The height of Gor Mahia popularity was probably the 70s to early 80s. In those days, the league was dominated by community clubs: Gor Mahia, Abaluhya, Luo Union, Maragoli FC, Feisal, Ramogi, Abeingo, Nyanam, Kisumu Hotstars, Gema, Hakati Sportiff, Black Mamba, Nakuru All stars, Kisumu All Stars, Andimi etc. Fan support was passionate. Matches were thus well attended throughout the league, When Luo Union folded around 1980, many of its fans made peace with their previously bitter rivals at Kogalo and aside from a few holdouts like the famous Majimbo most became Kogalo fans. Gor Mahia’s fan base thus increased dramatically. In those days city stadium was filled to the brim. In the mid 80s, a match pitting Kogalo and AFC always filled Nyayo stadium past its capacity. Even a match pitting Gor Mahia and Tusker, then known as Kenya Breweries would fill Nyayo to the brim.
Kogalo vs Tusker in 1985 filled the standing room section of City stadium
The number of people attending Kogalo matches had been declining gradually since 1987. The reasons were were myriad but were primarily due to poor management and low standards, So dire was the situation that former club patron Joab Omino predicted the imminent demise of community clubs as far back as 1991. By 2006 thanks to abysmal management, the number of people attending Kogalo matches had plummetted to levels now seen only in nationwide league matches. Omino’s prediction seemed imminent because AFC Leopards were not faring any better in attracting fans.
Its true that the renaissance in fan attendance started in 2008. But 2010 was the year when fans really made their presence felt. Gor Mahia matches were by far the best attended. All the matches that recorded the highest attendances involved Gor Mahia. Fans created an electric atmosphere. So electric that the Kenya tourist board has been recommending to tourists to visit the stadium when Kogalo are playing.
To top it off, Kogalo fans today really know how to get behind their team. And this is where today’s fans differ from those from say 25 years ago. Whereas fans in the 70s and 80s were passionate and emotional, they rarely got behind the team as todays fans do. In fact the fans were so demanding that they often made players too nervous. As a player, you had to have nerves of steel when things were going poorly. Perhaps fans were spoiled by success and demanded no less. When the team was winning, the fans were always in full song. When the team was playing poorly, fans became demanding. Its fair to say that in those days, Kogalo did not always have a home advantage. This explains the quirky performance of Gor Mahia in continental matches where their away performance was often better than their performance at home. (Read the history at www.gormahia.net for more information on this phenomenon. Today’s fans rally behind the team even when they fall behind or are playing poorly. As a result, they have played a pivotal role in lifting the team to a second place in the league. The fans have become the crucial 12th man.
Gor Mahia fans haven’t just been beneficial to the club, but also to the entire league. The atmosphere they create makes fans all over the country more eager to attend KPL matches. Even Ulinzi stars was able to attract large number of chanting fans to Afraha stadium during the last days of the league as Nakuru fans sought to emulate their Kogalo compatriots. Travelling Gor Mahia fans have also been a boon to local business people in places like Kakamega and Thika whenever Gor Mahia travel there. They cant wait for the next time Gor Mahia visit as business is always brisk. So Gor Mahia fans are haviong an impact on the economy of entire towns.
Speaking of emotional and demanding fans, another area where todays fans are different is how they react to losses. In the past, fans would rain stones on opposing fans, on police and on unfortunate motorists. A popular song sung at Russia in those days used to go hence “Police a lis ni be iringo ? Kau Kidi ! “..which roughly translates to “Dont be afraid of Police, Just pick up a stone. Ttoday’s fans focus on cheering the team and if results do not pan out, they drown their sorrows at their favorite drinking joints. So one might say that 2010 is the year when fans have taken a giant step in convincing potential sponsors to align with the club.
Kit wa cha ! was the rallying cry in those days
And finally another area where things have changed dramatically is the prevalence of young ladies at Kogalo matches. Whereas in the past , few women attended and those who attended were mainly middle aged women. Today it is normal to see women of all ages at Kogalo matches. And the fans are better behaved around women than they were in the past.
Yours truly hopes that the trend of fans returning to the stadia to watch Kogalo will continue and that the club management will have the foresight not to antagonize fans by hiking ticket prices. Many fans who are still on the fence about returning might be turned off by that.
Finally, Gor Mahia may be slowly outgrowing City stadium. They should seriously consider moving most of their home matches to Nyayo stadium. This may sound blasphemous to many supporters because City stadium is seen as the spiritual home of Kogalo. But its also not fair to make fans stand up while watching the game as happens in the standing room section aka Soweto. Nor is it fair to make fans who paid main stand fees sit on concrete slabs. City stadium management has not improved that stadium in 30 years nor have they built any new terraces. Perhaps fans should petition the Prime minister and the government to construct new terraces at City stadium. The new stand at Harlequins stadium (below) cost only ksh 15 million.
Fans at the new Safaricom stand