1985: The last time Gor Mahia won CECAFA

Story by Muroro Pacho
Milimani Strathmore



Gor Mahia qualified for the 1985 CECAFA club cup by virtue of having won the national league in 1984. The tournament was to be held in Sudan in January of 1985  Due to the Zamalek fiasco of 1984, Gor Mahia had been suspended from continental football for two years. The CECAFA club cup was this Gor Mahia’s only opportunity to play international football. However before the tournament started, there were ramblings among some officials that Gor Mahia should not even be allowed to play in the CECAFA club cup. After much negotiation, Gor Mahia finally received permission from both CECAFA and CAF that they could play. However the six players who had been banned from international football due to the Zamalek fiasco would not be allowed to play. The six were Abbas Magongo, George Onyango, Abbey Nassur, Abdallah Shebe, George Otieno “Solo” and Peter Otieno “Bassanga”. All were key players. In addition, British coach Len Julians, who was also suspended by CAF would not only be banned from the bench but was also barred from travelling to Sudan.  With six key players suspended and without their coach, no one gave Gor Mahia much of a chance.  AFC Leopards had qualified for the CECAFA cup as defending champions. They had beaten Gor Mahia 2-1 at the finals of the 1984 CECAFA cup in an all Kenyan final. In fact AFC had beaten Gor Mahia three times in 1984. It was known as the Nyaya stadium jinx. Gor Mahia fans complained that they could never beat AFC at Nyayo because AFC witchdoctors had buried artifacts at the ground during the construction of the stadium.

In those days the Mashemeji derby always filled the stadia. This was the 1984 CECAFA cup final at Nyayo stadium

Interestingly, Gor Mahia always outplayed AFC during these games and knocked the ball around confidently leaving AFC to chase shadows. But AFCs game was straightfoward: As soon as they got the ball, they played long balls to their speedy forwards: Masiga, Kadenge, Amwayi and Ben Musuku. All had breathtaking speed. Kadenge in particular could have represented Kenya in the 100 metres. His uncle and aunt are John Anzrah and Esther Kavaya, both of whom represented Kenya in the sprints and had tried to encourage Kadenge to take up athletics.  The AFC stategy of playing long balls to their speedy forwards was derided by Gor Mahia fans as “Clearing and Forwarding”. But it was bloody effective against Gor Mahia in 1984.  Gor Mahia had won the national league comfortably in 1984 scoring an incredible 86 goals from 34 games. Fans would joke that Gor Mahia were playing the 4-4-4 system because they scored 4 goals in several games. Still fans had to live with the fact that they lost to AFC three times in a row.  And had won the CECAFA cup in 1983 and 1984. Most pundits expected them to carry the day once again in the 1985 CECAFA club cup. They had a clear psychological edge over Gor Mahia.



During the transfer season, Gor Mahia went about recruiting new players to shore up the squad that had been badly weakened. In came George Odembo “Nyangi” a youngster who had played starring roles in the Kakamega high school squads that won multiple national schools championships. He was expected to step into Magongo’s shoes which to most fans seemed impossible. Another Nondescript player signed was William Obwaka. He was the younger brother to talented Gor Mahia winger and mazy dribbler Enock Obwaka. He had previously played for Hakati sportiff a team from Kaloleni estate where the Obwaka’s grew up. William had trials with AFC Leopards but AFC coach Robert Kiberu rejected him because he was not fast or big like a typical AFC winger preferred by Kiberu. He then went to try his luck at Gor Mahia where he was welcomed with both hands. At the time, William was a student of medicine at the University of Nairobi.

Veteran Mike Adede who was in semi-retirement was called back to shore up the squad. The most important signing Gor Mahia made was Swaleh Ochieng Oswayo. The left fullback had been a national team player while playing for Re-Union. He was signed specifically to neutralize the speedy and strong AFC wingers. Ochieng Oswayo was spartan like in his approach to football. He was a fitness fanatic and was known to jog from his home, a distance of 25 km in order to attend training sessions. He was also an avid weightlifter. He would play a crucial role in reversing the fortunes of Gor Mahia against AFC in 1985.  Striker Goro Oronge was signed in a bid to replace Abdallah Shebe who was also under suspension. Oronge’s father James Oronge had been a legendary player for Harambee stars in the early 1960s and would later become player coach of the national team. But Goro never quite came close to emulating his father’s achievements.


On the plane to Sudan : Pierre with William Obwaka. Behind them is Zangi & Janabi. Far behind is breakdance

Group stage

Gor Mahia were placed in group A based in Khartoum while arch rivals AFC were in group B based in Wad Medani. Gor Mahia started out slow with a draw 1-1 against Simba of Dar es Salaam before beating Limbe Leaf of Malawi 3-0 and hosts Al Hilal 3-1. They ended their group matches with a 1-1 draw against Nakivubo Villa of Uganda.  AFC on the other hand looked to be in imperious form. They won all their group games including an emphatic 4-0 win over Zambian champions Nkana Red Devils. They had also thrashed Marine of Somalia 5-0.


Semi Final and Final

Given their emphatic wins in the group stage coupled with the fact that they had not dropped a point, AFC were now the clear favourites. In the first semi-final, Gor Mahia squeezed a 2-1 win over hosts El Merreikh of Sudan in Khartoum. AFC beat Simba of Tanzania 1-0 in Wad Medani to set up an all Kenyan final. This was the 3rd time in 5 years that the CECAFA club cup was an all Kenyan final. Such was the dominance of Kenya in those days. Impressive when you consider that in those days, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe were permanent CECAFA members.  AFC arrived in Khartoum and were booked in the same hotel as Gor Mahia. Upon their arrival at the hotel, they found Gor Mahia players by the pool warming. Some AFC players would later say that Gor Mahia players looked very intimidated, almost shaking when they saw AFC players arrive. And who would’nt. AFC were the defending champions and were in devastating form.  The game was played under floodlights and was transmitted via radio starting around 8pm Kenya time. In those days, the mashemeji derby was enormous. Almost every radio in Kenya was tuned in to KBC radio to listen to this game. When these two teams met at Nyayo, the stadium was always full to the brim. If you arrived at the stadium at 2pm you would not find a seat. Most fans were there by 12pm, 4 hours before the game started.

Few gave Gor Mahia a chance. On Friday there was a story in the Daily Nation about a Gor Mahia fan in Garrissa town who asked the preacher to pray for Gor Mahia during the church service. Most media pundits were sure that AFC would retain the cup.  It was not to be however. Although Gor Mahia were missing six key players, they had a defensive line that is probably the best back four ever to play for Gor Mahia. In Isaiah Omondi and Swaleh Ochieng, they finally had two full backs who had enough pace to neutralize the speedy AFC wingers. In Austin Oduor and Bobby Ogolla, Gor Mahia had what is probably the best central defensive pairing ever seen in Kenya.  There were two very solid goalkeepers, Tirus Omondi “Tairero” and David Ochieng “Kamoga”, both of whom would later play for the national team. And despite missing key players in midfield due to suspensions, Gor Mahia still had John Okello “Zangi”, Gideon Hamisi.  AFC played a disjointed game compared to what they had done in the group stage. Alfred Sambu the then AFC chairman reportedly offered a huge sum of money to any AFC player who scored. It was later rumoured that this is what caused disharmony as some players tried to score even when passing would have been a better option.

Of note was the fact that Sammy Onyango who had scored in almost every match against AFC from 1982 to 1984 was not in the starting line-up. There was still an element of withcraft and superstition among fans. And there were rumblings among Gor Mahia fans in this regard. If you went to the stadium in those days you would heat some fans say in reference to Sammy Onyango : “Wuon mare otweyo Gor”. Supposedly his father had cast a spell that whenever Sammy Onyango scored against AFC, no other Gor Mahia player could score. Of course this was not true. Witchcraft was not the reason. In any case, coach Maurice Ochieng left him on the bench and did not introduce him until very late.  The man who destroyed AFC on that day was new signing and winger William Obwaka. He scored two goals one in the 35th minute and another in the 89th minute. His second goal is one which makes us wish there were video recordings of this game. Obwaka picked up the ball in the middle of the field and proceeded to dribble past 6 or 7 AFC players one at a time. He then finished with a ferocious rising shoot that hit the roof of the net leaving AFC goalkeeper Francis Lubembe stranded. After scoring, Obwaka ran back screaming so loudly that he would have raptured the ear drums of anyone close by. Perhaps it was the emotion of having been rejected by AFC after trials. The game ended 2-0 in favour of Gor Mahia.


Front row: Enock Obwaka, Janabi, Dr Ogutu, Makamu, Kamoga, Pierre. In the middle of the pic is William Obwaka Back row far left is Breakdance , Behind William are Zangi & Artillery, To the left of Obwaka are Mwidau and Hezborn. Far right is Bob Ogolla

The line-ups on that days were as follows:  AFC Leopards: Francis Lubembe, Mickey Weche, Aineah Isabwa (Patrick Shilasi),Henry Omondi, Josephat Murila, Keffa Tasso, Francis Kadenge, Peter Owade Zimbo, Dr JJ Masiga, Wilberforce Mulamba, Michael Amwayi.  Gor Mahia: Tairus Omondi, Isaiah Omondi, Swaleh Ochieng Oswayo, Bobby Ogolla, Austin Oduor, George Nyangi Odembo, William Obwaka, John Okello Zangi, Goro Oronge, Gedion Hamisi, Ben Oloo “breakdance”

The aftermath

When Gor Mahia won the CECAFA cup in 1985, there were celebrations among Gor Mahia fans of a magnitude that had never been before then nor since then. In every village in Nyanza province people were celebrating, dancing and singing for the entire night. In Nairobi as well, in estates all over the city, Gor Mahia fans sung and danced. Not even the Africa cup win in 1987 engendered such celebrations.  When Gor Mahia arrived back at JKIA, there was an enormous crowd of fans waiting for them. Some grabbed branches from the trees and swept the road where the minibus carrying.

Gor Mahia players upon arrival from Sudan: From Left: Kamoga, Swaleh, Makamu (in Shades), Hezborn Omollo (holding cup, Tirus Omondi

The outpouring of emotion among Gor Mahia fans was down to the fact that as mentioned above, Gor Mahia had lost to AFC three straight times. They had gone 4 years without winning the CECAFA cup meanwhile AFC had won it in 1982, 83 and 84 thanks in large part to the penalty saving exploits of Mahmoud Abbas. And finally because no one had given Gor Mahia a chance to win given the suspension of 6 key players and the absence of coach Julians.  AFC fired coach Robert Kiberu who had a succesful four years at helm. A news report suggested AFC fans in Musanda sub location where Obwaka hailed from burned his house down. Musanda shopping centre is exactly at the border between Ugenya constituency and Mumias constituency. Theareas is populated by both the Wanga people and the Jo Kager clan of Ugenya and there is a lot of intermarriage between the two groups. The concept of mashemeji is very much in play in this area and and many people here are fluent in both the Wanga language and in Dholuo. William Obwaka and his brothers are no different. Their father Elly Masakhwe is of Wanga decent and their mother Filista is a Luo.  Following his superb performance at the CECAFA cup, William Obwaka became one of the most famous people in Kenya. He would soon earn a call to the national team which he turned down since his schedule as a medical student would not let him pursue national team duties. Indeed it would soon consume him to the point that by the end of 1986, he had all but quit football.


18 thoughts on “1985: The last time Gor Mahia won CECAFA

  1. Wow what a story that pierces the heart!!

    Obwakas’s name was on the lips of every KOgalo fan after the Khartoum conquest of AFC!

    May God bless the good Doctor wherever he is and also shower our great team with his special blessings as we try to reach for the stars!!

  2. Amazing! Simply amazing…..consider that this players never used to ask for salary , leave alone allowances!!!!!!

    Almost having a breakdown, Am really moved! Goro orange, zangi, nyangi odembo, owade zimbo and Obama you guys were a stroke of genius.

  3. i still remember “GOR BIRO YAWNE YOO” and as a young boy i knew in the bottom of my heart that GOR MAHIA was the best team in the whole world,

  4. No matter how others look at this thing, Amrouche was one of the best coaches Kenya has ever had. I liked the way he stresses discipline among players. He was arm-twisted to field Oliech on Sunday. I wish he applies for Gor Mahia job in future if it becomes vacant!!

  5. Guys this time round we need surprise from our players work hard in the field and take control of the defense so that we come back with the trophy God bless the work of your legs for the entire tournament

  6. @Jakie, Owade Zimbo was never a Gor Mahia player. He schooled at Kakamega High School and played for Efusi but never for K’Ogalo. And Obama? Which Obama, Jakie?

    Gor Mahia EC should not let FKF take Our Scotsman BW for free. Quote a fee or else they look for a Chinese coach.

  7. @Dan, in that case we MUST petition the EC to hire Amrouche. I doubt if his ban extends to the local league. He would have served his ban by the time we get to the continental championships next year which I am certain we will by winning the league

  8. wow! lived in donholm during the time. remember how gor fans kept sweeping outering et jogoo road. those days gor afc match was simply electric. the matches could be discussed the whole day. i must admit i admired the afc of then. abdul baraza, okwaro, musuku etc. these guys used to tear gor at nyayo and i too admit to hating nyayo stadium. masiga and musuku simply owned the stadium, and that guy called abbas. how we ‘hated’ you for stopping gor everywhere. bassanga chasing mususku was like watching a vw chasing a porshe carera. but until one guy called sammy onyango showed up. then nyangi, dawo and the tide changed. gor simply jumped over afc and took on africa. strangely enough afc could never fight well outside kenya while gor simply teared opponents in their homes. truly afc had one of the best squads any coach would kill for but gor of zamalek was devastating. the gor semifinal match vs dragons with rufai on goal… i think my heart stopped severally on that day.

  9. I will never forget this day. Yet I was in lower primary. GM fans in the mitaa were singing all night long while AFC fans went into hiding. That was the day I became familiar with songs like Taya ji timo neno kwome

  10. What a story!!!! I was in std 5 by then, KBC was first class, we listened to the match with my dad and other neighbors, Both gor and AFC fans. The good thing is that we never fought. It was one of the sweetest victories Av ever experienced. Lots of appreciation for the writer.

  11. @dan original, Bobby is the head coach of harambee stars but I think he will still serve both roles until end of season!!!!! Nothing much to worry about for now…..

  12. I remember with nostalgia that night my beloved club lifted cecafa cup. My late dad,Nicholas Okello Kasera,and I were following the match live via KBC commentary by Leonard Mambo Mbotela.Though it is many years ago,I can still visualise how we danced in our house in milimani Kisumu.How I still love Gor Mahia F.C.!! No wonder I av vowed to give ksh 200/- via 350100 per month….Kogalo, Gor Gor Mahia timbe duto ywakni.

  13. I like. I was young and I can remember me and my sister were qlued to KBC with Naftali Nick Okanga live from Khartum.

  14. Wow! just no word to describe what i would have felt suppose i would have been there!..pure super-nostalgic..FORZA GOR MAHIA FC.


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