Return of Zamalek, with all the memories of a great future gone by

The announcement on Monday that Gor Mahia will meet Egypt’s Zamalek next weekend in their first match of the Caf Confederation Cup group stage has some fans who last went to a stadium to watch local football more than 30 years ago preparing to return. That is what they are telling me. The clock has come full circle and suddenly, the air is thick with anticipation.

I can understand them. Of all of Gor Mahia’s prospective opponents, Zamalek are in a class of their own. They were the accident that happened on the road to a first continental title that many believed were at hand.
Len Julians’ team of that time had many qualities that a side challenging for a major championship seeks: talent, teamwork, motivation and the backing of millions of fans scattered in the four corners of the earth.

Zamalek occupies a special place in the psyche of Gor Mahia supporters that I don’t think even Tunisia’s Esperance, whom they defeated 4-3 to claim their first and only African title in 1987, can match. The legend of Zamalek begun early in 1984. It is a famous club in Egypt that became a person in Kenya. Zamalek is to its great rival, Al Ahly what Gor Mahia is to AFC Leopards in Kenya, Yanga to Simba in Tanzania, Asante Kotoko to Hearts of Oak in Ghana and Orlando Pirates to Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa. Blood rivalry.

A loss by one to the other results in health complications for their truest fans – although this is probably doubtful in the Kenyan situation today where Gor Mahia has become dominant. (I will write about this terrible development soon.

If, in the misty future, an occasion will present itself for Gor Mahia Football Club to document its history, the player who went to Egypt and returned home with a new name will merit more than a passing mention.
Before March 1984, club fans knew him as Abbas Khamis Magongo. He was a native of Tanzania. He migrated to Mombasa and after a while acquired a Kenyan passport.

After March 1984, his name became Abbas Khamis Magongo Zamalek. For a long time, we sports journalists put his Zamalek name in quotation marks. But, like team mates such as Peter Otieno Bassanga, the nickname became the real name with the passing of time

Magongo was a quiet, affable man who let his artistry speak for him. He was also a contradiction in terms on the football field. The enormous work he put in as a defensive midfielder was out of all proportion to his slight frame. And so were the cannonballs that flew off his thin legs. He was an exciting player to cover and I delighted in the days when he was in the famous green shirt.

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