Having worked as a television football correspondent, presented a number of sport themed radio shows as well as writing for football programmes and other publications on the game, it has long been an intention of mine to experience a match in the Kenyan Premier League.
I finally fulfilled this long established item on my Kenyan bucket list when Gor Mahia manager and fellow Brit, Dylan Kerr, generously invited me to join him for the potential league winning fixture against his team’s bitter rivals, AFC Leopards.
Arriving at the Sportsview Hotel, just round the corner from the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, I met up with Dylan who was just finishing his lunch.
For someone whose team could be about to clinch the domestic championship, he was incredibly relaxed and laid back. However, with hindsight, this could have been at least in part to the faith he had in the team he had selected, despite resting a number of key players.
Dylan has played for a number of instantly recognisable world famous British clubs …. and Blackpool.
Starting his career, at Sheffield Wednesday, he has also laced up his boots for Leeds United, Reading, Carlisle United, Kilmarnock and Doncaster Rovers among others. Since retiring as a player, he has coached in the United States, South Africa and Tanzania, where he guided Simba SC to a top three place. He was appointed head coach of Gor Mahia following a stint as under-18 academy coach at Chesterfield.
Dylan’s passion for the game is infectious and he has clearly built a team which is not only well disciplined and drilled, but also one which plays together as a team. He has also clearly benefited from the experience of coaching in different countries, and the biggest mystery to me is why he has not yet to be given the opportunity to use his knowledge of the game to lead a team in the English or Scottish leagues. However, I’m sure it won’t be long before he is given an opportunity back home, although in my opinion this would be a big loss to the Kenyan game as the manager is clearly popular with players and fans alike.
We were taken on the short drive to the Kasarani Stadium by one of his players, after Dylan’s car was found to have a flat tyre, and on arriving at the ground, the first thing to hit you is the passion the supporters have for their team.
A cacophony of sound, colour and dance surrounded us as fans streamed into the stadium and their enthusiasm is infectious. You can’t help but be swept along with the carnival atmosphere of the pre-match build up.
We took our seats towards one end of the pitch, putting as much distance between us and the away supporters as possible. As Gor fans joined us, it was clear that white faces at these matches was a rarity as I was asked for selfies by some of the very welcoming set of supporters who immediately made me feel at home.
Calls of “Hey Mzungu (white man)!” came from behind to get my attention for friendly chats and welcomes, although one supporter who had a dislike for Donald Trump seemed to think I was American and wanted to express his dissatisfaction with the President, until he was corrected about my nationality.
Unlike matches in the UK, fans could drink alcohol on the stands although some had clearly over-indulged leading to a handful of self-inflicted injuries during the game, some more serious than others.
Once the match got underway, Gor took control and were two goals up before the break, a score that remained the same until full time. However, after the second goal went in, Leopards’ fans began ripping the plastic seats off and throwing them like Frisbees towards the pitch. Thankfully, the running track round the pitch ensured none got close to the playing area, but it was still quite a sight to see.
Police entered the away end and the home fans around us began asking those stood pitch side to fill up water bottles from a tap conveniently located in front of us. I was told this was in case the police ended up firing tear gas at supporters.
The trouble escalated with fans arming themselves with stones and a clinking sound behind me alerted me to a couple of supporters armed with metal bars, although how they got them into the stadium puzzles me to this day.
Despite the unrest, I have to add that at no point did I feel at risk or likely to be harmed. The Gor Mahia fans were incredibly restrained and the pitch invasion at the end seemed to dissipate the liklihood of problems occurring outside the ground.
It was great to witness Dylan’s team clinch a well deserved title and to the Gor Mahia fans who made me feel so welcome and part of their supporter family, I’d like to say a big thank you.
You turned this mzungu into a Gor fan and I will be hopefully joining you again some time in the near future.
For anyone living in the UK, Gor Mahia will be playing in a friendly match against English Premier League club Everton in November.