ODE TO MAHMOUD
Updated: Sep 20, 2020
THE SUPERSTAR IS ENGRAVED
There is famous line in Chicago, “This town will have to build a statue in my honour”. International Goalkeeper could as well have said those lines for Kenyan football, but he did not. And just as well that he did not because A great Gor Mahia dazzling midfielder miraculously engraved the “S” for superstar for Mahmoud Abbas and it stuck.
In a top league match at the Nairobi City Stadium Gor Mahia was playing Abaluhya Football Club in the first leg. There were a lot of unsettled business in the tussle for who is the greatest of the two giants. AFC had been the reigning regional champions until two months before this game in 1980 when they hoised GM out of the group games only for Gor to dethrone them in the final. AFC was the reigning national champion who had dominated the league the previous year to win the title at a canter and only losing to you guess who. Yes GM.
GM on the other hand were playing bewitching football and even though they did not win the national league they were the people’s choice and every other person’s other team. What is more? Continentally they were No2 only behind reigning champion Canon Younde of Cameroun. On the way to losing to Canon Younde in that final, GM made the whole world sit up by elbowing out Horoya Conakry of Guinea. All the powerhouses of world football sat up to ask who is this Gor Mahia? These were two teams not only funded by the state but the presidents had a keen interest in the welfare of the team unlike Gor Mahia who were fighting all sorts of intrigues political and otherwise to play football. From teams such as Hearts of Oak of Ghana to FC 105 Gabon; From His Majesty Senge Balende to Arab Contactors; From African Sports of Abidjan to African Sports of Tanga; From Ibadan Sharpshooters to Horseed of Somalia; From Constantine of Moulidia to Dragons FC of Zaire; From Power Dynamos to Dynamos de Fimia, Africa noticed GM. But in Kenya AFC Leopards still had the Indian sign over Gor Mahia. Who was the bigger team?
On this Saturday, both teams had just come from Malawi East and Central African tourney (CECAFA) still smarting from that bruising battle that showed GM prowess in one tie event. GM had been limping badly in same group as AFC and needed AFC to beat their opponents by a wide margin to get them out of the group on goal average as a tie breaker. In the finals game played on a Sunday however GM hunted AFC all over the pitch in 120 minutes and finally nailed the cup in the final extra time 3-2 with teenager Nahashon Oluoch Lule on the tail of the cat.
Back to the national league and this local league match offered everything in revenge. Gor Mahia took the lead in showmanship with a beautiful goal that had even the national broadcaster Leonard Mambo Mbotela celebrating to AFC fans chagrin and bottles came raining down on the broadcasting box and made him duck just in time. Even though AFC overturned the game to win 3-1 with their defensive players Haggai Mirikau show boating with a shama-shama trendy cavacha dance, something bigger than this game happened. The miracle of a superstar was born with non-other than GM supremely talented midfielder Sammy Owino Kempes engraving a “statue” for Mahmoud Abbas with the regular Ziwani fashioned Sammy Owino “S” manoeuvre on the pitch.
Before half time as GM was still leading 1-0, Sammy Owino picked the ball in front of the centre stand from his own left fullback, (Masanta Osoro or Festus Nyakota). Sammy approached the leopards half then evaded the fullback by dribbling the ball away to way towards the centre circle in a soft diagonal crossing to the other flank and to complete the top part of the “S” curve. S for Sammy.
Making a smooth curve dribbling ling at the AFC midfielders, Sammy worked the gears and made for the right side of the pitch seducing the tackles then cutting through the AFC defenders like hot knife on a butter continuously changing between long strides and short ones depending with how far the opponents are. He stroked the ball to the opposite AFC right full back menacingly then changed course like a water snake to approach the right corner of the box. The fullback meanwhile in exasperation got tide in imaginary knots of his underwear and was falling over the touchline but Sammy had no more business with him. He had served his purpose as a peg for Sammy Owino’s S signature engraving.
Sammy business was now with the box. A body shimmer and the spare central defender was off. The other central defenders Murilla and co were waiting for the usual diet of coach Allan Thigo drill for space ball to be attacked by George Yoga wonyAgoro but the space ball that never arrived.
Then Sammy Owino looked at Mahmood Abbas in the eye and said, “Oswayo, we we lala salama”. He shifted the ball to his right then did that Ziwani Umeme shot to the far end. It’s a shot that Charles Ochieng’, Liverpool’s Origi grand dad taught Sammy when they were in Luo Union FC. He had used it in Kampala when Luo Union played Simba in the CECAFA of 1978 in tournament when together with Eric Omonge they bemused the Uganda crowd. It’s a short that you take with the outside of your right foot when almost falling on the ground at an obtuse angle to your left from the far right of the box. Abdalla Bazooka Musa of Luo United was not so adept at it. Sammy Owino left Luo Union before perfecting it. The difficult manoeuvre was to press the ball to the ground as you take the hard shot. Once Charles Ochieng moved to that area, you could bet your house on it that it was a goal, Only that Charles Ochieng would sometimes extravagantly take it like a mule kick instead of the outside of his foot.
This afternoon Sammy Owino after mesmerising the whole AFC team took the shot well to the far corner but he did not press the ball to the ground and Mahmoud Abbas just managed to turn it round the far post. The whole stadium erupted in uproar of appreciation because that was a sure goal that Mahmoud Abbas had just saved. And a Star was not only engraved in the Sammy Owino signature initial of his name. Mahmoud Abbas the superstar was born. GM and AFC fans applauded Mahmoud Abbas. It was a performance that had even the police and referee in agreement. A great move matched by an even a greater solo performance. From that moment onwards Mahmoud Abbas had the respect of all the fans in that especially the hard to convince GM fans that we are watching a special human being.
Even though the 3-1 win was strange, the mazy S signature run of Sammy Owino had been defied by Mahmoud Abbas. And in this business the winner takes it all. Mahmoud Abbas took the whole S to become Mahmoud Abbas the Superstar and he reigned up to when he decided to stop.
Mahmoud was a celebrity before the word reached us from Hollywood stars. In my eyes he was more than David Beckham. DB seduces popularity, seeks popularity and is popular. Mahmoud Abbas was popularity. In affable character that respected all football fans all over the country. Image wise Abbas looked after his body well beyond football training. He had an incredibly well toned body, good physique and girth not easily found among coastal. He was six pack when we were still biceps. He had a Negroid dental structure very appealing with girls (the girls told me I don’t know) He was a coastal yet his hair was just as kinky as 'mutu wa bara'. Well his mother is from Zanzibar and Zanzibaris are a concoction of upcountry people. But surely his physique was not the Nyasaland people of Central Africa. He was too tall for that general race. His bravery in facing opponents is something I can trace from the renowned warring tribes much deeper in Africa along the River Nile. Is Zanzibar not the melting pot or artisans of the likes of Field Marshall John Okello?
I remember talking to broadcaster Matilda Waswa/Tobias Oduori’s Inter- Capitale starlets’ ladies hockey captain who when noticing that Abbas was having his usual sun bathing at the training ground commented “The guy has more than his share of good looks. He has more good looks than one needs to get around, he should lend some out to his team mates”. Mahmoud was a celebrity in every sense of the word. Abbas was a sharp dresser too and exploited his football trips to shop stylishly.
The Man was supremely confident and I remember Hillary Ng’weno gave him a full cover on Weekly Review with the title ‘Superstar Abbas’. I am not sure Henry Rono got anything for his 4 world records.
Mahmoud was supremely confident. His confidence was a tard arrogance that you find in Gem and Karachuonyo clans of the Luo. Even before a big game, when other players were having butterflies, Mahmoud would still be strutting his stuff down town. I say strutting because Mahmoud was never slow, was never hurried he had his pace and you fit into his pace. Long steady strides loping strides as if he was grazing cattle in Nyakach Plateau.
His elegance had no boundaries. Abbas was a sharp dresser too and exploited his football trips to shop stylishly. He was a classic case of walking tall. I remember in a game of Reunion against Kenya Breweries at City Stadium, I bumped into him around 12.00 near Kenya Cinema when I expected him to be at Jamhuri high School training ground. He saw in my eyes the way I was dreading the game and said 'Leo niko sawa kabisa, sifungwi na mutu yeyote, hata own goal sifungwi'. True he was dressed to kill on that day. Hair neatly groomed and he never conceded a goal.
One of his most memorable games that stick to my mind, unfortunately, was when he was still in AFC Leopards. He had a fleeting moment in time and I never tired of telling him about this game. It was a league match and Len Juliens GM were marauding opponents with Four Four Four score lines (except Reunion). On this Saturday GM threw everything at AFC Leopards but Mahmoud stood tall and after young Moses Mulamba had stumbled in a poked goal Mahmoud took over the show.
In the second half he went on to over drive with Gor Mahia attacking towards their fans at the Nyayo National stadium. The more Gor Mahia attacked the more resistance he threw back at GM fans. In the last 20 minutes he razzle-dazzle the fans with two great moves of his own. First a sweeping GM move ended with the right winger facing Mahmoud on one on one with no margin for a cut back. The winger decided to sting Mahmoud with a thunderous shot in his well worked mid riff. Mahmoud who had covered his near post very well stopped the ball by only his left reaching through the net, round the post and tightly holding the ball on to his mid riff and for a few seconds feigning a showboating faint with his eyes closed. Just a brief photo pause visible to the TV camera men and whole fans and the stadium. Then he reached out picked the ball with his right hand to retrieve the ball and re started play.
A second show was when a GM midfield move ended with him facing the breaking midfielder one on one from the attaching right wing. The midfielder seeing no way through tried to lift the ball past Mahmoud’s right. Wrong move again. Mahmoud had a good reach. He did not dive. He firmly and gently gently controlled the ball in his right palm and in the same stroke grasping it tightly the way basketballers do. He then turned to the Gor fans to his right side and showed them the ball as if to say ‘Hey you don’t need the net when I am here’. Mahmoud, Mahmoud, Mahmoud. And GM never threw insult at him. Never even threw the banter meant for other team members. They had nothing but respect for him. And he had nothing but mutual respect for their most fierce fans, GM fans
AT REUNION FC
I worked with him well in Re and he was a supreme motivator and supported me a lot. Magnanimous Mahmoud identified players needs and got them clubs with employment opportunities. At one time arranged for a former coach to get a contract in the Emirates and when things looked rosy in Kenya, he rearranged for the same coach to get another job back in Kenya. I always felt very inadequate near Mahmoud. I always felt that he was too good for Re. That he was doing us a favour by being in Reunion. That he was ashamed to be in Reunion FC where no trophies were won yet he had won a major trophy every year for the time he was at AFC. Incredibly Mahmoud never thought that he was too good for anybody or any club.
True he faced major challenges when he crossed over to Reunion. Systematic nest feathering that he had enjoyed in the big clubs just disappeared. In one of the earlier matches he came face to face with ugly part of bastard refereeing in Kenya. It was a game in Embu and the referee who could not stomach him playing elsewhere or had a score to settle with AFC red carded him. As he was walking the referee insisted that he gets off the pitch at the irate Mount Kenya fans. He obliged and started walking round the pitch. Meanwhile a Mt Kenya fan started pursuing him round the pitch with soda bottle a good 10 or so minutes after he left the pitch hit him on the head where he sustained cuts just behind his ears. It did not deter him and he went on to give Reunion more years than he gave AFC leopards in the process managing to play again for the national team. I joined him as secretary and we became even family friends.
In one moment while watching a video of Zanzibar Moulid celebrations I asked him if he regrets signing for Re. Mahmoud Abbas gave me a sobering reminder that life is not all about success and that success and satisfaction is measured in several ways. At such moments he fondly referred to Re in the real name Luo Union or Luo and sometimes you never quite could tell whether it was Luo the living word or the tribe or the club. “Unaona Sec, Luo ni bahati yangu, nimechezea AFC mwaka hizi zote, lakini wakati nilikuja Luo Union, nikafanikiwa nikaoa, nika nunua nyumba yangu kitu ambao wachezaji hawaja wai kufanya. Kwangu Luo ni bahati, Luo ni bahati. Tafadhali usisahau maishani yako yote, Hii team ni utu”.
I think life runs its own course. I was sitting my primary school exams when Mahmoud was playing in secondary school soccer tournaments. At to the time I left secondary school I was never really a keen football fan. Homa Bay School used to be very good in football when former Gor Mahia's striker Olando Lolwe used to combine chemistry's periodic table with football table as a science teacher. And in that 1972 they met Mahmoud Abbas school and won. Homa Bay did meet Abbas school again in 1973 but in that game Mahmoud refused to let go. In a clash with a Homa bay forward Mahmoud was taken off the pitch to the hospital and lost his front teeth. And he lost the tournament as well, sitting for exams in hospital. By then I was in Homa Bay rooting for Masanta Osoro and Sammy Ndong’a. But I never knew this until one day he showed up at the Jamhuri High school training ground without his dentures and at first fibbed that he had an accident then later explained to me what had happened in high school. I told him that I was in Homa Bay by then. But how did we all end up in Reunion FC in 1990.
After School, Abbas coastal team Mwenge was relegated, so he left Mombasa to come play for Luo Union in Nairobi. Luo Union was in the doldrums of the usual Nyanza Sicilian like diatribe. Dan Owino Executive Chairman and Rading Omolo Chairman General had their Sicilian knives pulled out and Saint Kenneth Matiba the federation was gleefully cheering on. The club was deregistered on a legal technically and spent a year not playing football. Makes me wonder if Matiba could do that just for a football club, what else could he do if he became a president of Kenya. Any way there was no room in Gor Mahia because Gor had Dan Odhiambo at his best supported by Ondieki, Ayuka and David Okello. Kenya Breweries had a chance as their keeper Mohammed Magogo had gone semi pro. And Abbas could join them. But his father said over my dead body will you play to alcohol peddling profiteers.
Then a small window of opportunity came when AFC goal keeper fractured his hand and Abbas was drafted in.
REUNION (the word)
Then my reunion with Abbas, 10 years after leaving Homa Bay and Mahmoud Abbas reunion with Re Union, Luo Union 10 years after leaving Mombasa. Apologies for the tongue twisters, from now on I will use Re to refer to the football clubs, Luo Union, Luo FC, Luo Stars, Luo Rangers Luo United and R-Union.
In an incident I will term as bastard man management the then elegant AFC official just messed things up. Abbas had a business sense. On international trips he could buy clothes shoes, and even football kits then flog to clubs, players or anybody in the football fraternity. This time he came with playing boots that he sold to AFC and to his dismay the officials just did not want to pay him. It was not even a question that wait we are hard up. This official just became abusive. Our hunch is that the club had given him the money to pay Mahmoud Abbas and he had spent on his personal business. To make a long story short, this was the impetus to look elsewhere and by then Reunion had gone to hell and back. Had sensible officials who invested very well in the team. I later joined as an official 4 years after he had joined and the club was in top 5 and I am a better person for his friendship.
Mahmoud and Team Manager Emmanuel Ochieng Opil recognised that I am very green and took to protect me against scrupulous officials and sly players. He especially warned me of the dark murky world of football. The football underworld sometimes called the juju football.
On his success on the football pitch, it was based on practicality. For example, when I asked him why the Harambee stars and AFC struggled where GM found easy, he pulled out a tape of Harambee stars and AFC games internationally. He then asked me, “who wants the ball the ball here. They have to hide in the easy parts of the pitch to receive the ball”.
Then he inserted a cassette of a GM game and said, “look at how GM players are asking for the ball in opponents’ territory. Even opponents will think twice because GM midfielders can handle the ball whether being marked or not”.
And true in 1983, FIFA sent a football technocrat to come and find out why Kenya dominates East and Central but can never make a mark out of the region into the main continent. Soccer technocrat Mowade Wade of Senegal observed that, “Kenya has athleticism and discipline which the other nations around do not have. And when this report is shared, then these countries will physically prepare for games and Kenya will go for generations to instil technical abilities”. And it came to pass.
Did I say as a football player he had no weaknesses? I don't remember me saying that. Mahmoud was very susceptible to a shot below his body like all gangling built goalkeepers. His Luo like girth made grass-cutter shots his underbelly. The first time I watched Francis Kadenge grass cutter leave him stranded from a free-kick. Then Agonda Lukio repertoire of sprints with eyes wide shut followed by a thunderbolt pressed on the ground left him smiling in sweet surrender. Just like Jack Shihul of Scarlet, then Sammy Onyango Jogoo of Gor, The cranes striker at East and central, the Zimbabwe twins. he could not stand a shot to the ground. If you lift in the air like Ugandan Godfrey Katerega loved, then that is starters for Abbas. There was a black player from Libya who toyed with Harambee Stars at the city stadium. The Libyan hero made nonsense of a Mulwa squad then let Harambee off easily at the Nairobi city stadium. At one point Abbas had to literally sit on the ball to stop it going into the net below his body. The 0-0 scoreline stupidly flattered Harambee Stars who went for the return leg which was also televised from Tripoli. Our stars were so inept and hapless that they never received the ball in a threatening position. At one point the Libyan defenders just stood akimbo wondering what was up with Kenyans and what system is this? Again Libyans left it with a slim 1-0 score. Then some bearded official had the audacity to spread the slurs that Mahmoud was seen buying a tv set therefore was bribed. Its the same tv that Gor coach Allan Thigo bought in Cameroon in 1979, the same tv set Gor keeper Dan Odhiambo bought after Gor Mahia lost to Bendel insurance in 1980; the same tv set Gor keeper Tairus Omondi bought after Gor lost to Leopards in 1986. Every time a Kenyan team loses a players tv set is slurred. AFC defender also bought tvs in Malawi in 1980 and 1985. All the goals by strikers James Goro Oronge did not matter as James Goro Oronge had paid by a tv set. And usually it is started by officials and propagated by midfielders and strikers who could not even score an own goal in that very much!
And stupidity of we, Kenyan football administrators was a classical proof that even broken clock is right twice a day. Here is a person who has achieved everything with club and country some times playing with painkillers and sometimes playing while fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan being accused of taking a bribe of a coloured Tv set from the filthy rich Jamahirya Republic of Libya. A country that when the national team was shown a 3 start hotel in Westlands, Nairobi in the first leg did not complain but went to their own 6 star hotel in down town Nairobi at their expense without grumbling because they knew Kenya tried their best even to get that 3 star hotel. Why would they bribe one player with a 12 inch tv set. Then there is the ridiculous issue of Libya giving Abbas a whole conspicuous tv set when three years earlier the Libyan government bought a building right opposite Kenyas intelligence nerve centre, Nyati House without Kenya knowing. And if Jaramogi did not raise hell to Moi two years later,"Wake up our government is compromised", Kenya would not have known. Yes the very maligned noise of Jaramogi that made Jomo Kenyatta president did save Kenya from the hands of Gaddafi spymasters. Why would such a government give a hunch-back tv to a goal keeper only as a bribe then fail to score more than one goal in a game where Kenya strikers/forwards were not even caught offside. Are we Kenya football administrators that that stupid. How did we even manage to win those three regional titles (1981-1983)with that stupidity in the first place? The broken clock must have been right on three occasions during that period. I am still seething for my friend Mahmoud Abbas and for all the football players who have been unjustly accused of taking a bribe to throw away games.
Sometimes Abbas taught things that textbooks do not teach you and you just picked them up as trivia, that:
· That when two teams of equal strength meet, the team with the captain near the goalkeeper usually triumphs’
· At kick-off the team that fluffs their line usually loses
· A lousy goal conceded usually kills a team but a good goal conceded just reforms their resolve.
Mahmoud is known for football more than his business sense. However, I think Mahmoud could join any busy school and teach even a dry course like financial engineering or equity release and still excel.
There was this time he noticed that an ex official ReUnion had disused buses from the Transport company grounded and just wasting away. Of course according to Harvard School business school, the transport economics dictated that the buses that used to ply passenger transport around the lake as Nyachore Bus Services had done their full business life. Mahmoud on his way from attending the burial services deep in Ugenya Nzoia alone for the father of this official saw things differently. He asked this official if he could have the grounded buses. To which the official said yes. Mahmoud came back and approached the upmarket elite school on the rich suburban of Nairobi and proposed that he would tow the bus from God forsaken chang’aa riddled Ugenya and give the school to turn into school buses bus and in return secure school fees for his 3 children. The school discussed the idea as the cheapest way to get a bus. The school then dispatched their own independent auto mechanic to go to dusty Siranga, Ugenya and assess the road worthiness of the bus. With a glowing report of how much more the school will gain for a basic Nairobi school rounds transport the board unanimously accepted the proposal by Mahmoud Abbas. The rest they say is history after Mahmoud towed the bus to Nairobi.
We know how many accountants and B com graduates are churned out of Kenyan universities. We also know how many vehicles are lying in Kenyan government yards. And here was a football star who had never set foot in a business school practically demonstrating financial engineering and Equity release. And for all costing and stock evaluation of FIFO, LIFO, weighted average, asset stripping, sale and leaseback that we are taught in cost accounting classes, no lecturer teaches us that stock or idle assets are the graveyard of any business.
Still Mahmoud was the first to say what my mother told me about “jachuech opogore gi japith, therefore never go into business nyathina. You will never make it because God made you to loose in business”.
Mahmoud Abbas’ reason is that I am a goal keeper at heart, mind and soul. He told me that once a striker faces a goal keeper he can even remove a sweet wrapper from his pocket and throw it and a goal keeper will jump at it. That sort of person is the worst business man.
And I have stayed out of business and may be a good number of my fellow Luos should learn from Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas only regrets is that he did not play at the National team for over a decade like James Siang’a, William Chege Ouma.
It’s over 20 years since I saw my friend but I know wherever he is he wishes me well just like he wishes everybody else.