NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 21 – On the fateful evening on November 11, 2012, when referee Damaris Kimani’s whistle echoed through the tension to signal the end of 90 minutes, the Nairobi City Stadium was turned into a cathedral of mourning.
Midfielder Rama Salim cried and wailed as he tossed himself down on the pitch, the rubber pellets from the artificial turf sticking in tow on his face with tears flowing freely. Other players sat pensive, thinking of the what ifs and why didn’t we.
On the stands, it was pandemonium; screams and wails which slowly turned chaotic were the anti-climax of what was expected to be a great day in Gor Mahia’s history.
Their effort at quenching a 17-year wait for the Kenyan Premier League title was thwarted right in front of their eyes, on a day when they though that Canaan was finally in sight.
Heading into the final game of the season, they needed to beat Thika United and care less whichever result Tusker FC picked at Hope Centre against City Stars.
But, they were held to a 1-1 draw by Thika while in Kawangware, Robert Matano’s Tusker sailed to a 3-0 victory, clipping the title right under Gor Mahia’s sail. The dream was broken.
-Journey home was long
Gor Mahia’s skipper then, Jerim Onyango remembers the day, eight years ago as if it was yesterday. In a tell-it-all interview with Capital Sports, Onyango has revealed just how much that loss affected him.
“The journey home was very long. I couldn’t sleep that night. I shed tears. It was such a heartbreaking day. But I am thankful for my wife and kids because they were there for me, encouraged me and told me it was not the end of the world,” Onyango who joined Gor in 2008 said.
The words ‘corner taken quickly’ are not only synonymous with Liverpool’s miraculous comeback against Barcelona in last season’s Champions League, but would also resonate with Onyango, nicknamed Jerry Ja Goal by the Gor faithful.
Wycliffe Opondo quickly took a corner down the left, playing it through to Francis Kahata who swung in a cross that Onyango spilled right in Kennedy ‘Agogo’ Otieno’s path, the latter gleefully tapping it home.
Rama Salim would unconventionally take Gor level late in the second half when he guided Moses ‘Dube’ Odhiambo’s deep searching cross past Lucas Indeche with his back, but it was too little too late. There would be no winner.
“It was so sad because we were expectant of clinching the title, but football is a game of mistakes and it’s a learning process. It was a bad day in office, being a keeper and the captain. Guys had so many expectations and by bad luck drew the match, Gor had been waiting for 17 years and fans’ expectations were so high, drawing that much killed their morale,” Onyango notes.
-Worst career moment
That ranked as Onyango’s worst moment in a career.
But like a stung lion, Gor would use the pain and agony of 2012, quenching an 18-year wait for glory in 2013 and going on to win it three times in a row.
“We sat down as players after that match and we agreed that we should put that pain behind and use the disappointment to win the title the next season. We agreed that we will win it, retain it and keep it. That is what we did. I can say losing it in 2012 was a blessing in disguise,” Onyango explains.
“As a captain I was relieved and it gave me so much joy to have led the team to the title. This is one of my highest moments at Gor,” notes Onyango.
The joy was sweeter for the custodian who had joined Gor at only 19 years from Ushuru where he had spent two seasons having joined them straight from Rambula Secondary School.
He had been part of the James Siang’a dream, the veteran tactician having invested in a very toung squad when he took charge in 2008 and they were handed a rude awakening the following year with five-star beatings in continental football.
-Fans to be patient
“The late Siang’a told the fans to be patient because the vision he had would materialize in about for years. His words came true because we won the league in 2013,” says Jerry.
The keeper ultimately called time on his career after the 2016 season, a decision he said he took painstakingly as he was only 29 years.
“It wasn’t an easy decision. Not only my family but the entire Gor fraternity didn’t take it lightly. But for me I had made up my mind because I had achieved all the targets I had set. I won the league three times with Gor, I was named the best keeper in 2013 and I also played for the national team. I saw it as a good time to start my coaching career because I was still strong,” Onyango explains.
He went on to work with the Gor Mahia Youth Team as the goalkeeper trainer cum team manager and also soon found his way into the Harambee Stars Under-17 side.
He says he likes the experience so far and has not ruled out the dream of one day coaching Gor Mahia.
“I am currently just concentrating on being a goalkeeper coach but I have done a general CAF License C certificate which also makes me eligible to become a head coach. I can’t rule anything out so let’s see how the future looks like.
Jerim Onyango’s Gor Mahia best XI:
Jerim Onyango; Geodfrey Walusimbi, Karim Nizigiyimana, David ‘Calabar’ Owino, Musa Mohammed; Khalid Aucho, Geoffrey ‘Baba’ Kizito; George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo, Jacques Tuyisenge, Kevin ‘Ade’ Omondi; Michael Olunga.