For many years, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards dominated football not just in the country but throughout East and Central Africa. The rivalry was deep and intense and reached its apex during the 1970s and 1980s. Through the years there were several interesting episodes of accusations of witchcraft, animosity between fans, briberies and other intrigues. However through the years there were several memorable matches between the two teams which the media fondly referred to as the big two.
Now as fans wait for this weekends encounter between the two storied teams, its worthwhile to take a moment down memory lane to remember some of the matches.
One of the most memorable matches was the 1980 CECAFA club cup final played in Malawi. Gor Mahia had reached the final by beating hosts Limbe Leaf 4-2 on penalties. AFC who at the time were known as Abaluhya FC reached the final by beating millitary side, Green Buffaloes, the Zambian champions 1-0. The stage was thus set for an all Kenyan final in Blantyre. Abaluhya’s legendary striker Joe Masiga was flown in to Malawi having just completed his University exams.The match was evenly contested. But Gor Mahia’s experienced linkman Tim Ayieko who was also assistant coach was clearly man of the match ably assisted in midfield by Sammy Owino “Kempes” and Maurice Ouma “Ole Tunda” . Masiga scored the first goal and Abaluhya led 1-0 at halftime. On 50 minutes, Nahashon Oluoch “Lule” lost his marker Washington Wabwire on the left flank and crossed to George “Best” Yoga who scored. Masiga was at it again. This time he beat Kogalo defender Duncan Migan to the ball to score. On 75 minutes Kogalo equalized when a cross from Paul Oduwo “cobra” was headed home by John Chore who oujumped Mahmoud Abass in the Abaluhya goal. Tension mounted as the socre was tied 2-2 and the final whistle neared. On 85 minutes, substitute Gideon Hamisi put Nahashon Oluoch through to score the 3rd goal which enabled Kogalo to lift the CECAFA cup for the 1st time ever. Kogalo keeper George Ayuka played a stellar game pulling off several spectacular saves.
In 1981, Abaluhya were now known as AFC Leopards and gained revenge over Gor Mahia beating them 3-1. At the time, it was the biggest scoreline that AFC had ever beaten Gor Mahia by. Later that year, Gor Mahia earned a measure of revenge by beating AFC 1-0 in the second round of the KFF Challenge cup. Gideon Hamisi who came on as a substitute finished off an intricate move to score the lone goal.
In 1982, the arch rivals met again in the CECAFA cup held in Kenya, this time in the semis. Leopards won on penalties when keeper Mahmoud Abass who had a reputation as a penalty saving specialist stopped two Gor Mahia penalties. So good was Abass at saving spot kicks that there were rumours of witchcraft on his part which many fans belived. Many believed he regularly consulted with legendary Coastal witchdoctor Kajiwe. Leopards went on to win the CECAFA cup in 1982 beating Rio Tinto in the final. 1982 was a disatrous year for Kogalo wherein they lost several players to injuries following a road accident with the team bus. In addition, players like Charles Ondiek, Mike Ogolla “machine” and Andrew Obunga were serving suspensions. Meanwhile youthful supernovae Sammy Owino “Kempes” and Nahashon Oluoch “Lule” had left for the US and Tim Ayieko returned home to Uganda. Still Kogalo managed to pull off a surprise victory over Leopards in the second leg of the league, winning 1-0 thanks to a goal by winger Sammy Onyango who was now emerging out of the shadow of “Lule” after being his apprentice for 3 years. He beat Abass with a low shot which went through the keepers legs.
In 1983, the two arch rivals met on Kenyatta day, also known as Ogdoba Dwendi (October 20) by AFC Leopards fans. The match was played in front of a capacity crowd at city stadium, signalling the last time the two rivals met there. Sammy Onyango was at it again, scoring a memorable goal on 32 minutes after finishing a move by Gideon Hamisi and Abdallah Shebe. On receiving the through ball from Shebe, Onyango lost his marker Patrick Shilasi on the left wing. Abass in the Leopards goal expected him to cross the ball. Instead Onyango sent a rasping grass cutter which caught Abass flat footed. TV replays later showed Abass standing still as the ball hit the back of the net. Sammy Onyango was now gaining a reputation as the man who could always score against Leopards. Drama ensued in the dying moments when the cheeky Francis Kadenge knocked the ball out of the hands of keeper David Ochieng using his hands and scored. The referee initially signalled for a goal as Kadenge celebrated. That is until he consulted the linesman. The win enabled Gor Mahia to win the league with two matches left and at the end of the game, President Moi presented the league cup to captain Peter Otieno “Bassanga” to rapturous applause by Kogalo fans.
Fast forward to 1984 and it was an an Kenyan final again in the CECAFA cup played at the newly constructed Nyayo stadium. Gor Mahia had won group A and entertained fans in Nairobi by playing scintillating football under British coach Len Julians. Leopards for their part won group B which was based in Mombasa. In the semis, Kogalo beating Berec Power of Malawi 1-0. Leopards beat KCC of Uganda 1-0 setting up an all Kenyan final. The match was played to a capacity crowd including the President and his cabinet. The match started in controversy when Kogalo showed up in an all Blue strip which the referee said was too similar to the AFC jerseys. They were thus forced to play with white shorts over the blue strip. Speedy winger Mike Amwayi silenced Kogalo fans when he scored in the 4th minute. Sammy Onyango equalized 5 minutes later and Kogalo fans were back in full song. Joe Masiga scored the winner and AFC lifted the CECAFA cup for the 3rd consecutive time. In terms of the rivalry, 1984 is a year Gor Mahia fans will want to forget because despite winning the league they lost three times to AFC. A section of Kogalo fans suggested that the newly constructed Nyayo stadium had been bewitched by AFC fans whom they accused of burying chickens below the playing surface during the construction of the stadium. In those days witchcraft was part and parcel of every game. In reality Kogalo lost because whereas they focused on playing attractive football, AFC took the direct approach. Kogalo revelled in knocking the ball around. According to Action magazine which covered sports in Kenya during the 80s, there was one instance where they completed 20 passes without Ingwe touching the ball. Ingwe for their part used long balls to their speedy forwards, Amwayi, Kadenge and Masiga who took advantage of their speed over the Kogalo fullbacks. Gor Mahia’s 3 consecutive losses to AFC in 1984 became known as the Nyayo stadium jinx.
Gideon Hamisi up against John Arieno “Papa” and Josephat Murila in this 1984 encounter. Witness the capacity crowd
In 1985, the CECAFA cup was held in Sudan. Yet again it was an all Kenyan final. Such was the dominance that Kenyan teams had over the East and Central African region in those days. No one had given Gor Mahia a chance given that six key players had been suspended by both CAF and CECAFA following the Zamalek affair of 1984. The six were Abbey Nassur, George Otieno “Solo”, Abass Khamis Magongo, George Onyango “Fundi”, Abdallah Shebe and Peter Otieno “Bassanga”. Even coach Len Julians was suspended and Gor Mahia had to make do with asistant coach, former striker Maurice Ochieng “Sonyi”. A cartoon in the Standard newspaper depicted Gor Mahia players leaving Sudan in a soda crate after having supposedly loast all their matches. Still Kogalo never lost hope as they still had some key players like sweeper Austin Oduor Origi, Sammy Onyango and Bobby Ogolla, augmented by new signings like the youthful George “Nyangi” Odembo who recently steered Kakamega high to the national schools title, William Obwaka and Tirus Omondi who joined from Re-Union in goal. Perhaps the most important signing was Swaleh Ochieng Oswayo who was signed specifically to deal with the speedy AFC wingers. Swaleh previously played for ReUnion and had stated his career at Luo Union in the late 1970s. Gor Mahia topped the group after beating host El Hilal of Sudan and Limbe Leaf of Malawi and tying Simba of Tanzania. They also beat co-hosts Al Merreikh in the semis 2-1. In the all Kenyan final, Kogalo achieved mission impossible beating AFC 2-0 to lift the CECAFA cup. William Obwaka scored in the 35th and 89th minutes to sink Ingwe. Fans all over Kenya listened intently to the proceedings on national radio. When the final whistle blew, the victory was received by an emotional response by Gor Mahia fans who celebrated by singing all night all over estates in Nairobi and upcountry. In villages throghout Nyanza province, fans revelled and celebrated all night long. When the team returned to Nairobi, thousands of fans thronged the airport to welcome the team. never before have Gor Mahia fans celebrated a victory over AFC in this manner. The reasons for the massive celebration and emotional response to the win were threefold:
1. No one had given Kogalo a chance given the suspension of six key players. In fact the only question on people’s minds was “How many goals will AFC score ? ” Many predicted a win by as much as 3-0 for AFC
2. You will remember that in 1984, Kogalo had suffered 3 stinging defeats to Ingwe leaving Kogalo fans despondent and blaming witchcraft.
3. Kogalo had not won the CECAFA cup since 1981 whereas AFC had won it 3 times.
Such was the elation of Gor Mahia fans at this win that a song about the 2-0 win composed by veteran Tanzanian singer David Owino Misiani known as “Buru nodum Khartoum” became a hit. In it he payed tribute to the brave Gor Mahia players for the major upset. The song became a huge hit amongst fans. The match also signalled the very first time that Kogalo T-shirts were made available to celebrate the win. Many fans now showed up at the stadium wearing T-shirts emblazoned “Gor Mahia FC, Champions of East and Central Africa. Ingwe fans in Mumias division where William Obwaka hailed from reacted to the defeat by burning his house. They were upset that one of them (a luhya) had betrayed them by scoring twice against them.
After winning the CECAFA cup, Kogalo returned home to a rapturous welcome. From left David Ochieng (in shades, Swaleh Ochieng Oswayo, Austin Oduor (in shades), ??, Hezborn Omollo (holding trophy and Tirus Omondi
On June 1 1985, Gor Mahia now confident that the Nyayo stadium jinx could be challenged, faced AFC in the first leg of the league. Francis Kadenge scored the opener from an indirect Free kick. Abass Magongo who had now earned the nickname “Zamalek” scored the equalizer. He went on to score the winning goal on 65 minutes when he converted a cross from Swaleh Ochieng Oswayo. The match was scintillating and evenly contested but Magongo was clearly man of the match as he dazzled Ingwe with a series of dribbles, deft touches, flicks and passes. Leopards earned a measure of revenge by winning the second leg 1-0. Gor Mahia fans and players complained that Wilberforce Mulamba who had scored was offside but to no avail.
The first leg match of 1986 is one Kogalo fans would like to forget. In a league match that year, Gor Mahia seemed destined to beat AFC soundly. At half time , Kogalo were leading 2-0 thanks to two goals by Sammy Onyango “Jogoo”. In the second half, Gor Mahia players seemingly lackadaisical conceded 3 goals and lost 3-2. It later emerged that AFC chairman Alfred Sambu had bribed some Kogalo players to throw the game. The players including John Okello “Zangi” and Tirus Omondi were suspended. After the game Sammy Onyango “Jogoo” was seen sobbing helplessly after the betrayal of his team mates and the fact that some fans claimed that whenever he scored against AFC, no one else could score due to some witchcraft.
Fast forward to 1987 a most memorable year for Kogalo. The two rivals met on October 20 as Gor Mahia prepared for their Africa cup semi final match. The match was evenly contested until the last 10 minutes when coach Jack Johnson made a tactical change introducing Ben Oloo who was dubbed “breakdance” for his mesmerizing dribbling ability. It was he who danced past Ingwe full back Wycliff Anyangu and squared to Peter Dawo who scored with a header for Kogalo to win 1-0.
In 1988, a revamped AFC leopards eager to emulate their arch rivals who had won the Africa cup the previous year, went on a signing spree that netted them at leats six more national team players. Indeed that AFC team dominated the league that year finishing way ahead of their rivals. However in the Moi Golden cup final (now known as the Presidents cup or FKL cup), Gor Mahia beat AFC 2-0 to lift the cup. Charles Otieno scored a memorable goal beating Omar Shabaan in the AFC goal with a brillian long range effort.
‘George Onyango “Fundi” in action against AFC circa 1989. Image is courtesy of Michael Mundia Kamau
By 1991, the influence of the two teams had started to wane. However a match betwen the two still brought the country to a standstill. That year they played at Kasarani. Gor Mahia with Jared Ochieng Achieng, Allan Odhiambo, Charles Omondi “Korea” , Zedekiah Otieno “Zico” and others throughly dominated the proceedings but still found themselves down 2-0. Allan Odiambo scored a consolation goal in injury time. By then irate Kogalo fans had left the stadium
Going further back to 1970, Gor Mahia faced Abaluhya in the second round of the FA cup. The match seemed headed for extra time when referee Ben Methu awarded Kogalo a free-kick. The kick was taken rapidly before AFC were ready and centre forward Ben Obala scored to give Kogalo a 1-0 win.. AFC protested affter the match and a fight ensued between players. Soon the melee had spread to the stands with riots pitting Kogalo and Ingwe fans.
In 1978, Abaluhya had beaten Gor Mahia twice. So when the two teams met on April 7 1979, Kogalo fans were eager for a measure of revenge. Goals from Jerry Imbo and Nahashon Oluoch ensured a 2-1 win for Gor Mahia.
The Gor Mahia-AFC rivalry was at its peak in the 1970s and 1980s. It encompassed all aspects of football on and off the field. At various schools all over the country , students would congregate on the day after the game and discuss the game. The winning team’s fans would find their arch rival’s fans wherever they were hiding and taunt them all day. In fact the match dominated conversation not just in schools but also at places of work and in the streets.
On the week before the match, fans of each team engaged each other in long debates about past matches with Gor Mahia fans often accusing AFC of playing physical football based on little skill and fraught with long balls. AFC fans for their part taunted Gor Mahia by saying they played to entertain the crowd with intricate passing but could never score. The truth was always somewhere in the middle. Tension filled the air on match day as the nation literally came to a standstill. The nervousness and passion that each set of fans felt on match day cannot be described. This was indeed the most important day of the year for these fans. The Daily newspapers often devoted an entire page to the game complete with pictures of past games, player profiles and analysis. Fans had to show up at the stadium at least 4 hours in advance as tickets always sold out well in advance. In addition to the capacity crowds, the President often attended with several cabinet members. Before the match Kogao fans at Russia would be seen in full song as AFC drummers beat their Isikuti as they danced around the stands.
The rivalry often resulted in intrigues and machinations amongst officials. In 1970 the FA chairman was Martin Shikuku who was a staunch AFC fan. He later became MP for Butere. As FA chairman, he routinely frustrated Gor Mahia by constantly fining and docking points from them. The insanity only ceased when Gor Mahia officials lodged a formal protest to then sports Minister Masinde Muliro who upon investigation dissolved the FA and called fresh elections.
Matters came to a head in 1975 when Gor Mahia were due to participate in the Africa club cup. AFC then known as Abaluhya lodged a protest claiming Gor Mahia had not won the league legitimately as Abaluhya chose not to take part in the league in 1974. Isaac Lugonzo, then KNSC chairman wrote a letter to CAF in protest. In the confusion, Gor Mahia’s name was taken off the list and no team represented Kenya.
Circa 1984, Gor Mahia were suspended by CAF following the Zamalek affair and AFC officials wrote a letter to CAF seeking harsher penalties against Kogalo.
The intrigues also involved players. In 1985, Peter Owade “Zimbo” was amongst the most promising players having been part of the Kakamega high dynasty that won the school nationals several times. he had already attended tryouts with Gor Mahia and looked set to join, only to be pre-empted by AFC when chairman Alfred Sambu stepped in and enticed ‘Zimbo” with a wad of cash. The same scenario repeated itself in 1993 when Musa Otieno “Otero”, then playing for Ofafa Jericho school became a sensation when he played for Kogalo in a series of pre-season friendlys. In fact it was stated that he had already signed for Gor Mahia. But he was snatched by AFC through the back door. This time it was Cyrus Jirongo peddling YK92 cash who flashed some notes at “Otero” and to KFF officials much to the chagrin of Gor Mahia fans.
Witchcraft was an integral part and each team had their witchdoctors. On one occasion in 1987, AFC officials were seen scattering a white substance on the grass. Gor Mahia officials reacted swiftlty to stop them. Fisticuffs ensued and both sets of officials were handcuffed and led off. Only 10 minutes later , AFC Isikuti drummers were dancing around the stadium and perhaps high on bhang, they crossed into the Gor Mahia fans section at Russia. Gor Mahia fans irate at the taunting attacked the Isikuti drummers and ripped the drums to shreds. Police responded with tear gas. Gor Mahia players who were already on the pitch warming up scampered out of the field as the tear gas stung them. Earlier in 1984, Gor Mahia fans had started a tradition of wearing straw hats. AFC fans in a bid to taunt their rival fans, purchased dozens of straw hats then lit them on fire right in the stadium.
Yep in those days the rivalry between these two teams was perhaps as heated than anything you might find between top teams such as Real and Barca in Spain, Celtic and Rangers in Scotland or Zamalek and Al Ahly in Egypt.
Story by Muroro Pacho