld enemy Kenya Harlequins. Mark Riley was in the Lions side that lost to the Tigers in the 1979 Kenya Cup final. Nondescripts went on to retain the 1979 Enterprise Cup with a 48-3 victory again against Quins the biggest winning margin in the entire history of the competition. It stands to date.

Mark Riley was awarded the Nondescripts honours cap in 1980.’That was the year he was captain of Nondescripts and led them on a tour of Seychelles and Mauritius where they lost the first two games in Mauritius but redeemed themselves winning the other two matches against Seychelles, reported the Seychelles Nation.

The Nairobi Times reported, ‘Mark gave a standout performance for the white shirts against the touring London Metropolitan Police narrowly lost 13-17 in the closing minutes. This was the best score by any local side against the London side. In 1980 Nairobi power house Nondescripts won the Kenya Cup for the third time in a row and retained the coveted Enterprise Cup for a record sixth time. Riley was captain of the Scorpions team that faced Zimbabwe in their inaugural tour of 1981.

On the 1982 Tuskers tour of Zambia & Zimbabwe. ‘Mark Riley distinguished himself first with a solid locking performance partnering Max Muniafu in the test against Zimbabwe at the Police Grounds. Their partnership was extended to the line-outs where the tourists won a fair amount of ball or dispossessed the Southern Africans of ball won. After the Tuskers match against Matabele in Bulawayo it was Riley who piloted the plane to Salisbury in horrible weather, read Rob Be trams tour report.

He later joined refereeing where he stoked controversy. In 1988 he was accused by Mean Machine of impartiality when he umpired their Kenya Cup deciding match against Nondescripts at Parklands Sports Club. Nondescripts beat Machine 12-0 to win the Kenya Cup. Incidentally, Riley was Hon-Secretary of the Nondescripts team.

Accused of impartiality by the students he was defended by George Mac’Odawa-Hon Secretary of the Kenya Rugby Referees Society who went ahead and asked the students to file a formal protest.

Please do not talk to us in the press read a statement by Mac’Odawa in the Nairobi broadsheet the Kenya Times. They eventually did but it was lost on a vote 8-7 at a heated meeting at the RFUEA Grounds. It was not only on the local front where he umpired games but was touch judge in the Rugby World Cup Qualifier for 15’s in Tunis, Tunisia in September 1997 when Tunisia thrashed Kenya by 54 points to 5.



Interestingly he was Chairman of the Kenya Rugby Referees’ Society when he umpired that match. I wonder why neither the Kenyan’s nor Tunisian’s complained of his selection or umpiring skills. A Kenyan refereeing a match where Kenya is playing. Mark also served as an administrator and Hon Secretary for Nondescripts RFC, Scorpions RFC, Kenya Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Football Union for East Africa. He passed away 15 April 2024 in Cornwall, England where he lived. Mark Riley was without a doubt a loyal and sterling servant to rugby union for Club & Country in East Africa. He deserves an honored and treasured place in the annals of the game in East Africa. My condolences to Sue & family. SALUTE TO A RUGBY MAN



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