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How brothers from tiny Mfangano island saved mighty Gor Mahia from relegation

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Former Gor Mahia Football Club chairman Vincent Onyonyi (left) and his younger Brother Treasurer Allan Kasujaa Onyonyi on October 29th 2023 at Nation Centre.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

Mfangano is a tiny island covering some 65 kilometres square in the heart of Lake Victoria in Suba North Constituency of Homa Bay County.

On a “Mashemeji derby” match-day when Gor Mahia are playing AFC Leopards, the island’s 30,000 inhabitants could fit into the Nyayo National Stadium arena.

Takawiri, Kibwoge, Remba, Ringiti are other small fishing islands near Mfangano, all famed for their white sandy beaches. Mfangano Island has, however, suffered neglect since Kenya gained independence in 1963.

If marginalisation was to be quantified, then Mfangano residents have borne a heavy brunt. It was only as recently as October last year when the Island was visited, for the first time, by a sitting president of the Republic of Kenya.

President William Ruto, who was accompanied by Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga, visited the Island on October 6 and commissioned the improvement of the Mfangano Island Ring Road.

The highest ranked government official to have visited the Island before the President’s tour was the late Professor George Saitoti in 2001, and former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka in 2010.

Former Gor Mahia Treasure Onyonyi Kashujaa(left) and former Chairman Vincent Kashujaa during an interview at Nation Centre in Nairobi on June 9,2020.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

Not even ODM leader Raila Odinga visited the Island when he served as a Prime Minister between 2009 and 2013, despite its heavy support for the opposition leader.

In 2009, a group of professionals from the island petitioned the Ministry of Education to be fair with the setting and administration of national exams because they felt it was unfair to students coming from the area.

The infrastructure was poor. There was not a single tarmacked road in Mfangano, and the only means of transport was walking on foot, or taking a boat ride.

“Eight of us went to Professor Karega Mutahi who was Education Permanent Secretary at the time and complained that the children from the island had not seen a tarmacked road and they were being examined on what they had not seen.

"How would you want a child who has not seen a road to write a composition about a road accident?” posed Kasujaa Onyonyi, a former Gor Mahia official who comes from the island.

Mutahi would then tour the island in a boat, accompanied by a videographer who captured the situation. He then lobbied the government to build a ring road in the tiny island.

That was the ring road President Ruto commissioned to be improved while on his five-day Nyanza tour in October.

Despite the neglect, the island has a place in the history of the country.

It made history in the 1999 Kenyan football season by producing the youngest ever Gor Mahia Chairman and Treasurer, who are blood brothers.

The island has also produced top players for Harambee Stars despite lacking sports facilities to date.

In fact, the first ever Kenyan footballer to go competitively professional in modern times, Zedekiah “Zico” Otieno – who went on to play in Oman in the 1990s - comes from the island.

Custodian Tobias Maira, Tilen Oguta, Francis Odhiambo, Felix Otieno and George “Blackberry” Odhiambo all played for Harambee Stars and Gor Mahia, and all hail from the tiny island.

George “Sollo” Otieno, who won Mandela Cup with Gor Mahia in 1987 and also turned out for Harambee Stars, and Tom Ogweno, an ex-Ulinzi Stars player, also come from Mfangano.

Kasujaa and his elder brother Vincent Onyonyi took over as Gor Mahia treasurer and chairman respectively in 1999.

It was precisely in May 1999 when a group of angry Gor Mahia fans gathered at City Stadium and confronted the club officials then led by Chairman Lesley Okudo

The fans were irked by the poor results the club was registering resulting in a relegation position on the league table.

A sweating Okudo and other officials, try as they did, could not convince the angry fans that there would be a turn around in results.

The upshot

The fans stormed the centre of the pitch and unanimously elected Kasujaa and Vincent as interim officials for the rest of the season.

Kasujaa was then 27 years old and Vincent, 30, as they accepted the role to lead the club even without consulting their families.

They say the family fully supported them when they later informed them of the decision to lead one of the biggest supported club in the region with notoriously demanding fans.

At that time Kasujaa was working as a journalist with Japan-based news agencies Kyodo while Vincent was the area sales manager for USA-based pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca

The duo have a chapter in K’Ogalo’s history as they saved the recently crowned 21-time Football Kenya Federation Premier League champions from relegation with just six matches to the end of the season.

“Lesley Okudo (then Gor Mahia chairman) and other officials were ejected from office because the team was going down.

“Gor were number 16 out of 18 teams and were going to be relegated with only six matches to the end of the season. We managed to win all the six matches and avoided relegation,” adds Kasujaa.

Rough patch

The two brothers talk of the rough patch they went through while rescuing K’Ogalo.

They were drained financially, at one time sold a personal car and failed to spend time with their families as they voluntarily executed their mandate without a salary.

Kasujaa narrated an incident where he had no option but to sell his car to save the situation.

Gor were going to Eldoret for a league match against Rivatex and had exhausted all its resources and Kasuja had to sell his car for Sh400,000 to hire a vehicle to help the team honour the match.

“Apart from selling my car, we travelled for the Rivatex game without a striker because of the politics at the club which had seen some players snub us.

“We won with a makeshift team. Our top goalkeeper had an accident before the match and was in goal wearing a bandage. The players then had the club at heart,” said Kasujaa.

Former Gor and Kenya defender Tobias Ochola “Jua Kali” was the coach then.

The same season, Vincent had to spend Sh350,000 after the team was held hostage in a hotel in Kisumu when they went for the finals of Hedex Super Cup against Mathare United at Kisumu’s Moi Stadium.

“Moments before we left the Rock Motel, we were locked in because of a an unpaid bill from the former office yet fans had filled the stadium and were waiting for us. We turned 'yellow'. I had to dash out and get Sh350,000,” Vincent says.

“What would you tell the fans if we had not gone to the stadium? We had prepared well and had to deliver. Had the situation not found a solution even the hotel itself would have been attacked,” added Vincent.

The two brothers opine that football has taken a great development in terms of infrastructure but says that passion and support to community clubs like Gor and AFC Leopards has since dwindled.

“The fans used to contribute money and give players cash during training sessions.

“The passion is unlike today where only a few fans attend matches. We spent money from our pockets to run the club and we don’t regret it because of the support we got,” says Vincent.

The two brothers feel that despite some minimal infrastructural improvement, Mfangano needs a modern stadium and a lot of talent enhancing programmes to tap a lot of talent.

For Gor, they feel the club is nowadays used by individuals to advance their political agenda and that is why fans should keenly watch those who are aspiring to get into office in the next FKF elections.

“Sammy Merino Owino “Kempes” is the best bet. He has football at heart and is among the players who left a history in the country,” says Kasujaa.