By Bethuel Oduo
In my earlier articles I mentioned that my uncle Josiah Oliech Kwaru was a handyman for Gor Mahia K’Ogalo from the 1970s to the 1990s. He shifted roles so many times that I could not tell what he specifically did for his beloved club. Sometimes during the 1982-83 season break he went out of circulation.
When he re-appeared he had an explanation for his ‘disappearance’. He narrated to us how the newly recruited coach Len Julians had given him and a few others the task of ensuring Abbas Khamis Magongo, George Nyangi Odembo and Peter Zimbo Owade were lured to the Gor Mahia vessel. Nyangi and Zimbo were students at Kakamega High School and also played for Motcom FC, the masters of ‘carpet football’ under coach Chris Makokha.
Motcom FC was believed to be Ingwe’s ‘nursery’ and any player whose origin was Western Province and aspired to join the top-flight league had to go to the ‘big brother’.
Coach Julians wanted Nyangi as a defensive midfielder. The lad was also physically strong and was a gifted dead-ball specialist. Players of Nyangi’s mould and character are rare today. I recall Nyangi’s days with nostalgia when I watch Victor Wanyama play.
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It was easy for K’Ogalo recruiters to get Nyangi since he ‘belonged’ to the Luo community. However, nabbing Magongo was going to be a different ball game altogether.
The fierce rivalry between K’Ogalo and AFC Leopards (Ingwe) was at its peak. Gor had just clinched the Cecafa title in 1980 and 1981, before their local rivals wrested it from them in 1982-1983. Ingwe had a ‘Mr Moneybags’ as one of their top officials and therefore believed they could buy any player in Kenya.
Magongo, a naturalised Kenyan of Tanzanian origin, was a regular with Kenatco FC in Mombasa. His notable teammates were John Arieno Papa, Hesbon Omollo and Douglas Mutua.
Zimbo’s placement became tricky since the ‘scouts’ claimed his football DNA was a mixture of both Gor and Leopards. With that in mind, both teams pursued his signature as he could fit either way without annoying diehard fans. Thus the stage was set for the hunt of Magongo and Zimbo.
Somehow the Leopards scouts did a super job and beat Gor to Zimbo’s signature. The print media was awash with jolly fans appreciating the big catch for Leopards. The race was now on for Magongo.
My uncle told me how they strategised by splitting into two groups. One headed for Kakamega to get Nyangi and Zimbo went to Mombasa for Magongo. Ingwe were taking it one at a time and they started with Kakamega. Big mistake! While they were busy hiding Zimbo, Gor were pursuing Nyangi and Zimbo simultaneously with a team after Magongo in Mombasa.
Gor’s coast scouts met Magongo and tried to get his signature in vain. Apparently he was slippery after getting wind of a better Ingwe deal in the offing. Gor scouts eventually convinced him to accompany them back to Nairobi to meet the club chairman and patron.
They covered Magongo’s trail by booking him simultaneously in Coast Bus, Kenya Airways and Kenya Railways First Class coach. The Ingwe scouts sniffed around and were misled into believing Magongo would use the luxurious Coast Bus. They were dead wrong. Magongo used the train and disembarked in Voi to pick Coast Bus headed for Nairobi. From Nairobi, he was quickly flown to Kisumu and booked into a hotel — in the company of two huge ‘scouts’ to repulse any approach from Ingwe agents. K’Ogalo’s journey towards winning the Mandela Cup had just began.
Years later, the first game pitting Gor at home against El-Mereikh of Sudan was taken to Kisumu. After the Zamalek FC suspension debacle in 1984, the next time K’Ogalo fans saw Magongo in his true element was in this match against the Sudanese. He wore his favourite jersey No 23. In goal for the Sudanese was the flamboyant coal black Ahmed Breima. Yours truly witnessed the beginning of a historical journey. The match ended 1-1. Ironically at that time Len Julians was long gone and the coach was one Jack Johnson, who steered the boys to winning the Mandela Cup.
Rest in peace Magongo; Zamalek, Orieko Paka ywa Tek.