Sports Features of Saturday, 22 December 2012
Remembering the football debacle of 1965 when Ghana thumped Kenya
In sporting terms, last week’s Jamhuri Day celebrations were spectacularly different from those of 1965 when Kenya was a one year old republic. At that time, the sort of record that revisionists could gladly erase from the books given quarter of a chance was set.
Ghana hammered Kenya 13-2. It was a celebration gone awfully wrong but thankfully, it has never happened again although on November 14, 1978 the country came benumbingly near to a similar catastrophe.
Kenya, the new, proud and ambitious republic, had invited the Black Stars to play its national team two friendly matches to mark its first Jamhuri Day.
At that time, the Black Stars were the reigning African champions – a pointer to the optimism and ambition of the newly independent country.
The match took place at the Jamhuri Park Stadium on the afternoon of Saturday December 11.
It was graced by President Jomo Kenyatta. The Kenya team was: Joseph Were, Tom Sabuni, Jonathan Niva, Anthony Mukabwa, Moses Wabwai, Joseph Okeyo, John Rabuongi, Nicodemus Arudhi, William Chege Ouma, James Asibwa and Moses Ambani.
James Siang’a substituted Were between the posts when the score was 8-1 – but I am getting ahead of myself.
Problems ensnared this match before the first ball was kicked. The coach at that time was Peter Oronge, a former Kenya international of great ability. The team assembled at Nairobi Railway Club for briefing but Oronge was nowhere to be found.
Father of Kenyan goalkeeping
That was long, long before the advent of the mobile phone but maybe even if the technology was available, he probably would still have been, as Kenyans are wont to say, mteja. Oronge never explained his disappearing act.
Ray Batchelor was the Rift Valley Provincial Sports Officer at the time. He was also coach of Nakuru All Stars FC, who would become the Kenya Football League champions in 1969.
The FA of Kenya got hold of him as a case of emergency. Batchelor managed to be with team for all of four hours before kick-off.
Today, James Siang’a, the father of Kenyan goalkeeping and for 15 years since independence the first choice for the country, remembers that episode of 47 years ago as if it was yesterday.
“I didn’t start. Joseph Were did. I can tell you for a fact that we were no match for the Ghanaians. They had not broken camp since winning the Nations Cup and as such were totally cohesive. In contrast, our team had hardly been together before the game. They were simply too fast, too strong and too good for us in all aspects.”
The goals started raining in before five minutes were up. Kenya’s horror took the form of a man named Ben Acheampong who was the Black Stars striker. Ten minutes before half time, he alone had shaken the Kenyan net four times. And he was not through with the Kenyans yet.
But this was already too much for President Kenyatta. This week, both Siang’a and Joe Kadenge, who played the much tidier second game, recalled to me the president’s restlessness as the Black Stars ran rings around his boys at will.
According to accounts relayed later to them by people near the President, Kenyatta, close to despair, asked in agony: “Where is Kipchoge to run around with these people?”
Kipchoge Keino was the young policeman who had already attracted superstar status because of his exploits on the track.
Since representing Kenya in the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia, the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan and the 1965 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville, Congo, his fame had spread across Kenya like a dry grassland fire.
He was an authentic hero of the young republic and was practically as well known throughout the country as Kenyatta was. But he was a track athlete, not a footballer, and that detail seemed to escape the Old Man in his moment of distress.
The half time score was 6-1.
Hezekiah Wepukhulu, one of the first African journalists of the independence era and my old colleague, told me he attended that match.
“It was completely lopsided,” he told me. “I don’t even know how Kenya managed to score those two goals. At half-time, I saw the President rise and leave. Like other people, I assumed he had taken a break for refreshments and would soon be back for the second half. But he never returned. And since then, he never went to a football stadium again. That was the first and last time he watched a football match in person.”
That’s entirely correct. Maj. (rtd) Marsden Madoka, once a Cabinet Minister and currently chairman of the Kenya Revenue Authority, did two tours of duty as President Kenyatta’s military aide de camp.
“We didn’t attend any football match while I was with him,” Madoka told me.
But just to be sure, he crosschecked with his wife, Mumbi Madoka, who served Kenyatta for much longer. She was the President’s social secretary throughout his premiership and presidency. She was also sure the Jamhuri Park debacle was his first and last.
Resembled basketball scorecard
Soon after half time, the score climbed to 8-1. But Kenya pulled one back through Wabwai. It was beginning to resemble a basketball scorecard and Batchelor had to do something. But not before observing Were make the ninth trip to the back of his net to retrieve the ball.
Batchelor pulled out Were and sent James Siang’a, the powerfully built youngster who had secured his place in the national team in 1963 because the regular goalkeeper had not shown up and he happened to be around.
“I was young, inexperienced but not overawed,” he told me.
“I think I did a good job in the circumstances. I absorbed my four goals and the game was up. I must say, though, I made some very good saves. There was the abnormal score line – but there were also some outstanding saves.”
Ray Batchelor was a determined man. He believed in all things being possible.
He was one of those White people who believed in the African cause and had thrown his lot with black Kenyans full-bloodedly.
He always wore a cheerful smile – but it was conspicuous by its absence today.
He was red in the face. And yet, there was still Friendly Game Two against the Black Stars in a harrowing two days to come.
Cyprian Fernandes, along with another ace, Polly Fernandes, were the two top-notch Daily Nation sports writers of that era. Batchelor candidly told Cyprian: “Many people told me I was mad to take charge of the team at such short notice. Maybe I am mad but I am a coach and when Kenya needs me, I will do my best. But I am not a magician, nor can I perform miracles.”
He said this while still trying to come to terms with the 13-2 massacre. The prospect of a repeat terrorized him. And yet, it was an inescapable date.
Cyprian Fernandes took on the role of prophet of doom but with good reason. “Kenya face the almost frightening prospect of taking on the Black Stars again at Nairobi’s Jamhuri Park Stadium. Another crushing defeat is the only reasonable forecast after the events of Saturday,” he wrote in the Daily Nation.
Batchelor mulled: “The Black Stars gave us an abject lesson in hard, accurate shooting. This is a lesson our forwards must learn before tomorrow evening.”
His thoughts on the upcoming game gave the best assessment of the causes the demolition job the Black Stars had done on Kenya. And they focussed on that man again – Acheampong.
He said: “My big worry is how to go about controlling their centre-forward Ben Acheampong. He played the role of deep linkman and schemer on Saturday and we had no answer to him.
“If we can crack Acheampong we have half the battle won, for if we can break this Black Stars’ stranglehold on the midfield play it will take much of the sting from their attack.
Total overhaul of squad
“But we must stop Acheampong. He must not be given the chance to rest on the ball. He must not be given a second to figure out how he is going to use the ball. I intend to use our centre-forward, Badi Ali, to police him.”
Batchelor kept exactly nothing secret of how he would go about game two.
“We have decided to change our tactics,” he announced to the people of Kenya and to the Black Stars. I intend to play two men as deep centres in an attempt to snuff out the Black Stars’ midfield menace. Ahmed Breik was told to do this on Saturday, but it didn’t come off.”
On the other side of the dug-out, Charles Kumi Gyamfi, the Black Stars’ coach, was all serenity. Gyamfi – AFC Leopards’ fans, do you remember him? – took his charges to the Nairobi National Park to watch game and take pictures. The Nation reported that they were shooting with their cameras and not their boots.
As Batchelor obsessed about what to do with Acheampong, Gyamfi said his boys were tired. As for the up-coming match, he announced that he was ordering his boys to take their foot off the accelerator.
The Daily Nation, apparently scared for Kenya, described Gyamfi’s words as “a bit of a relief.”
In the end, Batchelor made a total overhaul of the squad that had absorbed the 13 goals.
Whether it was as a result of this, or his anti-Acheampong tactics, or Gyamfi’s ‘easy-boys-easy’ approach, we shall never get to know. But the second result was 3-3.
To Kenya, it was a miracle. But this miracle, if it indeed was, was not big enough to wipe out the 13-2 score-line from the record books.
Roy Gachuhi, a former Nation Media Group sports reporter, is a writer with The Content House