Thrills, spills at Kasarani, and the vital lessons from Hull match
- On June 7, 1997, the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani was packed to the rafters, when Harambee Stars played Nigeria's Super Eagles in a World Cup qualifier.
- In over two decades later, an English Championship club, Hull City, would pull the magic again of gathering Kenyans to full capacity in the stadium in an international friendly on Sunday.
- Meanwhile, Hull Partnerships Executive Andrew Stead has told Kenya to focus on better FIFA ranking, if more Kenyan players are to play in England.
On June 7, 1997, the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani was packed to the rafters, when Harambee Stars played Nigeria’s Super Eagles in a World Cup qualifier.
On that memorable occasion, it was easy to pick the centre of attraction in the match. The Super Eagles’ ‘golden generation’ featuring the likes of former Arsenal star Kanu Nwankwo, Daniel Amokachi (Everton), Sunday Oliseh (Juventus), Taribo West (Inter Milan), Victor Ikpeba (Monaco), Austin Okocha (PSG) just to name a few, were in town.
Although the late German tactician Reinhardt Fabisch had orchestrated a ‘football revival’ in Kenya, especially in the qualifiers, where Kenya’s hopes of making it to the the 1998 World Cup finals were nipped in the bud in their last match away in Abuja, Nigeria, the passionate Kenyan fans still defied every odd, travelling from every corner of the country not just to cheer their stars but to also catch a glimpse of Kanu and his ilk do their magic.
Also in the cross-hairs then was Kenya’s football poster boy Mike Okoth.
It ended in a 1-1 stalemate, the late Ken Simiyu and Jonathan Akopoborie scoring for Kenya and Nigeria respectively. They said, David had conquered Goliath, even in that draw!
In over two decades later, an English Championship club, Hull City, would pull the magic again, gathering Kenyans to fill the stadium to capacity in an international friendly on Sunday.
Gor Mahia, who fell 5-4 to Hull City in post-match penalties after a barren draw in regulation time, have not previously in over three decades filled the 60,000seater facility to the rafters, not even the crowning moment in the wake of their 2013 league triumph, the first in 18 years.
Just before kickoff, fans besieged the ticket vendors opposite the Safari Park Hotel , desperately agonising for the vital card, a development not to common in this part of the world.
The match organisers had printed 30,000 terraces tickets going for Sh. 100, and 5,000 for the main stand section retailing at Sh. 1,000.Thus, upon exhausting the terraces ones, the vendors resulted to combining ten fans to buy one VIP entry at Sh. 1000, but could not help the situation yet. The numbers were just overwhelming.At long last, they had to budge letting the gates open for all in sundry.It was simply remarkable!
Inside the stadium, the atmosphere was electric to say the least. From exhilarating Mexican Waves, so rare in local matches, to organized songs and rhythmic claps, Kenyan fans showed there is something inside them that is always reserved for football’s big day .
Yet, there was neither Liverpool’s Mohammed Salah visiting, nor Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero. Not Manchester United’s Alexis Sanchez, or Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane was in town.
Reckoning that Gor’s CAF- Confederations Cup opponents USM Algiers were preparing to jet to Kenya as the Kasarani temple shook with the football worship; trumpets and drums, it was a big loss to the Kenyan giants who will have to return to the same venue on Wednesday to face the mighty Algerians.
Dylan Kerr’s charges gave everything, sparing no effort against the Algiers, but in the marketing perspective, a big lesson was learnt.
Proper planning, marketing and involvement of every stakeholder can bring back the fans to the stadia.
“I know some critical questions are being asked about the timing of this match, moreso when Gor has a lot to handle in the local and continental cup. This was the only time Hull City was available for this great experience, and we had no other way. We have demonstrated that we can do marvelous in organising big matches and the football is loved in Kenya, but people want a nice product,” one of the organisers told Citizen Digital after the match.
He continued: “Media partnerships with the organisers was key, online marketing was amazing and the entire build-up was well sold, until you want to go and have first experience.”
Opportunities for applying the lessons learnt are just around the corner, both for the national team and clubs, with the test of the local fans fidelity to Gor coming again on Wednesday at 7:00pm, in the Algiers match.
Meanwhile, Hull Partnerships Executive Andrew Stead has told Kenya to focus on improving its FIFA ranking, if more Kenyan players are to play in England.
“The talent here (in Kenya)is amazing. The problem is FIFA ranking. You can’t just take a player directly to England unless they go through various leagues in Europe like Belgium or Scotland.
“There should be a deliberate effort to see Kenya up the ranks, to make this easier. Victor Wanyama has demonstrated to the world what Kenya can offer,” he said.
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