The year was 1997, there was live football on the national broadcaster KBC with John Nyongesa and Bernard Otieno as your TV commentary team. Their on air banter and analysis was legendary stuff.
This was a time when Peter Kenneth was chairman of the Kenya Football Federation and AFC Leopards, under the chairmanship of Francis Chahonyo was coached by the Sierra Leonian Abu Koroma.
Why, you may ask, has AFC Leopards’ been invoked in this script? We will have to revisit the events of Friday 10 October 1997 to find out why.
Leopards, a team with a decorated history on the local and regional front were up against Eldoret KCC in the final of the Moi Golden Cup, the premier knockout competition for Kenyan clubs.
With their biggest competitors Gor Mahia, Kenya Breweries, Mumias Sugar and Rivatex who had all won the competition in recent years all falling by the wayside…this was a game they were expected to win.
Heck…the multiple league champions came into this clash having won the cup competition 6 times before, the last of these successes coming in 1994 when they silenced Kisumu Posta 3-0 in the final.
They had earlier in the year (1997) claimed a fifth East and Central Africa Club Championships title with a 1-0 win over Kenya Breweries courtesy of James Kayimba’s strike and had just a few weeks before this final exited the Confederation of African Football Cup at the quarterfinal stage, bowing out 3-2 on aggregate to Uganda’s KCC. They were up against the milkmen from Eldoret who were preparing to play in their first major final.
On match day, the isikuti drums reverberated around the Nyayo National Stadium much to the delight of the Leopards fans gathered and waiting for victory. It was expected that they would be louder after full time on that routine celebratory post match victory jig to Nation Center in the middle of Nairobi’s CBD.
This was not to be!
Eldoret KCC had other ideas. Mark Sirengo’s goal on 13 minutes gave them the lead before Francis Oduor equalized for the favorites from the penalty spot three minutes to half time.
It remained all square until the 72nd minute when Sirengo grabbed his brace in spectacular fashion, that half volleyed finish booming past the Leopards keeper Ben Ouma for a 2-1 lead. A gem of a goal from a gem of a player who would later feature for the national team Harambee Stars and play for other clubs during his career including Mumias Sugar, Simba (Tanzania) and Western Stima.
By the time Francis Xavier added a third goal after 82 minutes, the Leopards had surely been tamed, many a fan in the stadium consigned to burying their heads in their hands while those watching on TV and listening on radio found other things to do.
The pounding wasn’t over as Tom Rero added a fourth goal on 85 minutes, heads sinking further, TV channels changed and radios switched off.
Eldoret KCC had done it…they had tamed the Leopard and served them milk.
For the Leopards fans, it was a defeat painful too to swallow but pure joy for the Eldoret fans and the neutrals.
It was an amazing result that saw them crowned the Kenyan cup champions that year. They would reach the final the following year, losing to Mathare United…that in itself is a story for another day.
How they lined up on the day
AFC Leopards: Benard Ouma, Eric Mbwabi, Francis Oduor, Paul Ochieng “Kunde” Francis Barasa, Hassan Sessay (William Masumbuko), Eric Ochieng “Cantona”, Maurice Sunguti, David “Deo”Odhiambo (Philip Ouma), James Kayimba (Fred Ambani)
Eldoret KCC: Alfred Oliech, Salim Babu, Anthony Shikubu, John Maina, Ken Ambundo, David Chumba, Dennis Ochieng “Chweya” (Francis Xavier), Wilberforce Kilibwa, Franklin Obare, Tom Rero, Mark Sirengo
-with additional statistics from Patrick Korir