All is set for ‘Mashemeji Derby’

Saturday, January 28th, 2023 05:10 | By
Gor Mahia FC Head Coach Jonathan Mckinstry ahead of their game in Nairobi's Kasarani Stadium. PHOTO RODGERS NDEGWA

Battle lines are drawn in the 95th Mashemeji Derby between Kenya’s perennial adversaries Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards at Nyayo National Stadium on Sunday.

The first Derby of the 2022/2023 Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Premier League match has been the talk of most towns in the country, especially Nairobi which is the setting, amidst heated banter between a section of the two club’s fans. The last time the two met was during the commemoration of the 53rd Madaraka Day last year when K’ogalo prevailed 6-5 on penalties over Ingwe to win the Cup after the teams were deadlocked 1-1 in the regulation time of the match played at Nyayo. 

Granted, the pressure will be on Leopards to register maximum points as they have not beaten Gor Mahia in their last seven matches with the best result against their rivals coming in the 1-1 draw in the first leg of the 2017-18 season.

Gor won the reverse match 1-0 and since then, it has been heart-break after another for Leopards as efforts to turn the tables have proved futile.

However, the latest league statistics favour Leopards who sit at the seventh position as they have won their last three matches which is a great improvement for a team whose last downfall was a 2-1 beating by Wazito on January 14.

 As for third-placed Gor, they have dropped a single point in their last four fixtures and will be angling at a win to pile pressure on Nzoia and table-toppers Tusker in the pecking order.

Leopards Deputy Coach Tom Juma, who has played many Derbies both as Gor and later Leopards player, has expressed optimism about the big cats breaking the jinx of playing second fiddle to the Green Army and noted that the resolve is there to make sure that happens.

“It will be tough but trust us to give Gor pound for pound. My players will be going into the game with a lot of enthusiasm and determination.  We have psyched ourselves and have put the right things in place to make sure we end this disturbing spell of indifferent results against our nemesis. We are ready and will not be surprised to carry the day,’’ he said.

With both sets of fans waiting for the match with bated breath,  several things need to be put into perspective for perusal by a layman

Gor and Leopards are Kenya’s most popular clubs and matches between them are considered to be one of the most fiercely contested in Africa.

In a nutshell, it’s a football game which brims passion and electrifying moments amongst their fans.

The Derbies between the two are akin to those of Simba and Young Africans (Yanga) in Tanzania, Sports Club Villa and Express (Uganda), Rayon Sport and Rwanda Patriotic Army (APR) in Rwanda, Al Hilal and Al Merreikh in Sudan, Township Rollers and Gaborone United in Botswana,  Caps United (Makepekepe) and Dynamos (DeMbare) in Zimbabwe, Al Ahly and Zamalek in Egypt or Mbabane Highlanders and Mbabane Swallows in Eswatini.

Mashemeji is literally a moniker meaning ‘in-laws with the Derby acquirIng the name owing to the close cultural ties between the Luhya  – whose majority support Leopards, and Luo who are predominantly Gor supporters.

These are feisty rivalry matches with overzealous fans of the two teams marking their calendar early enough in anticipation of when their favourite teams shall face their rivals amidst banters which make it a must-watch for football fans.

The rivalry developed into an intense contest owing to the success of both teams on the pitch even though Gor  – now with 19 Premier League titles – have been more successful than Leopards, who have 12 – of which the last was won in 1998.

On the other hand, Ingwe, as Leopards are fondly referred to, registered more success in the 1980s than their Mashemeji rivals, as they were Premier League winners in 1980, 1981, 1982, 1986, 1988, and 1989, but managed to lift the title only twice during the 1990s; in 1992 and 1998.

In contrast, Gor Mahia registered more success in the 2000s, as they have been Kenyan champions in the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2018–19, and 2019–20 seasons. In the 1980s, they were only victors in 1984, 1985, and 1987 as AFC Leopards registered unprecedented achievements.

Both clubs have had trouble with their fans, who have always registered their anger with confrontations which at times lead to Police lobbying tear gas to disperse them.

In 2011, for instance, the FKF Cup quarter-final game was abandoned after Leopards fans violently protested – by pelting the assistant referee with objects – after Gor Mahia scored from a superb combination between Moses Odhiambo and Moses Otieno.

K’Ogalo, after Leopards forfeited the game and the 1-0 score line was allowed to stand - went on to win the cup after beating Sofapaka. This achievement gave them the ticket to represent Kenya in the Caf Confederation Cup.

Just for the records, Gor and Leopards have met 94 times since they first locked horns on May 5, 1968, with K’Ogalo winning 33 encounters and Ingwe securing 28 victories with 33 encounters ending in draws.

Incidentally, these two clubs have living legends that have varied opinions on who shall prevail over the other after 90 minutes of play.

George Sunguti, one of the legends to have featured for Gor and Leopards during his heydays, said the fact that both teams are in a rich vein of form is why the match is unpredictable.

 “Both teams have good sets of players who are assets to the playing units.  The fact that the league has been of fluctuating fortunes by most teams is why I think the Derby can go either way,” observes Sunguti who is the Head Coach of the Nairobi County football team.

Former Leopards winger Kevin Ateku, who also featured in a number of Derbies before quitting the games, strongly feels that the team which shall take its chances shall prevail in the match.

“Football dynamics have changed and you may find a team that is on top of their game losing to a minnow and vice versa. But if you may ask me, I expect a draw,”

Gor Mahia legend Swaleh “Oswayo” Ochieng, who featured for the team in the historic 2-0 win over Leopards in the 1985 Cecafa Club Championships final in Sudan, feels that the current domineering form by K’ogalo could be advantageous to them in the Derby.

“Gor are currently at the top of their game and I fail to see why the team should not get something in the match,” said Ochieng.

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