Why nostalgia is a dangerous thing at AFC Leopards

AFC Leopards striker Arthur Gitego (down) is assisted by teammates Kayci Odhiambo and Victor Omune after suffering an injury during their FKF PL match against Tusker at Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos on March 10, 2024. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

Gone are the days when the entire village would gather around the old “SANYO” radio to tune in to an Ingwe match, conjuring vivid mental images through the commentary that remains deeply ingrained in our memories.

Whenever AFC Leopards was mentioned, I would become fully captivated, disregarding any other tasks while my parents eagerly recited the names of renowned players, influenced by my intense interest in the game. As the club celebrates its 60th anniversary, the festivities remind us how the Ingwe of the past years transformed our weekends.

I recall listening to the late Bill Omala and Nick Okanga Naftali on Idhaa ya Taifa or Voice of Kenya (VOK), now Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). Bill Omala, Nick Okanga Naftali, and others made listening to the radio a rewarding experience whenever Ingwe clashed with their eternal rivals Gor Mahia, Shabana, Kenya Breweries (now Tusker), Eldoret KCC, Bandari, Kisumu Posta, Bata Bullet, Rivatex, Transcom, Scarlet, and others.

Among the ranks of AFC Leopards, there were standout figures that were always mentioned by fans, such as Washington Muhanji, Mickey Weche, Wilberforce Mulamba, John ‘Shoto’ Lukoye, William Inganga, Dan Shikanda, Patrick Shim, Wycliffe Anyangu, JJ Masiga and many more. This lineup of players consistently delivered goals and trophies when it mattered most.

The tangible energy among Leopards supporters was unmistakable as radio waves surrounded them, with crowds filling every conceivable space. Even amid the bustling throng, clusters of fans remained glued to radios, eagerly listening in. The rhythm of Isukuti beats accompanied by horn melodies heightened the lively atmosphere surrounding Ingwe matches. This immersive auditory experience brought each match to vivid life, sparing fans the need to seek out results later. The flawless delivery of outcomes by the team’s skilled players remains a treasured memory that still resonates with us.

AFC Leopards Joe Masiga takes on Rio Tino's left full back Graham Boyle in East and Central Africa Championships match at City Stadium in 1982. [FILE]

 Back then, the notion of defeat was foreign to Ingwe fans; no one wanted to entertain such thoughts around AFC. This conviction made everyone, including myself, in our circle, believe that Leopards was invincible, hence our unwavering support.

Came a time in 1993, when the Leopards surrendered the national league title to Gor Mahia and were knocked out in the initial stage of the Champions Cup by the Zambian side, Nkana Red Devils. To Ingwe fans, it was puzzling to see their team suffer a defeat considering their dominance over most opponents in the league. Leopards had dominated the league from 1980 to the early 90s.

Unbeknown to us at the time, the challenges faced in 1993 marked the inception of AFC Leopards’ title-drought, causing anguish to its fans. For five years, the club grappled without securing a league title. This ordeal had adverse repercussions on the club’s financial stability, as a significant portion of its fan base shied away from the team, dampening the players’ spirit during crucial matches and hindering success in various aspects. Additionally, securing a viable sponsor became an arduous task amidst these difficulties.

Subsequently, despite concerted efforts by the management to assemble a team comprised of youthful and experienced players, the club fell short of lifting the title. Notable figures such as coach Reuben Malola (RIP), Walter Amagadu, Patrick Masinde (RIP), Joseph George Atitwa, Abubakar Iddi, Joseph Adach, Mike Obonyo, Tom Meja, Patrick Naggi (TM), Peter Owade Zimbo, Ken M’maitsi, William Inganga, Sebastian Andulu, Richie Mades, Omar Shaban, and coah Jack Johnson (RIP) were part of this endeavor.

During this time, the team found success in other competitions, notably winning FKF Cup (Moi Golden Cup) in 1994 and the CECAFA Club Cup in 1997. This triumph was achieved with a rejuvenated squad featuring the likes of Francis Baraza, Omari Banza, David ‘moral’ Odhiambo, Bernard Ouma, Erick ‘Cantona’ Ochieng, John Magwe (RIP), Thomas ‘Gazza’ Juma, Morris Sunguti, James Kaimba, Wycliffe Jumba, Nicholas Muyoti, Austin Makacha, Simeon Mulama, Aggripa Nyanje, Philip Ouma, Eric Mbwabi, Boniface Ambani, Fred Ambani, Paul ‘kunde’ Ochieng, Hassan Sessey, and Francis ‘Killer” Oduor. This massively talented squad ultimately clinched what ended up to be the club’s last Premier League title in 1998.

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