On December 5, 1987, the Moi International Sports Centre in Kenya's Nairobi, was full of enthusiasm.
Gor Mahia fans held their breath in a tense, prestigious Mandela Cup (Africa Cup Winners’ Cup) final against Tunisia giants Esperance.
In attendance was the man whom the facility has been named after -- President Daniel arap Moi -- who is being buried Wednesday at his home in Kabarak, Nakuru County, in the Rift Valley.
The events which unfolded on the material day are still fresh in the mind of the then Gor Mahia captain Austin "Makamu" Oduor, who is among the few surviving members of the K’Ogalo team (Gor Mahia) which conquered Esperance to lift the Mandela Cup that year.
Gor Mahia remains the only Kenyan club to have won a continental cup, and Oduor is happy that it happened during Mzee Moi’s administration because of the President’s love for football, and sports in general.
The former Harambee Stars central defender, who also captained the national team from 1988 to 1990, was handed the continental trophy by Mzee Moi after K’Ogalo and Esperance drew 3-3 on aggregate (2-2 in Tunis and 1-1 at Kasarani), with K’Ogalo winning on the away goal rule.
KNEW EVERY PLAYER
Oduor spoke extensively to Nation Sport about his interaction as a player with Mzee Moi, a man whose support he believes enabled the club to excel in the domestic and continental competitions in the 1980s to late 90s.
According to Oduor, Gor Mahia's performance had been on the rise from 1983 and the club had been winning titles in the years that followed, an achievement he says endeared Mzee Moi to the club.
The Head of State would, on many occasions, turn up to watch their matches.
“Mzee Moi loved Gor Mahia and since we were excelling on the pitch, he knew each and every player by name. We made numerous trips to State House and he motivated us though sometimes he would give out money which sometimes disappeared in the hands of officials who called themselves mediators,” said Oduor.
He recounted how President Moi greeted the team at Kasarani before the Esperance duel’s kick-off and told them how the assignment before them was achievable in front of thousands of fans who had filled the stadium by 8am that day for the evening kick-off.
“The stadium was lit and when we came from the camp, we found President Moi and Robert Ouko, among other dignitaries, seated.
“He came to the pitch with match officials, greeted us and told us it was possible to achieve the important win which eventually came,” said Oduor, who is now a civil servant.
The former Kenya international recalls vividly how Mzee Moi and other dignitaries celebrated Peter Dawo’s goal that sealed the trophy for K’Ogalo.
He recounted how Moi removed his cap and celebrated the goal as Ouko knelt down and said a prayer, adding that this showed how passionate he was in ensuring K’Ogalo won the trophy on home soil.
Asked how he felt as Mzee Moi handed him the trophy after the victory, Oduor said Gor Mahia players had gotten used to meeting the President following numerous visits to State House and he is happy they didn’t disappoint by clinching the Mandela Cup at home.
Mzee Moi would later honour the team by inviting them to State House where they were handsomely appreciated, although they received part of the money a year later after some unscrupulous officials disappeared with part of their token.
He also awarded Dawo the prestigious Head of State Commendation (HSC) for his stellar performance.
Oduor praised Mzee Moi saying he loved sports during his entire period at the helm, and seldom did the national team or a Kenyan club miss continental assignments due to lack of funds.
Gor honoured some of the continental matches through government support.
And when Gor played Egyptian giants Zamalek during the Africa Cup (now Caf Champions League) qualifiers, Oduor recalls the President supported them before they were given a two-year ban from the continental scene in 1984 after skirmishes ensued during the infamous clash.
“Makamu” also said Mzee Moi’s love for success was evident when he gave Gor Mahia and arch-rivals AFC Leopards parcels of land to build their stadiums and training grounds.
Moi called on the two clubs to set up their facilities on the land as a way of remembering his generosity.
Oduor calls on the government to invest in sports as Mzee Moi did, saying President Mwai Kibaki’s administration and the Jubilee administration have not done enough to uplift football standards in the country.
“Moi was a leader who liked sports and demonstrated this by building stadiums to uplift the standard of sports.
“Since he left office, sport has deteriorated. We have really lost a legend and a true sportsman,” Oduor mourned.
This article was first published in the Daily Nation.