NAIROBI, Kenya, February 17- ‘King Jerry the saviour’ was the man they all came to see as Gor Mahia touched down from Gabon on Monday night to a heroic reception never witnessed in recent years after booking their place in the CAF Champions League preliminary round against Esperance de Tunis.
And when he appeared, the Green Army faithful who jam-packed the waiting area of the international arrivals broke into rancorous cheer, song and dance to their captain, leader, hero and to some, legend.
Skipper and custodian, Jerim Onyango, or King Jerry to his faithful, achieved the rare feat of saving four, yes four, spot-kicks in their preliminary return leg away to US Bitam as Gor sealed a 4-2 victory on post match penalties after both sides were locked at 1-1 on aggregate after 180 minutes of football.
“It feels great winning away since it’s not easy especially against a West African country where there was a lot of corruption but thanks to the entire team we made it.
“I’m very happy to have assisted my team make it through to the next round after I saved the four penalties which was not easy.” Onyango, who was elevated to almost cult status following his steady hands said.
“The referee made a very bad decision giving Bitam a penalty in the 87th. Welt as if he had gifted them the match but I calmly told the boys there is still time we can make it and luckily, God was with us and we did it,” the Harambee Stars custodian reflected on the defining moment of the game.
Having pulled off the save to send the match to extra-time with his team down to ten men, Onyango then clawed away two further penalties in the shoot-out to secure his team a re-union with the team they made history by beating them in the 1987 Africa Cup Winners Cup (Mandela Cup).
It is a match K’Ogalo were ordained to feature, having navigated the stormy waters of Gabon where all odds, including the apparent hand of the officials, were heavily stuck against them.
Coach Bobby Williamson, perhaps inspired by the sense of destiny told Capital Sport at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport his mission was to lead the club to the lucrative group stages of the top tier competition despite the stern challenge posed by two-time winners Esperance.
“I was not happy with the officials who were biased, they gave out two penalties that were not genuine but our keeper saved both and that was very great, the referee wasted a good game.
“We knew the game will be difficult but we gave our best, especially when our defender David Owino, was sent off after protesting the second penalty. But I’m happy with the boys since they gave their best,” the Scot said.
Recalling the stunning achievement of the class of 1987 as inspiration, he added: “We have two weeks to prepare before we meet Esperence and I know its going to be a difficult match since they are a top team in the continent but I’m sure they also have respect to our team after beating them 27 years ago.
“The boys had a tremendous outing in Gabon and the reception was fantastic but when their fans saw officials were not fair to us, they turned against them and supported us something that boosted our morale.”
Williamson also lauded club officials for ensuring their testing trip went on smoothly.
“They left no stone untouched unlike when I was coaching Uganda where we had to struggle to get into countries and participate in a competition,” the former Uganda Cranes tactician asserted.
On Esperance, Onyango who led Gor to their first title in 18 years last season observed, “It’s a big match and I’m privileged because the last time Gor played them I was three years old. It’s a dream come true and as a team we are going to work together and I’m sure we will make it.”
In spite of being sent off, dependable Stars defender Owino is optimistic the team will perform without him at the back.
“The match was good and the boys tried their best because playing away is not easy. I received a second booking after I protested to the referee following a penalty that he awarded the host which was not genuine.
“He wanted to reduce us so that the hosts can take advantage and it happened but that’s how football is,” the player fondly known as ‘Calabar’ following his man-of-the-match performance during a World Cup qualifier in the Nigerian coastal city last year where Kenya held the Super Eagles to a 1-1 draw described.
Club chairman Ambrose Rachier, who accompanied the team to Gabon called upon CAF to take disciplinary action against the Liberia officials for being biased.
“I have never seen such biased officiating, its like we played against 14 people apart from the match commissioner who was fair. It was intended that they should win that’s why he gave out one penalty after another.
“I have been already contacted by Esperance chairman they should be arriving in Nairobi by February 27. They are a tough team, we have heard about them and we are prepared for the match,” Rachier who is also the Kenyan Premier League chairman stated.
JKIA was a cacophony of song, dance and colour as the Green Army thronged the busy airport w showered praises for Onyango labelling him the savior.
“We have come to receive our players and we are very happy with the way they played. We are ready for Esperance but we are worried for the defence since Owino, picked a red card,” Kevin Owiyo, a supporter expressed.
“I’m very happy for Jerim,who saved four penalties that’s why I have come to receive them. They have already finished the preliminary round and they are heading to a tough stage so they need to work hard in their training and we wish them all the best,” said Anne Achien’g, a K’Ogalo diva.
Gor will host Esperance in their first leg in Nairobi on the weekend of March 1 before a return leg set for a week later in Tunis.
They open their domestic title defence on Thursday against Nairobi City Stars but for now, the party goes on.