NAIROBI, Kenya, September 2- It was one of those matches where you knew football would not make the headlines and so it proved after the crunch Kenyan Premier League (KPL) tie between leaders Gor Mahia and Sony Sugar, dubbed ‘Gor B’ ended in abandonment on Sunday.
Had the heated situation descended into full scale fighting, then the country would now be mourning another stadium disaster since the venue of the derby as well as the security personnel deployed had no chance to cope with the sheer numbers of the Green Army who filled every available space.
The ageing Awendo Green Stadium bore the brunt of the pandemonium in a match where tensions simmered from as early as an hour to kick-off before a controversial K’Ogalo 85th minute equaliser to make matters 2-2 finally ignited the touch paper as chaos reigned unabated.
Its start was delayed by almost ten minutes as officials declined to get proceedings underway until Gor fans who had perched themselves at the groaning roof of the main stand stood down in an ominous beginning that kicked-off the melodrama that lasted for over two hours.
“The verdict is match abandoned due to insecurity. This stadium does not have floodlights and we need to protect everyone including these (pointing at bemused children alongside) future players.
“As you can see, the stadium barriers have been broken and if the remaining five minutes are played, we cannot guarantee the safety of everyone since already, fans have invaded the pitch. If for instance, Gor concede, there will be mayhem” referee boss at KPL, GMT Ottieno said after a stand-off lasting over an hour after enraged Sony players initially declined to take to the pitch for the re-start.
A handful of Gor supporters who were keenly listening to his television interview took exception to the last bit of his statement and after remonstrating with the official, they shifted their ire to the crew whom they told to edit that bit out “since it is shedding our club in bad light.”
“The way forward is the officials, including myself, will submit a report to the KPL and they will rule on the outcome that I cannot pre-empt for now,” Ottieno added.
Gor supporters who travelled from far and wide, took over the stands, as well as the creaking roof of the main stand and after the anti-climax end to the derby, the sagging facility lay in total ruin, wire-mesh perimeter barriers broken, smashed seats all around and even the national flag hoisted in front of the main stand found new owners.
Amid all the disorder, Sony, coached by former K’Ogalo coach, Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno gave the league leaders a good game of football and bar the contentious goal, looked well on course to derail Gor’s title charge with a well deserved win.
Defender Andrew Waiswa planted a header past Gor captain, Jerim Onyango, for the opener in the 21st minute before winger Edwin Lavatsa netted the equaliser just shy of the hour mark with a near post header.
That invited a mini pitch invasion but the jubilant Green Army were quickly brought down to earth when Marwa Chamberi, a constant threat to K’Ogalo’s defence, got to the end of a flowing move for 2-1 three minutes later.
Stunned to near total silence, Gor fans looked on in agony as the clock ticked before centre referee, Nasur Doka and his officials provided an explosive twist to the volatile affair.
Following a failed Sony attack, Gor moved the ball to the left and substitute Patrick Oboya floated in a free-kick that was met with venom by defender David Owino, who unloaded a sweet strike that ricocheted off the cross bar and back to play.
However, Doka, after consulting his assistant, pointed to the centre circle much to the consternation of the Sony players, led by their captain and keeper, Wycliffe Kasaya, who made his feelings known to his opposite number Onyango as well as the linesman that made the call by assaulting the pair.
Following the incident and the melee at the centre of the pitch, Gor supporters uprooted part of the perimeter barrier and poured on to the field enmasse as threats, counter-threats and terse exchanges ensued without spiralling, thankfully, to full blown violence.
“It’s unfortunate that a good game of football has to end that way. We had prepared very well for the match and we managed to out-play them and we could have scored a third in the remaining five minutes.
“It’s a bad day for Kenyan football since at the end of the day, sport is meant to bring people together. Our referees are to blame for the ugly incidents that happen in our grounds, particularly away from live television cameras upcountry,” Sony boss, Otieno lamented.
He was however, quick to admonish his captain for his crude behaviour that only served to inflame the already flaming situation.
“I will talk to him since to be honest, he should realise he is the captain of his team, not the referee. I have never seen such behaviour from him and he should be the first to realise he is a leader,” the former K’Ogalo coach told.
Bobby Williamson, resplendent in a black suit and white shirt, watched passively in his technical area as the bedlam unfolded all around him before slipping away when the game was called off.
“There is immense pressure to win the title for Gor. I don’t read newspapers or watch news since my work is to galvanise my team and give the confidence they can see it through,” he said before kick-off.
It was that strain that was transmitted from the stands to the pitch as Sony went on the rampage, Arita crashing a vicious shot to the cross bar three minutes after the opener with Gor pegged back in their own half as the sugar millers swarmed them with wave and wave of attack.
Sony supporters who made the stadium, including a group of their colourful female supporters, were forced out of their allocated zone at the stadium by the Green Army that also compelled VIPs, including their chairman Ambrose Rachier and the assistant to former Prime Minister, Eliud Owalo, among others to be sat on the dirt track surrounding the pitch as they took full command of the stands.
The wisdom of hosting such a tempestuous derby on a facility that cannot hold itself together will be questioned as Gor fans used the tyranny of numbers to intimidate their hosts who to their credit, did not fold, at least not on the pitch as evident from the relief that swept through the K’Ogalo faithful when they were awarded a late equaliser.
Also, the thin police presence deployed for the game could not have contained the situation had it erupted to full scale violence in yet another recipe for disaster as planning for potentially perilous KPL matches once again comes into sharp focus.
“Everyone here can see that there is no way a stadium as poor as this can contain Gor fans and yet the club continues to be blamed for anything bad that happens in our games. At least today, we did not cause the abandonment,” Gor secretary, George Bwana, sighed.