The tension at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani was so immense you could actually touch it with your hands. Gor Mahia were staring at history and clinching their first-ever continental title, facing Tunisian giants Esperance in the final of the CAF Cup Winners Cup.
Having drawn 2-2 in the first leg, Gor needed a win or a low-scoring draw to make history. And few minutes into the first half, they got their feet halfway there with Peter Dawo hitting the opener. He did it in a cheeky manner.
“Everyone was shocked in the Esperance defense because they had all assumed me when tying my laces. But I knew to get a goal, we had to come up with something” Peter Dawo
“I was tightly marked during that game. The Esperance players had deployed all manner of tricks to keep me out of the game. Halfway through the first half, we won a corner. I hid myself behind a player and pretended I was tying my shoelaces,” Dawo recounts, in an interview with CAFOnline.com.
“I just kept my eyes on the late Magongo (Abbas) and just as he took the corner, I sprung up to the near post and headed the ball in. Everyone was shocked in the Esperance defense because all they had assumed me doing was tying my lace. But I knew to get a goal, we had to come up with something,” he recalls.
The captain then, Austin Oduor Origi recounts the ‘crazy’ moment.
“Dawo had been really bullied by one Esperance player from the first leg so we came up with a tactic to distract him. We went up to him and the two of us and pretended to be arguing to keep him away from Dawo. It worked, and we scored!”
Despite Esperance equalizing in the second half, Gor held on for the draw for an aggregate 3-3 score and victory on the away goal rule for what up to date stands as their only continental conquest. It was pandemonium in Nairobi as the faithful who had filled the Kasarani Stadium from as early as 10am danced all night long.
Dawo had literally tortured the Esperance defense in the first leg and scored the equalizer with a sumptuous volley from distance after the home side had scored through two penalties.
“I didn’t care where it was headed. I just controlled the ball and took a shot from almost halfway the pitch. It went in! I couldn’t believe it! I think God was just with me. The Tunisians cried in the stadium. They were just saying ‘Peter Dawo not good’. For sure they did not like me,” the cheerful Dawo states.
It was the cherry on top of the cake for the class of ’87 with Dawo perching himself above the rest having scored 10 goals in the campaign. Interestingly, nine came off his head and only that one late equalizer in Tunisia was through his foot.
“It is just the same way people have a strong right or left foot. For me, I have a strong head. Whenever we had a corner, it was equivalent to having a penalty. Even a throw in was dangerous because we had Tobias (Ochola) who was very good with long throws. I just found myself scoring with my head. It was my magic,” he explains.
Ochola, now a Sports Officer with the Kenyatta University in Nairobi remembers the days with nostalgia.
“We knew it was a strong point and we really tried to exploit it. We worked on different variations whether we could take it long or short and to who and we perfected it. It was textbook training ground routine. I was blessed enough to throw well and Dawo was always there with the head,” Ochola states.
It was a great year for the Gor family. Not only did they win the CAF Cup Winners’ Cup, christened Mandela Cup, but also clinched the league title and almost half of the team were starters in the national team when Kenya hosted the All Africa Games, losing 1-0 to Egypt in the final.
“We were a motivated and self-driven team. We would castigate each other when we made mistakes and we pushed each other to work hard. There were no monetary incentives but we played for the badge and because we loved football,” says Dawo, adding that at that time, their winning bonus was just 1.5 US Dollars.
Most memorable game
Despite scoring a goal in the final, his most memorable game was the semi against Benin’s Dragons de l’Ouémé, where they eventually won 3-2.
“We had drawn the first leg away from home 0-0. But it was the second leg that was particularly tough. We were scoring, they equalize and it happened twice. It was almost the 90th minute of the game and we were staring elimination. We won a throw in and Tobias went to take it. It came swinging and I attacked it with so much power and headed it home. We won 3-2,” he recalls.
“I cannot even explain the feeling. Fans were already leaving the stadium, knowing that we were eliminated. But we never gave up and kept fighting. When those who had left heard the few in the stadium celebrating, they all ran back and it was a huge carnival. I will never forget that game.”
Skipper Oduor was suspended for that match and he watched from the stands, almost finishing off all his finger nails, biting with nervousness.
“I couldn’t help myself in that sort of a ping pong game. I was really tensed up especially when the clock was ticking away and they had equalized. I kept shouting from the terraces but when we finally scored in the last minute, I couldn’t contain my joy,” he says.
Ocholah adds; “We had the fans behind us and we really did not want to disappoint. When we got the throw in, I knew that was our moment. I just decided to throw it straight at goal and luckily, Dawo was there to do the rest.”
The three legends agree that their desire to be champions and the push from the passionate fans ensured they made history.
“We did not play for money but we played because we loved the game. All of us wanted to do something good for the team and the fans. Also, almost nine of us were in the national team and not less than six were starting at that point. So we had so much chemistry. We were playing for both the national team and the club and thus our fitness was on point,” Oduor remarked.
“When I signed for Gor in 1986, we only came two of us; myself and Anthony Ndolo. Meaning, the team that had been there before was retained. There was so much chemistry in the team and when we were playing in the league, we would beat teams six or seven goals,” we were unstoppable.
Can Gor Mahia achieve history again?
All three believe that Gor can achieve continental success again, but have called for concerted efforts from fans and management to ensure a return to the glory days.
“Two seasons ago, they reached the CAF Confederation Cup quarter-finals and I believe if things were handled better between players and management, they would have gone farther. If they can put more effort in managing the team well, why not?” Dawo posed.
His sentiments are shared by former coach and captain Oduor who says; “Gor has had a good team over the last three years dominating the league. If more effort is put in, why not dictate the continent too. Of course, it is harder now, but very possible.”
Gor Mahia’s 1987 journey
First round: Gor 5-0 (2-0, 3-0) Marine Club (Somalia)
Second round: Gor 1-1 (1-1, 0-0) Al Merreikh (Sudan)- won on away goal rule
Quarter finals: Gor 4-1 (4-1, 0-0) Entente II (Togo)
Semi-finals: Gor 3-2 (0-0, 3-2) Dragons de l’Ouémé (Benin)
Final: Gor 3-3 (2-2, 1-1) Esperance (Tunisia) – Won on away goal rule