DIMMING FORTUNES: Gone are the days when a clash between these two teams drew huge interest from fans across the country.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his season’s first leg of the Mashemeji Derby is set for Saturday from 3:00pm at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani. Both teams will be hoping to earn a victory for bragging rights and get more points to help their Kenya Premier League(KPL) campaign.

But most fans will not be as excited as derbies go. The clash has lost the magical touch that would get fans from both sides, even the not so soccer savvy ones, high with chutzpah.

For multiple generations, the Gor Mahia vs AFC Leopards fixture has been the premium match that fans look forward to throughout the season. Previously, the fixture has seen record stadium attendance. No wonder it’s the most prized ticket!

The derby is, however, losing its thrill as Gor Mahia, or K’Ogalo as they are affectionately known, have been dominating it in the recent past as Ingwe’s form deteriorates day by day. Even though they struggled at the beginning of the season, Gor Mahia’s have found their groove and are now at the roof following a series of wins. AFC, on the other hand, have been lurching from one thrashing to the next like punch-drunk boxers way out of their depth, winning only two of their eleven KPL matches.

Gone are the days when fans would start warming up for the derby even over a week prior to the fixture. The date of the match would arrive and everyone in Nairobi would be well aware Mashemeji Derby is lined up for the day. Buses carrying swarms of fans from both clubs would do rounds in the town championing for their clubs to win.

Even those who weren’t interested in football would be well aware that the biggest fixture in KPL history is on the cards. Some businesses in Nairobi would close at match kick-off for fear of the disruption by over-zealous fans.

EYES OFF THE BALL? It appears the dwindling fortunes at the Leopards den have reduced the allure of the derby, which has been fueled by the communal rivalry between Luos and their neighbours, the Luhya, over the years.

In a video on Leopards fans’ Facebook Group, AFC Captain Robinson Kamura told fans that match fixing is not the reason the team hasn’t been clicking.  Kamara told fans that the team does not have a striker with the killer instinct and so they find themselves doing more defending rather than attack.

Judging on media coverage prior to the event, few people are looking forward to the Saturday fixture as the outcome can easily be predicted. Previously, the fixture would be publicized in both social media and mass media.

A clash between AFC and Gor electrifies Nairobi: Watch both fans sharing fish with Ugali

“No player is happy that the team is losing so please stop those match fixing claims. You can go confirm our phone numbers or our people with SportPesa if they are used for betting. We can not engage in such things,” the former Mathare defender said. “For the three years I have been with this team we have not had a striker who we are sure will deliver a goal in every game,” he added.

K’Ogalo and Ingwe are the biggest football clubs in Kenya in terms of history and stature but the former dominates the latter in performance. Although Gor Mahia have the most wins in the derby, AFC were giving them a run for the money and have also won a fair share of the fixtures hence maintaining the thrill of the fixture since 1968. The competition between the clubs, drawn among the Luo and Luhya cultural rivalry, hugely contributes to the unpredictably of the match hence making it more entertaining.

Conceding a goal in a derby is always a bitter pill for teams

The fall of Mashemeji Derby is likely to give way for the emerging slum derby pitting Mathare United and Kariobangi Sharks. The Western Derby that bolsters fixtures between Vihiga United, Nzoia Sugar and Kakamega Homeboyz is also coming up as the KPL gets more competitive.

The Mashemeji Derby plays a key role in Kenya’s football history. The derby has seen incidents that made headlines in the past because the rivalry between the two clubs is unmatched locally.

As fans warm up for the derby, they can only hope that the fixture will produce a spectacular piece of entertainment. One thing remains constant, though: a derby is not the same as any other fixture and does not majorly rely on clubs’ forms to be entertaining.

While their form is poor, Ingwe are well aware that Saturday’s game is a derby and so does their new coach, Andre Mbungo. After all, it’s always a game of (im)possibilities.



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