Why AFC must sing a new song as they seek to restore lost glory

Football
By Rodgers Eshitemi | Mar 26, 2024
AFC Leopards SC fans cheer their team against Ramassa FC from Spain during their Friendly match to mark the AFC Leopards 60th-anniversary celebrations at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi on March 24, 2024. [Stafford Ondego, Standard

Though AFC Leopards SC have been starved of Kenyan Premier League title for 26 years, the club still remains one of the bedrock of Kenyan football.

Most of the fans who turned up for their grand 60th-anniversary celebrations at Nyayo Stadium on Sunday literally don’t know what winning a Premier League title feels like as they had not been born when Tanzanian gaffer Sunday Kayuni guided Ingwe to their last league title in 1998.

But the hype and electric atmosphere at the Nyayo event that was graced by President William Ruto, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and Sports Cabinet Secretary Ababu Namwamba clearly demonstrated Ingwe is still a darling of many people.

Other dignitaries include Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja, Bungoma Governor Kenneth Lusaka, Kisii Governor Simba Arati, Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna, Westlands MP Tim Wanyonyi, Makadara MP George Aladwa and Shinyalu MP Fred Akana.

Evidently, the club has set the bar high through their well-organised two-week-long celebrations that started on March 12 in Shauri Moyo, Nairobi, at the home of Israel Mutoka-one of the founding fathers of the club.

However, even as the club reaped big from the festivities after receiving over Sh17 million from President Ruto and the other dignitaries, there’s little to celebrate about in terms of trophies, and structural and management development of the oldest club in the country.

Over two decades of decline have seen AFC Leopards slump from the glory days of the 80s and early 90s. Leopards don’t own either a training ground or a stadium, and they have gone soft and lost the fear factor throughout the continent.

Augustine Etemesi (L) of AFC Leopards SC contest for ball with Seret Purificacion of Ramassa FC from Spain during their Friendly match to mark the AFC Leopards 60th-anniversary celebrations at Nyayo National Stadium in Nairobi on March 24, 2024. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

They are well behind the likes of their age mates Simba SC, Yanga, Zamalek and Al Ahly in all aspects; these are teams they used to beat at will in the past.

President Ruto donated Sh10 million, Mudavadi contributed Sh1 million, while Namwamba and Sakaja offered Sh2 million each. Lusaka and Arati donated Sh1 million each with Sifuna giving out Sh250,000. “I’m happy to be part of AFC Leopards’ 60th anniversary celebrations. Congratulations on your 60th birthday. There’s no way the history of Kenyan football can be written without reserving a chapter or two for this great club,” said Ruto.

“I want to thank all those who help us manage some of our oldest clubs in the country like AFC Leopards, Gor Mahia, Tusker, Shabana, Bandari, Posta and others. Since I have graced Ingwe birthday, I have brought you some gifts.”

In a heartwarming nostalgic moment for both AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia fans, the legends from both sides took to the pitch in one of the testimonial matches of the day reminding them of the rivalry they had in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

Having watched Reginald Asibwa-led side stun Gor legends captained by Bobby Ogolla-captained Gor before the evergreen Charles Okwemba and Bernard Mang’oli schooled visiting Spanish-side AE Ramassa (4-3), the onus is now on the current management and playing unit to restore Ingwe’s lost glory. In other matches, AFC Leopards Ladies drew 1-1 with Kisii Queens and 0-0 with Gor Mahia Queens before AFC Leopards’ main team also drew 1-1 with both Shabana and Gor Mahia.

AFC Leopards’ fan in their match against Kariobangi Sharks during FKF Premier League match at The Nyayo National Stadium on Sunday, Feb 4, 2024. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

While the current crop of players should take a leaf from the club legends, the management must leverage the goodwill of the government of the day to turn around the fortunes in the den.

“It pains me a lot to see AFC Leopards struggle to win the title. 26 years is a very long period for a big team like Ingwe to go without lifting the Premier League title. I hope the current squad reignites the winning culture at the club,” said AFC legend John ‘Shoto’ Lukoye.

“As you know, community clubs are the pillar of our football. AFC Leopards have set the bar high through these celebrations, and we hope the current players can win something for their fans. Without AFC and Gor Mahia there’s no football in Kenya,” added Gor Mahia legend Bobby Ogolla.

To ensure the club restores its past glory, and becomes sustainable and independent, both President Ruto and former club’s patron Tim Wanyonyi have endorsed Ingwe’s plans to go corporate.

“We celebrate that the team has reached this momentous occasion still playing in the Premier League, and we hope after the 60th birthday, we are going to become one of the best teams in the continent. We are looking for ways of how we can model this team not to depend on individuals, but to be able to make money from other sources," said Wanyonyi.

“We want to bring the fans back to the stadium. This stadium used to get full whenever AFC played no matter the opponents. Once we attain that, I’m sure the team will be able to sustain itself, and sign any player we want. “

“Corporate model is the way to go for AFC Leopards because the team has to sustain itself. We must find a way for how this team can generate its income, not relying on donations but getting income from other sources including subscriptions. We want to hit a million plus registered members of the club and that alone can run the team.”

Ingwe@60 Anniversary Friendly Results

AFC Leopards Ladies 1-1 Kisii Queens

Gor Mahia Queens 0-0 AFC Leopards Ladies

AFC Leopards Legends 1-0 Gor Mahia Legends

AFC Leopards 1-1 Shabana

Gor Mahia 1-1 AFC Leopards

AFC Leopards Select 4-3 AE Ramassa

 

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