Great clubs make for great history. I can vividly recall where I sat on the terraces of Moi International Sports Complex on that electrified Saturday afternoon of December 5, 1987 when Gor Mahia made history as the first – and so far the only- club from East and Central Africa to win a continental Cup.
As the former President Daniel arap Moi handed over the Cup to team captain Austin Oduor, he in effect gave the green light for Gor fans to begin the journey to the city centre with the victorious Gor Biro Yawne Yoo (Gor is coming clear the way) war chant.
Winning the Mandela Cup crowned a golden decade for the club that will be long remembered by friend and foe alike.
What made the great squads of the 1980s tick? Passion for team. Regarded as the 12th man, Gor supporters are well known for their boisterous and loud repertoire.
One such fan, the late Apingo Nyawawa, enjoys legendary status on the Gor terraces for the passion with which he supported his team. Long before vuvuzelas reached these shores, Apingo had a contraption which he swung emitting sounds akin to a round of bullets being fired.
There was also one Omwanda, a man said to peg his moods on the form his favourite club was enjoying. In his honour, the Gor fans have nicknamed City Stadium ‘Tok Komwanda’ (behind Omwanda’s homestead). It happens that the Omwanda family runs a business in Kaloleni estate within the vicinity of the stadium.
Another thing that the team had going for it was the investment in good coaches and recruitment.
Although the Dane Jack Johnson has been largely credited with clinching the Mandela Cup, those who followed the club’s fortunes keenly would agree that the seeds were planted earlier by the late Briton Len Juliens. A passionate coach who loved his team and the supporters, Len or simply ‘Odiero’ to the legion of fans, was not a man to shy away from getting physical whenever he felt his team was being unfairly treated. The young team Juliens moulded was the one that clinched the continental cup in 1987.
Kisumu Hotstars was the feeder line for Gor together with schools. The late Sammy ‘Jogoo’ Onyango was a good example. Turning out for Gor while still in school at Thika High, Jogoo was a hot favourite with the fans. After every match in Nairobi the fans would escort him to the bus stop where he would take the then popular Jogoo Kimakia Bus to Thika. That is where the nickname Jogoo came from.
Head of State Commendation
Another student great was Nahashon Oluoch ‘Lule’. At Nanyuki High School the lad’s hands were full. He was a House Master, dependable school player as well as a Gor star. These talents, coupled with team unity, made the 1980s team one of the best in Africa.
Peter Dawo, the lead scorer in Gor’s 1987 African campaign says: “We trained together and knew one another’s weaknesses and strengths. In many cases we would advise the coach on the kind of line up that would assure us of victory.”
Although they were amateurs, the 1980s players were financially secure. Getting a team slot assured a player of employment, mostly in parastatals. Gor players were mainly absorbed in the then Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation as well as Kenya Airways.
In most cases, these players spent their time training either for the employer’s team, Gor or the national team - professional in all but name.
Finally, you cannot talk about Gor without mentioning Srikal - a corrupt swahili word for government.
Earlier in the 1980 Gor’s rivals whispered that then President Moi had a soft spot for Gor. Evidence? Whenever he attended football matches, the president would don a hat similar to the straw hat then heavily popular with Gor fans.
Moi never denied or accepted this.
This Gor being Moi’s blue eyed boys accusation was further amplified when after winning the Mandela Cup, the president feted Gor star striker Dawo with a Head of State Commendation at the 1988 Jamhuri Day celebrations.