Growing up in our part of Nairobi back in the day, football was the natural escape for many of us.
Occasionally we would wander off to explore the neighborhood, haggle over who gets to play Donkey Kong or wait our turns for a ride on the only BMX bicycle in our neck of the woods.
Back to football, balls were readily available and we would enjoy the game in all its forms. From “pepetaing” to “chenga funga”, “chobo ngoto” or inter-estate fixtures, there was always a football related activity we partook of, much to the annoyance of our parents and guardians.
Interestingly, our neighborhood was a mix of Luo and Luhya households, which made the football encounters much more exciting.
You see, this was at the height of the Gor Mahia – AFC Leopards monopoly on the Kenyan football scene, something that trickled down to us. It is these incidences that turned me into a lifelong AFC Leopards fan.
I can’t remember an exact date, but I do recall the older boys in the neighborhood, most notably Jeff Ambundo and his siblings running down Ralph Bunche Road chanting, “AFC! AFC!” after victory over their eternal rivals.
Sweet victory, sweet celebration after taunting each other in the run up to this fixture. This, coming at a time when I had become aware of my ethnic identity which pointed me in the direction of AFC!
That was the initial connection, but again, I refuse to blind to the fact that both Gor and AFC were the dominant teams at the time in terms of performance and quality of their squads. Back then, these two sides formed the backbone of the national team, Harambee Stars.
The Gor Mahia squad of the day had the likes of Otieno Bassanga, David Ochieng ,Peter Ochieng , George Otieno, Austin Oduor, Abbas Magongo, Sammy Onyango, Isaiah Omondi , Ben Oloo, George Odembo to name but a few.
AFC Leopards at one time or another had the likes of Mahmoud Abbas, Omar Shaban, John Busolo, Mickey Weche, Patrick Shilasi, Wilberforce Mulamba, John Arieno, and Josephat Murila among others.
These two teams were literally in our faces and drew capacity crowds at every venue they played. It was only natural to pick a side, I leant heavily to Ingwe.
This made for an exciting rivalry with my mates Don Waziri and Okech Ragwar, both Gor Mahia diehards. We would, whenever we had the opportunity, fiercely defend our teams and throw barbs at each other depending on how they played on the weekend. We had scrap books with newspaper cuttings of our favorite teams and players, we were fanatics.
The banter was exciting, probably because the teams gave us reasons to praise and defend them so fiercely. Underneath all, there was a mutual respect too. For instance, when a Peter Dawo- inspired K’Ogalo won the 1987 Africa Cup Winners Cup or when the Charles Gyamfi-coached Ingwe claimed back to back league titles in 1988 and 1989.
Collectively, we were also more than decent footballers, our dreams and ambitions in our pre-teens was to play for our beloved clubs. Those dreams and ambitions, I must write, went unfulfilled.
While our dreams were fading away, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards were coincidentally being knocked off the apex of Kenyan football.
After winning the 1995 Kenyan title, Gor would have to wait until 2013 before reclaiming the title. There was a sense of pride, a feeling of romanticism that came with ending that 18 year league drought.
They have gone on to dominate the league in recent days, their most recent league success taking them to 19 titles, the most in Kenyan league history but more importantly, more than AFC Leopards.
Now if Gor had it bad, AFC went through hell. The last of their 12 (or is it 13?) league titles was way back in 1998. They even had to endure the embarrassment of relegation from the top tier at the close of the 2007 season, earning promotion for the 2009 season.
They were runners up in 2013, a step up from third in 2012, and their best league performances to date since returning from the lower tier.
Gor have laid down the marker in recent years, can Ingwe catch up, even surpass their rivals?
On that front, only time will tell.
One thing remains certain though, the sweetness of the rivalry, banter and camaraderie between both sets of fans.
These two sides can be so much greater than they already are….they know what to do…
Long live Ingwe! Long Live K’Ogalo!