Only a handful of Kenyans like former President Daniel arap Moi (1924) and his Attorney General, Charles Njonjo (1920) were born when two enterprising brothers launched what became Africa’s oldest football tournament in 1926.
Britons William and James Lever were the founders of the soap-manufacturing company, Gossage that sponsored the Gossage Cup between Kenya and Uganda. It was expanded to include Tanganyika in 1945 and Zanzibar in 1949.
The company merged with a Dutch manufacturer, Margarine Unie, to form what is today Unilver. One or several of this company’s products must be just an arm’s length away from you as you read this.
Across 81 years, the Gossage Cup has mutated into the East African Challenge Cup, the East and Central African Senior Challenge Cup and by the names of its various sponsors like Ethiopian businessman Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The competition is run by Africa’s oldest football confederation, the Council of East and Central African Football Associations (Cecafa) based in Nairobi.
In all likelihood, the Lever brothers took their cue from another pair of brothers, George and Charles Hurst, who in 1922 had formed a thriving beer making company they called Kenya Breweries Ltd.
On a hunting trip in 1923, George Hurst was gored to death by an elephant and Charles turned the tragedy into an inspiration, calling the hitherto nameless beer Tusker in his memory.
The tusks that killed George are still meticulously preserved at the Kenya Breweries boardroom, at least since I was last there which I confess is a while ago.
So, if Harambee Stars win this year’s edition of the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup which begins tomorrow, those people who will be writhing and groaning in bed with drums beating inside their heads and craving for a bowl of pepper soup because of their Tusker-induced hangover will be doing so in homage to the memory of George Hurst.
I am not sure if Unilever manufactures any antidote for a hangover.
But will Stars win? I don’t know what to think. The Challenge Cup is always an invitation to feel good.
It is so old that its stories are inexhaustible and there is always something knew. Think about the thousands of players and coaches and officials who have travelled its journey.
They all have a story to tell. Even the departed ones.
There was a time the tournament was all the rage in this region. So successful had it become that confederations farther afield started replicating the idea.
As soon as South Africa rejoined the community of nations after apartheid’s collapse, the Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) was formed.
And with that countries like Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, who had been staunch Cecafa members, took flight. Incredibly, even Tanzania started playing there; they still have one foot in Cecafa and the other one in Cosafa.
Very interesting brothers - they enjoy hedging their bets.
As the years went by, Cecafa fell on really hard times and attracting funding became something akin to stringing a rope around Mt Kilimanjaro and trying to pull it a few metres from its base.
It lost its lustre and the Challenge Cup together with its attractive twin, the East and Central African Club championship, tottered on the brink of extinction.
Fans took their places on tall barstools, ordered Tusker beer, and glued their eyes on television flat screens showing action thousands of kilometres away in Europe.
That is where the English Premiership, the German Bundesliga and the Spanish La Liga were taking place.
Local football became nothing but an object of contempt and stadium terraces, bereft of fans, resembled the ruins of the ancient colosseum in Rome even when league matches were going on.
Yet the Challenge Cup, at least for a certain generation of Kenyans, unfailingly revives sentiments of thick national and regional ties.
However beaten, however famished and however scorned, the old Gossage Cup and its successors still means a great deal to a small and diminishing community of fans who have not given up on the notion that home is best.
This year’s tournament comes at a time when Kenya is more fractured as a society than it ever was in its history.
Whatever crisis it faced before, the notion of breaking it up has never gained as wide a currency as it has now.
This week, the country seized yet another opportunity to widen rather than bridge those rifts when it inexplicably excluded Kisumu from hosting some of the matches.
Here was an early self-presented chance to do what Didier Drogba did for his country when he insisted that an Africa Nations qualifying match in 2006 against Madagascar take place in the rebel stronghold of Bouake in Central Cote d’Ivoire.
Cecafa’s decision to take away the matches from Kisumu is unfortunate and must be deeply regretted.
That region is a bastion of Kenya football. Its contribution to our national sport is second to none. It is the birthplace of Kenya’s most successful football club, Gor Mahia, whose players over almost 50 years have contributed immensely to the legend of the Challenge Cup.
There could have been no better way to start the healing process than to go there. Instead, the country has gone in the opposite direction. Every effort should have been made to include Kisumu in Cecafa 2017.
Peter Dawo, Africa’s top goal scorer in 1987 when Gor Mahia won the Cup Winners Cup and now Kisumu County’s acting Director of Sport, was quoted by Nation Sport as saying they were ready for the tournament and were willing to do whatever it took to assure visitors of safety.
It is a pity that so huge an opportunity representing an aspiration for a unity the country craves, could be rebuffed so casually.
No official reason has been given for not holding part of the tournament in Kisumu as earlier planned. In the absence of that, speculation abounds. If it was doubtful security, who is responsible for security?
If the government is to be believed that it is capable of providing it, then the only plausible reason is punishment for not towing the political line. Our nightmare continues.
Be that as it may, I would like to indulge in a habit, beloved of Fifa and all football fans since the first World Cup was played.
I am naming my Cecafa Best Eleven since 1975. Why 1975? Because it was around that time that I started to know at first hand the players who would later become subjects of my sports writing.
I am aware that some of East Africa’s best players represented their countries much earlier than that.
In fact, some say that the entire Kenya national team of 1963 that defeated Scotland 3-2 to win our Independence Cup could, with a tweaking of three or four positions, be good enough to form a Cecafa Best Eleven.
That team was: 1. Goalkeeper - Bob Erskine. 2. Right back - Nasir Omar. 3. Left back - Peter Wasiembo. 4. Stopper and Captain - Amrani Shiba. 5. Centre half - Noel Maynard. 6. Linkman - Peter Oronge. 7. Right winger - Ali Sungura. 8. Inside right - Daniel Nicodemus. 9. Centre forward - Ali Kajo. 10. Inside left - Zachariah Changamwe. 11. Left winger - Jotham Ngaywa.
Without doubt and with even less calibration, a team that could be picked as Cecafa’s Best Eleven was the entire Uganda Cranes that lost the 1978 Africa Nations Cup final to Ghana’s Black Stars. Indisputably, the Cranes have never assembled a better one.
That team was: Paul Ssali, Ashe Mukasa, Sam Musenze, Jimmy Kirunda, Tom Lwanga, Timothy Ayieko, Abbey Nasur, Moses Nsereko, Philip Omondi, Polly Ouma and Mike Kiganda.
Some people are really enamoured of the squad that represented Kenya in the 1972 Afcon in Cameroon. I never argue with them because they were players and are the most qualified to know.
Kenya ‘72 was: James Siang’a, Charles Makunda, Jonathan Niva, Samson Odore, Steve Yongo, Daniel Anyanzwa, Jackson Aluko, Peter Ouma, William Chege Ouma, Daniel Nicodemus and John Nyawanga.
If Fifa in its enormous wisdom got sufficiently inspired to ask me to name a Cecafa Select of the Modern Era - by which I mean the last 40 years – I would immediately call up the following players:
Malawi: Kinah Phiri, Jack Chamangwana, Harry Waya, Lawrence Waya, Frank Sinalo, Young Chimodzi, Stoke Dandize.
Zimbabwe: Sunday Marimo, Meshack Marimo, Moses Chunga, Joel Shambo, Charles Sibanda, Stix Mtizwa, Friday Phiri.
Zambia: Godfrey Chitalu, Alex Chola, Jani Simulambo, Boniface Simutowe, Peter Kaumba.
Tanzania Mainland: Omar Mahadhi, Sunday Manara, Gibson Sembuli, Peter Tino, Juma Mkabi, Jella Mtagwa, Zamoyoni Mogella, Abdalla Kibadeni.
Uganda: Jimmy Kirunda, Moses Nsereko, Stanley Mubiru Tank, Paul Ssali, Abbey Nasur, Tim Ayieko, Dennis Obua, Philip Omondi.
Kenya: Mahmoud Abbas, Charles Makunda, Jonathan Niva, Bobby Ogolla, Josephat Murila, Steve Yongo, Daniel Anyanzwa, William Chege Ouma, Joe Masiga, Joe Kadenge, Allan Thigo, John Nyawanga, Victor Wanyama.
After subjecting them to training that would leave Jose Mourinho gasping for air, I would name the following players to start against all comers:
1. Goalkeeper, captain and, therefore, Cecafa One - Mahmoud Abbas (Kenya) 2. Right back - Harry Waya (Malawi). 3. Left Back – Ahmed Amasha (Tanzania Mainland). 4. Stopper - Jimmy Kirunda (Uganda). 5. Sweeper - Jack Chamangwana (Malawi). 6. Defensive midfielder – Victor Wanyama (Kenya). 7. Right winger - Joe Kadenge (Kenya). 8. Attacking midfielder – Allan Thigo (Kenya). 9. Striker – Godfrey Chitalu (Zambia). 10. Attacking midfielder – Alex Chola (Zambia). 11. Left winger – Jani Simulambo (Zambia).
Since they wouldn’t allow me into the dugout despite my commendable work and would instead instruct security to escort me to the media centre, I would ask Eckhardt Krautzun to stand in for me.
However you feel at the turn of events surrounding Cecafa 2017, try and get yourself some cheer.