Gor Mahia chairman Ambrose Rachier is not about to offer any apologies for his drastic decision to remove the team’s home matches from Moi Stadium, Kisumu despite the headwinds the action is running into.
“I am doing this with a heavy heart. Of all the towns in this country it is Kisumu where Gor Mahia’s pulse is. You can see it in the fans’ faces. People travel from as far away as my village in Gem Yala, in fact, all over the former Nyanza province to come cheer the team they love.
“However, I have a club to run professionally and the Mafia operating in Kisumu has been robbing the club blind and I cannot continue this way,” he said.
Speaking in his Rachier and Amollo Advocates offices at Mayfair Centre near Nairobi Hospital, the face of the chairman of the multiple league champions shows some strain, revealing a man making a weighty but necessary decision which might not be popular with all.
The ban was necessitated by the invasion of the Moi Stadium by cartels intent on lining their dirty pockets, not giving a care on the state of the club and its players and staff.
What rankled the chairman the most was the blatant thuggery seen on August 31 when Gor left Tusker FC staggering after a thorough beating at the stadium.
According to Rachier, the thugs, brandishing knives and also armed with what the Kenya Police normally refer to as crude weapons, chased away the club’s official stewards and then went on a gate collection spree. Or a looting spree, if you would.
Gor’s treasurer Sally Bolo was quoted in the press giving vivid account of how she had to run for dear life when the yobs came calling.
“They came with crude weapons and openly harassed us. They beat some of our staff, forced dozens of persons to access the stadium for free and still at the end demanded payment for work not done,” she narrated her woes in the picturesque town of Kisumu.
“First they declare that there is no way stewards from Nairobi can go to Kisumu and work there yet there are people in Kisumu who can do the work. What they are forgetting is that these stewards are our staff and they are strangers to the club management,” Rachier lamented.
“We have suspended all our matches in Kisumu and we shall be using alternative home grounds. Even though the lake region is a huge fan base for Gor Mahia, it is sad that we use a lot of money to travel to the city for league matches and end up getting nothing due to cartels and bouncers who pocket our money at the gate and many a times allow the fans to watch our matches free of charge,” said Rachier.
Of course, this news will shatter into pieces and leave a trail of blood in the hearts of K’Ogalo diehard supporters in the lakeside town but Rachier insisted he was acting in the best interest of the club.
He said that the club uses between Sh600,000 to Sh700,000 to prepare the team for a single outing in Kisumu.
He said he is convinced there is some serious Chinese accounting that takes place whenever Gor Mahia plays in Kisumu.
“Take the Tusker match for example. The stadium was packed to the rafters and a person known to me who is well versed with such kind of logistics said he could do a lower estimate of the gate collections totalling at least Sh1.8 million,” he said.
At the end of the day Rachier and his fellow officials were left holding the short end of the stick.
After all deductions, Rachier was handed Sh120,000, and he confesses that this left him heartbroken.
“Can you believe it Tom? After sinking more than half a million in a match all I came back with was some Sh120,000?”
Taking the view of a seasoned businessman Rachier said: “I would not have minded if we broke even. But this one is a bottomless pit and I don’t think it makes business sense to continue throwing good money after bad. I am really sorry for our Kisumu fans.”
But where are the police in all this, I press the chairman.
In all their expense reports the club officials normally list security as one of the items that leave a dent the size of an adult’s head in the budget.
“Honestly I don’t know. Maybe they are normally so focused on crowd control in the stadium and have no time for the gates which maybe they feel we can handle,” Rachier answers.
According to the chairman, the absence of police at the gates is an answered prayer to the goons.
That is if goons say a prayer before a robbery. He says that the guttersnipes usually start a commotion at the gate and in that melee, many get the chance to get into the stadium without parting with even a single cent.
However, it emerges that it is not only those who don’t have two pennies to rub together who enjoy waltzing into the stadium without paying.
Rachier said he had come across cases where people who are well off by any definition of the word intimidating stewards by invoking his (Rachier) name.
“It is in our culture that people love freebies. It is also a culture of ‘you must know people’. Some of these people will tell the stewards how we are fast friends and they don’t see the need to pay. On the other hand my view is that if they are true friends they should help me succeed at the club by paying the gate charges,” said the chairman.
In a candid admission, Rachier said even some of his own stewards have been caught with their fingers in the till, batting on the side of the goons who are hell bent on fleecing the club, perhaps paying heed to the adage of if you can’t beat them join them.
“I know we have had a few cases of some rotten eggs in our steward section and each case has been dealt with accordingly,” said Rachier.
Added to this is the sorry state of affairs that the club does not have a shirt sponsor after SportPesa took a walk because the betting company also had a visitation of pestilences from the authorities over the small issues of taxation and licencing.
All these factors have left K’Ogalo hanging on the cliff with fingertips, financially speaking, a situation Rachier is keen on turning around. For one, the seasoned lawyer believes that e-ticketing is the way forward.
“Some people are using the initial problems we faced and now want us to abandon e-ticketing in its entirety. I don’t think this is the right way of doing things,” he said.
I ask if he could consider printing tickets. “Tickets is also a bit demanding. Number two, reason we usually release the tickets for sale just hours before a match is because of the same cartels who have the ability to forge the tickets which means we will have earned no money,” Rachier states.
On this e-ticketing thing Rachier and his AFC Leopards counterpart Dan Shikanda seem to agree that it will provide the lock step and barrel solution to the financial woes facing two of Kenya’s oldest and most followed clubs.
On Friday, Shikanda was quoted in this newspaper calling on Ingwe fans to embrace the e-ticketing technology to avoid crowding at the stadium gates during the team’s home matches.
He appealed to the club’s entire fan base to hitch a ride on the e-ticketing ship.
“I urge all our fans whom I appreciate for their continued support to buy tickets early enough through e-ticketing so as to avoid last minute rush,” Shikanda implored Ingwe’s followers.
Back to Rachier and the Gor Mahia boss admitted that the piloting of the e-ticketing system had seen some expected teething problems, but he was adamant that e-ticketing would, if not totally eliminate, grossly reduce the corruption at the gates and help the club spruce up its dreary looking books of accounts.
As the interview draws to a close I remember the phone conversation we had when we were fixing the appointment Thursday night.
I wanted an early meeting which would free up my time for other engagements. But Rachier told me, “don’t make it too early, you know us Mugabes we are not early risers.”
Then we both broke into laughter.
You see, for the fact that he has stayed in Gor for quite some time — at 11 years he is the longest serving chairman ever — some of his detractors refer to him as Mugabe in reference to the late, long serving Zimbabwean head of state.
The joke ended up being on me when I sauntered into his office Friday morning and found him already seated waiting for me.