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Untold stories about Gor’s 1987 Mandela Cup win

League champions Gor Mahia’s victory at the 1987 Mandela Cup has over the years elicited many myths.

That year, K’Ogalo became the only club from the East African region to win a continental title. Like most legendary fetes, volumes of stories go untold, or fade out with history and are at times completely forgotten.

One thing most people do not know about that campaign is that Gor Mahia’s plane crash landed in Togo while the team was on the way to Benin to play against Dragons L’Oueme.

It was a rainy December in West Africa. The weather was unsuitable for flying, as it was raining heavily and it was terribly foggy. The pilot could not see the runway lights and after circumnavigating the airport five times, he decided to gamble and land.

“The plane was running low on fuel and the pilot had to act fast. By the time he realised he had overshot the runway it was too late. Fortunately, there was a lot of mud that slowed down the plane and it eventually stopped,” says legendary Gor Mahia defender Tobias Ocholla.

Gor players spent the night in Lome and the next morning they received intense counselling before being informed they would use the same aircraft to Benin.

Plane safety

“At first we refused, but they managed to convince us that they had serviced the plane well and we had nothing to worry about. We got to Benin safely and held the Dragons to a barren draw,” says Ocholla.

During the return leg, Gor won with an aggregate of 3-2. Having twice taken the lead, K’Ogalo appeared on course to win before Dragons equalised with just 15 minutes left. The team got the sinking feeling that they were out on the away goal rule.

“We knew it was all over, until Peter Dawo did the unexpected when we were awarded a throw in. What happened was unbelievable, he scored through a throw in. Thousands of dejected fans who had left the stadium ran back,” says retired defender George Otieno Solo.

K’Ogalo went on to beat Esperance of Tunisia in the final on the away goal rule after they had drawn 2-2 in Tunisia, and 1-1 in Nairobi.

Another untold story from the same year is that the then office bearers made broken promises led by chairman Oyieng Odolla.

Empty promises

“The chairman pledged that if we beat Esperance in the final, we would all be given land in Githurai, which was a major motivation as most players were not well off,” says Otieno.

Aside from the land, the players were also assured of improved transport and allowances starting from 1988. Their allowances were Sh40 for transport and an additional Sh40 per training.

“In 1988 we were promised Sh300 for every win and Sh150 for a draw,” says former Gor defender Tobias Maira.

Successive offices blamed their predecessors for not fulfilling the promises and this demoralised players who eventually stopped chasing their dues.

“We were frustrated when we tried asking for our pay and the land. Each new chairman blamed his predecessor and we gave up,” adds Maira.

Some of the 1987 legends feel the club forgot about them as soon as they stopped donning the green jersey that once spelt terror to opponents on the continent.

“Last year, I went to the City Stadium to watch a match between Gor and Mathare United, and the treatment I got was humiliating. First, I was forced to pay at the entrance, and nobody cared about the contribution we made to the club. You will never see AFC Leopards Legend Joe Kadenge paying to watch a match involving the team,” Solo says.

The legends feel they deserve better treatment from the Gor administration. Many of the retired players are languishing in poverty after many years of service to the club.

“Recently, Julius ‘Awilo’ Owino, a former captain and stand-in coach, left the club empty handed. Wouldn’t it have been fair to host a testimonial match and donate the proceeds to him after he retired ?” poses Solo.

He says many retired players live in slums because of financial constraints and it’s a shame considering the part they played for club and country.