NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 25 – For the fifth time in six seasons, Gor Mahia once again totally dominated The Kenyan Premier League, showing superb form to clinch the 2018-19 title for a record extending 18th crown.
While Gor dominated the league, coastal side Bandari FC clinched the Football Kenya Federation shield title for a second time to qualify for the CAF Confederations Cup.
From financial difficulties to thrills and action on the pitch, Capital Sports takes a look at the local club football scene and how it all went down in 2019.
Financial difficulties: SportPesa exit
The decision by gaming firm SportPesa to close their business in Kenya proved to be a fatal blow to Kenyan sports especially football with a huge dependence on their financial backing.
SportPesa announced their exit on September 28 after a tussle with the taxman and the government and this proved detrimental to the league, and two of the biggest clubs; Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.
The league suddenly shook to its roots, exposing its lack of sustainability without the sponsors especially with Pay TV partners SuperSport having folded their equipment two seasons ago. The referees could not be paid and the normal operations of the secretariat were almost collapsed.
It has not only been the league managers struggling, but both AFC and Gor have literally stretched out the begging bowls on the streets.
The two clubs have struggled to pay salaries for their players with strikes and sit-ins being the order of the day. AFC have already lost their skipper Soter Kayumba to Rayon Sports due to non payment of salaries while midfielder Tresor Ndikumana has also asked to be released.
Gor have seen Gnamin Yikpe cross over to Yanga, though the Wanajangwani are more or less on the same financial page with K’Ogalo.
SportPesa’s exit had a ripple effect with most of the clubs facing tumultuous financial times.
Sony Sugar were demoted from the top tier after dishing out three walkovers with their parent company unable to bankroll their football activities. They failed to raise enough money to transport them to games and the league managers had no choice but to send them to the second tier.
For a promising side that finished fifth last year, it was sad ending to a beautiful story.
Chemelil Sugar are also on the brink and are just one game away from relegation if they dish out another walkover.
Sofapaka had struggled for the longest time after their sponsors Betika reduced their sponsorship significantly, but were given a huge shot in the arm when the betting firm unveiled a new deal that has seen the club gain stability by a good margin.
Everton visit Kenya
Before SportPesa made their exit, they ensured the visit of a top English football club when Everton visited in July to play Kariobangi Sharks in a friendly match.
Sharks won the friendly game on penalties at a fully packed and sold out Kasarani Stadium.
They won the right to play Hull CIty after winning the third edition of the SportPesa Cup in Dar es Salaam, beating fellow Kenyan side Bandari FC in the final.
Top Everton players like Theo Walcott were in the country for the match and it gave Kenyan soccer a huge platform to advertise itself to the rest of the world.
Gor dominate KPL again
Despite having a packed up calendar that included increased matches in the CAF Champions League, Gor Mahia were no match to anyone in the Kenyan Premier League.
K’Ogalo clinched the title with two matches left when it was mathematically impossible for second placed Bandari to overhaul their overall lead on the apex.
They went on to clinch the title with a 12 point buffer, accumulating 71 points from 34 matches; winning 21 of them, drawing nine and losing only four.
For Bandari, it was their best ever performance in top flight league action as they finished second, much thanks to an improved and result oriented team set up by Bernard Mwalala.
The 2019-20 season started in August for the first time in the top flight history as the country conforms to new requirements by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA.
It was Gor once again who took all the plaudits for Kenyan teams in continental football on a year that two seasons have been played in the same calendar year.
Gor made history by progressing to the quarter finals of the 2018-19 Confederations Cup after that famous 1-0 win over Petro Atletico with Jacques Tuyisenge scoring the lone goal at the Kasarani Stadium.
They would have made further history by breaking into the semis but lost 7-1 on aggregate to eventual finalists RS Berkane. The drama surrounding that much off the field was all that derailed Gor from achieving history.
Late travel to Berkane meant players arrived in the Moroccan city only a few hours to the match and without proper rest or pre-match feeling of the pitch, Gor were thumped 5-1.
Coming to the return leg, the drama took another twist when players refused to train and were ultimately ‘begged’ by coach Hassan Oktay to come to the stadium and honor the match, one they ended up losing 2-0.
In the 2019-20 season, Gor dropped out of the Champions League in the first round and went into the play-off round of the Confederations Cup where they fell to DC Motema Pembe.
Kariobangi Sharks represented Kenya in the 2018-19 season of the Confederations Cup and lost out in the play-off round to Asante Kotoko.
Bandari took over Kenya’s slot in 2019-20 and reached the play-off round, but couldn’t get past the experience of Guinean giants Horoya who beat them 5-2 on aggregate.
The dockers won the ticket to play at the Confederations Cup after sealing their second Shield title following a victory over Sharks in a final that was played in two days.
The first game was called off in the second half due to rain with Bandari leading 2-1. The game resumed the following day, July 2, with the dockers scoring one to win the tie 3-1.
Since that loss, Sharks have not been the same and are currently struggling in the KPL.