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The Kenya Derby is here

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 22 – The biggest league game in the land is going down on Sunday at Nyayo National Stadium when Gor Mahia host archrivals AFC Leopards.

Since the week started, all the talk on sports media has been dominated by the impending derby that is steeped in rich history, almost as old as domestic football, as K’Ogalo and Ingwe faithful talk up their intentions to do one over the old enemy.

While the fixture has grown to embody the essence of Kenyan football, the dark shadow of witchcraft, hooliganism and mortality has stalked this fixture for decades and in the run-up to the latest installment of the derby, both camps have rightfully urged restraint among their passionate supporters.

“This will be a battle of leg to leg and we urge our fans to be at their best behaviour. We have taken strict measures to assure the security of all those who will come into the match,” Gor chair, Ambrose Rachier, said.

His opposite number, Alex Ole Magelo supported, “We call on all Ingwe faithful to come out in their numbers since there are enough tickets but we shall work with our brothers to ensure they do not get involved with violence.”

Despite constrained resources in the country’s security personnel, some 300 police officers will be deployed to maintain law and order both inside and within the visibility of Nyayo National Stadium that has over the years, staged dramatic and memorable matches featuring the pair.

Some of the memorable games at the second largest sporting cathedral in the country include the 1979 Kenyatta Day Cup where Gor won 1-0 courtesy of a Sammy ‘Jogoo’ Onyango screamer that left the then Kenya One custodian, Mahmoud Abbas clutching thin straws in the 32nd minute.

The goal delivered after Onyango left Patrick Shilasi for dead entered domestic football folklore after Abbas claimed sighting two balls moving like serpents which blighted his vision hence his inability to judge which way to dive.

AFC turned the tables at the 1986 league decider when with Gor leading 2-0 courtesy of an Onyango double, Ingwe clawed the match back to 2-2 before Patrick Shim scored a late winner with the ‘help’ from K’Ogalo’s Tirus Omondi in a bizarre second half that prompted Leopards faithful to pour to the streets in raptures as champions.

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In the aftermath, Omondi and his team mate Abbas Magongo were suspended by Gor for taking cash to throw away the match.

Gor and AFC were the biggest teams on the land during that era and their supremacy extended to regional and continental competitions with the former winning the 1987 Mandela Cup that remains the only Africa success for a Kenyan club to date.

But the economic meltdown of the 1990s that hit the self-supporting clubs hard in the pockets coupled with management wrangles and boardroom wars led to both teams falling off the rails and to the abyss in the mid 2000s when they took turns to be relegated.

The advent of the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) and a returned to streamlined running of domestic top flight clubs gave both adversaries a new lease of life and in three years, their fervent supporters have reciprocated by making their fixtures a bedlam of noise and colour.

With a cessation of claims of black magic, bribery and sabotage taking a backseat in recent times, supporters have opened new frontiers in their age old rivarly to new frontiers with both sets of fans taking to the cyber space to open new frontiers to their age old rivalry on social network sites Facebook pages and Twitter.

“The AFC chairman said and I quote regarding Sunday match…”The leopard is hungry,it needs to fed.”…And I say, Kenya right now we are experiencing drought, so Sunday be ready coz their is no humanity food coming around from GOR…lol,” Asha Kwama, a Gor fan posted on their club’s Facebook page.

“Guys We want Gor Mahia to go Viral worldwide on both Facebook and Twitter this weekend, All u have to do is just update your Facebook and Twitter with the two words GOR MAHIA repeatedly till Sunday, pass this to all K’Ogalo Followers,” another Gidi Gidiola (Joseph ‘Gidi Gidi’ Ogidi) wrote.

Monicah Wanjiru posted, “Dear Ingwe family thank you for making me feel im part of this great beautiful family, thanks for all your birthday messages. I hv dedicated one birthday wish for a win against Gor. I DONT NEED A BIRTHDAY SONG ON SUNDAY JUST THREE POZNAN DANCES! So boys do your thing , i pray for victory,” on AFC Leopards Facebook branch.

Another Leopards diehard, Miltone Reyes, “Ndani ya mchuma (inside a bus) UBUNGO BUS from SHINYANGA non stop to ARUSHA before connecting by AKAMBA to Nairobi. Sunday by midday Tutakuwa wote (we will be there).”

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With Kenya Derby now firmly back to the spotlight thanks in no small part to the entry of SuperSport, the broadcast partners of KPL who beam the matches live to the continent, the clubs have benefited immensely from the craze.

In the last two months, Gor and AFC launched their replica kit prized at Sh2,800 and Sh1,500 respectively but a spot-check by Capital Sport found that most retail outlets in Nairobi had ran out of stock.

Only one retailer at Nairobi’s Tom Mboya Street/Moi Avenue junction had the prized green Gor jerseys but the price had hiked to Sh4,500.

But ghosts of the past die hard and last October, Nyayo hosted another televised tension charged Gor vs AFC clash where sadly, seven fans lost their lives in a stampede minutes after kick-off.

The incident led to a major security review that led to postponement of the tie on three occasions before all parties involved agreed enough security guarantees were in place to give it the go ahead.

Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno, the former Gor full back who was their last captain to lift the league trophy in 1995 will lead the green machine to face the old enemy hoping to seal the three points that are crucial to his side’s title ambitions.

On the opposite dugout, 70-year-old Dutchman Jan Coops, will be leading Ingwe, who were described by their chairman, Ole Magelo as, “The Leopard is hungry, it has not been fed for days and it will be fed on Sunday,” to the fixture where they are aiming to steal the match from their rivals to resurrect their own title push.

With only a win in six matches, AFC come to the fixture as the slight underdogs but whenever the two sides meet, the form book is torn to shreds.

New Gor recruit, Demonde Selenga and his opposite forward Jimmy Bagaye joined the limited class of players who have donned the two teams’ jerseys.

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Whomever scores against their former side will be a the hero on one end of the stadium and the pantomime villain in the other adding more spice to the already hyped game.

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