SWILA: Mashemeji derby lost its allure thanks to KPL, clubs ineptitude


Isaac Swila in Nairobi

On Sunday all roads should ideally lead to the imposing 60,000 seater Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani where protagonists and Kenya’s long-term football giants Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards will lock horns in the 88th Mashemeji derby.

The two giants have locked horns 88 times, Ingwe winning 27 of those matches, Gor 29, and the rest of the 31 matches ending in draws.

K’Ogalo have however been dominant in the last 10 meetings winning eight.

In an ideal situation, Sunday’s contest should draw thousands of football enthusiasts to fill the stadium to the rafters.

Sadly, this is unlikely to be achieved as the number of fans likely to turn up will be a far cry from the multitudes witnessed in the golden years gone by in the 1970s and 1980s when the city would come to a standstill whenever the two locked horns.

A number of factors have contributed to this nosedive, chiefly the lack of marketing and proper organization from the league managing body KPL.

In developed nations, football is run as a business and not as a pass-time activity. The football sector is lucrative commanding a multi-billion dollar turnover but unfortunately, in our shores, the league management body KPL, Football Kenya Federation and the leadership of the two clubs have never seen sense in turning the sorry state around.

Take for instance matches involving Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Spanish La Liga popularly known as El Classico, Manchester City and United, or Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the north London derby, tickets are sold months to the game with every seat being occupied on the D-day.

Closer home, in South Africa, the Soweto derby pitting Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates is a must-attend for every football enthusiast in the Rainbow nation.

Across the border in Tanzania, Simba and Yanga SC matches draw thousands of fans. Take for instance their last clash on June 6 this year.

The 60,000 Dar National Stadium was filled to the rafters with some 58,000 souls attending. That is impressive! The end game was a tidy Sh23.6 million made in gate collections!

On the pitch, fans were served with some sumptuous football, the contest ending in a thrilling 2-2 draw.

Borrowing from these examples, time is nigh for our football leadership to change their modus operandi and devise ways of making the Mashemeji derby an attractive venture, not just for fans and corporates, but world football at large.

But first things first.  Fans or the corporate will not fill up the stadium to watch such matches if the ugly faces of hooliganism that has been a constant feature in the last 10 years more-so in the derby is still entertained.

Last year in November, when the two sides locked horns with Gor emerging victorious, hooliganism was witnessed yet again, Ingwe fans uprooting and lob the seats onto the playing surface. What a crying shame!

A yob is seen unfurling a vandalized seat during the Mashemeji derby pitting AFC Leopards against Gor Mahia FC on Saturday at the Kasarani Stadium.Gor won 2-0.PHOTO/Stafford Ondego/Sportpicha

Such primitive acts not only hurt our game, deter corporates from coming on board, but also peg the club’s back in finances.

On the same vein, both Gor and Leopards must streamline their operations and instill professionalism. With just hours left to this match, it’s embarrassing to learn that even as the fans issue the war-cry, the players who are expected to sweat it out for 90 minutes are still unpaid.

Where in the world will a player or an employee give his/her best on an empty stomach?

The clubs, have of course been quick to cite lack of shirt sponsors as the major contributing factor to this scenario.

At RMS Radio Sports Desk we however disagree. This is a cheap and myopic defence that cannot stand the test of time let alone a simple scrutiny.

Simply put, these clubs lack shirt sponsors because of mediocrity in leadership; there is opaqueness. No financial accountability and no systems to point out putting away any well-meaning corporate that may habour the thoughts of partnering with them.

With their huge fan bases, 60 years since they were founded, these two clubs should not be walking around with begging bowls, pleading with corporates and well-wishers to come on board. It should be the other way round.

At Barcelona, Arsenal, Kaizer Chiefs, Al Ahly, Zamalek et al., it is the corporates falling  over themselves  for  space on the team’s jerseys, others opting just to be sleeve sponsors – the end game is mined millions in revenues!

The atmosphere in such matches should be conducive. Yes, noise is needed, lots of it, but positive one aimed at firing-up the team.

So conducive should be the atmosphere that a father can consider taking his teenage daughter to witness the derby, but not a case where a mother, in the company of a teenage son, cringes in shame at the insults being hurled.

That aside, it is our hope that tomorrow’s match will serve up its purpose. May the best side win.

The author is RMS Radio and Citizen Digital Sports Editor

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