NAIROBI, Kenya, September 21- Throughout the sands of time in Kenyan football history, the Gor Mahia versus AFC Leopards fixture has defined the complexity, passion and sometimes the tragedy that is the local version of the game.
It is a match that can be placed on the same billing of intense club rivalries in world football such as Rangers vs Celtic (Scotland), River Plate vs Boca Juniors (Argentina), Al Ahly vs Zamalek (Egypt) and Nacional vs Penarol (Uruguay) among others.
In these games, football is usually a subset of community bragging rights, political supremacy and on occasion a matter of life and death that has led to fatalities, injuries and hooliganism in the stands and outside the stadium.
As the refurbished Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani prepares to host the latest instalment of the Nairobi or Kenya derby on Saturday the latest clash of the ‘shemeji’ (in-laws) teams as K’Ogalo and Ingwe style themselves has assumed the lustre of old.
Leopards and Gor find themselves back to the summit of the Kenyan club competition for the first time in over a decade having recovered the mojo that made them the envy of the entire East Africa region, let alone the nation.
It is a throwback to their heydays in the 1970s and 80s where matches between them used to decide local and regional honours year in, year out.
Of course, both are aiming to eclipse a common foe of yore, defending champions Tusker FC who then known as Kenya Breweries, shattered the duopoly enjoyed by the foremost community clubs during their glory years.
The current Tusker Premier League table reads Tusker 45, AFC 45 and Gor 43 with 24 matches played, six shy of the season end where the winner on Saturday will nose ahead in the frenetic race to the crown that echoes days gone by.
From yore, Leopards versus Gor has been a gripping cocktail of intense football, underworld connotations as well as mythical tales that have sometimes blurred fact and fiction.
To illustrate the significance the Shemeji derby has had in the legend of Kenyan football, here are some of the clashes that sealed the legend of both clubs.
1975 SECOND LEAGUE LEG and 1979 KENYATTA DAY CUP FINALS
Black magic has never been far away from this fixture especially in the early days when ever peculiar incident was viewed from the lenses of witch craft.
In the 1975 decisive league match at City Stadium, a dove later nick named ‘Otieno Ndege’, hovered around the Gor goal area during the first half with K’Ogalo supporters suggesting it was a football fan but most Ingwe fans believed it was a product of witchcraft as their team who dominated the tie failed to score.
A police inspector was forced to ‘arrest’ the bird and when the dove was locked up, Aggrey Lukoye settled the match 1-0 in favour of AFC in the 87th minute.
On October 20, 1979, Gor won the Kenyatta Day Cup 1-0 against AFC when on 32 minutes; winger Sammy Onyango bamboozled Patrick Shilasi before unleashed a powerful shot that whizzed past national keeper, Mahmoud Abbas who did not even move.
Abbas was later quoted claiming he saw two serpents with their heads shaped as footballs approach his goal and was undecided which way to dive.
1980 CECAFA CUP FINAL
Gor Mahia won their first regional trophy in a 3-2 thriller that signalled the start of the Kenyan stranglehold on the annual tournament.
Tusker’s first round exit in the 2012 edition in Tanzania may have signalled the plummeting of fortunes of Kenyan clubs but back in the day, Gor and AFC possessed the cream of the country’s talent.
In the all-Kenyan final in Blantyre, Malawi, Ingwe flew in their revered striker Joe Masiga from Nairobi immediately after completing his university exams.
He duly scored the first goal as Leopards went to halftime a goal to the good, managing to weave his way past a Gor midfield that had the mercurial trio of Tim Ayieko, Sammy ‘Kempes’ Owino and Maurice ‘Ole Tunda’ Ouma.
Gor equalised when Nahashon ‘Lule’ Oluoch left Washington Wabwire for dead on the left before finding George’ Best’ Yoga who finished past the legendary Mahmoud Abbas five minutes after the breather.
Masiga was at it again, restoring Ingwe’s lead as he outsmarted K’Ogalo defender Duncan Migan but with 15 left, Gor equalisede when John Chore got ahead of Abbas to convert a Paul ‘Cobra’ Oduwo delivery.
With the tie evenly poised and time running out, Lule entered Gor’s legend when he took substitute Gideon Hamisi’s pass to beat Abbas for the final score with five minutes left on the clock as K’Ogalo celebrated the trophy.
Leopards stuffed Gor 3-1 to end their reign as regional champions and gain their revenge a year later.
1984 CECAFA FINAL
Ingwe completed their hat-trick of regional titles when they got one over the old enemy at the newly constructed Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi that was full to its seams.
At the time, Gor were more superior and were playing the better football attested by the fact they beat Ingwe to the national title with a lot to spare.
However, to this day, Gor fans aver the new stadium was cursed by their AFC counterparts since the Cecafa decider was the third time Leopards clawed K’Ogalo in that season.
Under English coach Lens Julians, Gor were playing the kind of football that can only be called tiki-taka in modern day palance, passing their opponents to death as they easily topped their Cecafa group based in Nairobi and stopped Malawi’s Berec Power 1-0 in the semis.
Ingwe laboured to edge out group B that was set in Mombasa and endured the long journey to Nairobi to face their archrivals in the final after beating Uganda’s KCC 1-0 in the last four in a match watched by President Daniel Moi and his cabinet.
K’Ogalo were stunned by fleet-footed winger Mike Amwayi in the fourth minute but it took only five for Sammy Onyango to equalise.
It took none less than Masiga to decide the contest as Leopards weathered dizzying spells of K’Ogalo possession to become the first Kenyan three-peat winner of the CECAFA trophy.
With black magic at the centre of any match the duo played, Leopards keeper, Abbas, was accused to consulting the legendary ‘Kenya number 1’ witchdoctor Kajiwe for the concoction that saw them beat their rivals thrice at Nyayo that season.
No one spared a thought that AFC’s direct play as opposed to Gor’s showboating had cost the favourites defeat but a year later, a depleted K’Ogalo without their suspended coach Julians beat Leopards 2-0 in Khartoum to end their choke hold on the trophy.
FIRST LEG 1986 KFF NATIONAL LEAGUE
Coming in as defending champions, Gor were destined to continue their supremacy the following season and in their first leg league encounter against their archrivals, they raced to a 2-0 lead to set the tone.
Sammy ‘Onyango’ Jogoo had netted the double in the first to shred Ingwe but football is a game of two halves they say as Leopards roared back in the second with three goals to seal the contest.
The outcome was inexplicable for Gor fans with the then Voice of Kenya national broadcaster reporting that a K’Ogalo fan had taken his own life with defeat too bitter to swallow.
An inquest into to what was a scandalous result led to claims that Leopards then chairman and now MP, Alfred Sambu, had opened his wallet and compromised Gor players to throw the match somewhere in the bowels of Nyayo Stadium during the break.
Gor pair John ‘Zangi’ Okello and Tirus Omondi were suspended in the probe as Jogoo wept uncontrollably as some fans spread the myth that whenever he scored against Ingwe, no one else could do so in addition to the alleged betrayal by his teammates.
Needless to say, Ingwe went on to be crowned Kenya champions after Gor failed to recover from the mortal blow of losing the first encounter to mount a successful defence.
SECOND LEG KENYAN PREMIER LEAGUE MATCH 2009
By this time, Gor and AFC had fallen out of grace as the country’s clubs owing to lack of finances as self-supporting clubs and management wrangles.
But with the league back in groove thanks to broadcast sponsorship by SuperSport, their second leg encounter brought out the fans in their numbers to Nyayo National Stadium.
AFC lying in bottom place were in serious danger of relegation while Gor, fielding a young side under James Sianga were yet to find their feet as they were placed in 11th coming to the game.
Their fall from grace was evident as both teams failed to muster any meaningful scoring chances until the 60th minute when an Obadiah Ndege corner was turned in to his own net by Gor’s Solomon Nasio.
To say AFC fans went delirious is an understatement and at the final whistle, the old times were relived when they poured out to the streets in raptures.
The win inspired Ingwe’s dogged fight from the axe and they managed to do so at the end of the campaign under Nick Yakhama while stung by the defeat, Gor embarked on a mazy run that saw them finish fifth with some of the most entertaining football.
This was the game that inspired their climb-up to the top echelons of club football now under the management of Croat Zradvko Logarusic in Gor and Dutchman Jan Koops.