Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards: Brave Hearts

Going to an AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia duel requires a lot of spine. The fans were known to be the leading cause of stone-related injuries in the country and, even though statistics show the trend is slowly taking a dip, you never know when they may decide to rekindle those memories.

If you ask me, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards were formed during a fight between the Luhyas and Luos and in between they decided to engage in a soccer match. Remember how the Spartans in "300" fought in the shade of arrows? I think that's how these two teams played back in the day when soccer was played by real men.

Anyway, I decided to throw caution to the wind last week and headed for the Nyayo National Stadium for a thriller between the arch-enemies. In the company of a die-hard Gor fan and registered AFC member, I felt safe — and figured I could claim allegiance to whichever side that showed promise in winning the stone fest.

The atmosphere was as I expected: electric. How these fans group themselves in the stadium remains a mystery to me. You’ll never find them mixed, ever.

So I found myself a space in the ‘VIP’ section of the arena, the part of the establishment where the ‘neutral’ masses follow the proceedings in their sparkling dark suits and sparkling mineral water at the ready.

Don’t, however, let the suits fool you. They guys can — and will — descend upon you should you be foolish enough to try some nonsense ... like blocking the guy behind you. You only get a warning that lasts a staggering three seconds before you are grabbed from behind and ordered by a hundred guys to put your bum down.

“Ketisha mwili chini buana! Ukitaka kusimama nenda huko!” comes the chorus of barking, angry mouths. Question, where is “Huko”? That’s their preferred dismissal word. You start coughing, “Enda kohoa huko” somebody lets a stinker rip, “Enda nyambia huko” You can’t win against these fellows.

Not even the coaches of either sides dare ignore their demands. These people run the show, including calling for substitutes and ending the match (sometimes in a hail of stones).

If you think rugby has the best cheering squads ever, you have never been to a Gor vs Leopards clash. Man, if you are a hamstrung player in the field, you pray that you don’t lose the match, otherwise you will be eaten alive.

And, speaking of losing, this is the biggest test for the fans. I don’t have a choice team in the Kenya Premier League although I was forcefully given a team, Thika United, after one of my pals announced I didn't support any of the two. Soon, words like “Nyinyi watu wa mananasi mutaenda huko” were being dished out.

I decided to cheer both teams ... but forgot my neutrality when AFC scored. Engulfed in the spirit of the moment, I stood up and clapped long enough for AFC fans to see I was with them, but short enough for the Gor diehards not to notice.

I was still smarting from my momentary lapse of judgment when the stadium started to echo with a supremacy battle between the Luos and Luhyas.
“Obama! Odinga! Oliech!” shouted the Luos, to whom the Luhyas replied: “Musalia! Marende! Mariga!”

Call it whatever call it you may, but this maniac loyalty to one’s tribe is the best display of positive ethnicity I have encountered in recent times.
Most people where I was started finding their way out five minutes before the end to avoid the flying stones trilogy.

There was no sense of order, it was a free environment and I loved every bit of it. That is why, me and the "Mananasi express" (Thika United) will be at the stadium when these two bulls meet again.


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