In Summary
  • Only a handful of Kenyans like former President Daniel arap Moi (1924) and his Attorney General, Charles Njonjo (1920) were born when two enterprising brothers launched what became Africa’s oldest football tournament in 1926.
  • Britons William and James Lever were the founders of the soap-manufacturing company, Gossage that sponsored the Gossage Cup between Kenya and Uganda. It was expanded to include Tanganyika in 1945 and Zanzibar in 1949.
  • The company merged with a Dutch manufacturer, Margarine Unie, to form what is today Unilver.

Only a handful of Kenyans like former President Daniel arap Moi (1924) and his Attorney General, Charles Njonjo (1920) were born when two enterprising brothers launched what became Africa’s oldest football tournament in 1926.

Britons William and James Lever were the founders of the soap-manufacturing company, Gossage that sponsored the Gossage Cup between Kenya and Uganda. It was expanded to include Tanganyika in 1945 and Zanzibar in 1949.

The company merged with a Dutch manufacturer, Margarine Unie, to form what is today Unilver. One or several of this company’s products must be just an arm’s length away from you as you read this.

Across 81 years, the Gossage Cup has mutated into the East African Challenge Cup, the East and Central African Senior Challenge Cup and by the names of its various sponsors like Ethiopian businessman Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The competition is run by Africa’s oldest football confederation, the Council of East and Central African Football Associations (Cecafa) based in Nairobi.

In all likelihood, the Lever brothers took their cue from another pair of brothers, George and Charles Hurst, who in 1922 had formed a thriving beer making company they called Kenya Breweries Ltd.

On a hunting trip in 1923, George Hurst was gored to death by an elephant and Charles turned the tragedy into an inspiration, calling the hitherto nameless beer Tusker in his memory.

The tusks that killed George are still meticulously preserved at the Kenya Breweries boardroom, at least since I was last there which I confess is a while ago.

So, if Harambee Stars win this year’s edition of the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup which begins tomorrow, those people who will be writhing and groaning in bed with drums beating inside their heads and craving for a bowl of pepper soup because of their Tusker-induced hangover will be doing so in homage to the memory of George Hurst.

I am not sure if Unilever manufactures any antidote for a hangover.

But will Stars win? I don’t know what to think. The Challenge Cup is always an invitation to feel good.

It is so old that its stories are inexhaustible and there is always something knew. Think about the thousands of players and coaches and officials who have travelled its journey.

They all have a story to tell. Even the departed ones.
There was a time the tournament was all the rage in this region. So successful had it become that confederations farther afield started replicating the idea.

As soon as South Africa rejoined the community of nations after apartheid’s collapse, the Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) was formed.

And with that countries like Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, who had been staunch Cecafa members, took flight. Incredibly, even Tanzania started playing there; they still have one foot in Cecafa and the other one in Cosafa.

Very interesting brothers - they enjoy hedging their bets.

As the years went by, Cecafa fell on really hard times and attracting funding became something akin to stringing a rope around Mt Kilimanjaro and trying to pull it a few metres from its base.

It lost its lustre and the Challenge Cup together with its attractive twin, the East and Central African Club championship, tottered on the brink of extinction.

Fans took their places on tall barstools, ordered Tusker beer, and glued their eyes on television flat screens showing action thousands of kilometres away in Europe.

That is where the English Premiership, the German Bundesliga and the Spanish La Liga were taking place.

Local football became nothing but an object of contempt and stadium terraces, bereft of fans, resembled the ruins of the ancient colosseum in Rome even when league matches were going on.

Yet the Challenge Cup, at least for a certain generation of Kenyans, unfailingly revives sentiments of thick national and regional ties.

However beaten, however famished and however scorned, the old Gossage Cup and its successors still means a great deal to a small and diminishing community of fans who have not given up on the notion that home is best.

This year’s tournament comes at a time when Kenya is more fractured as a society than it ever was in its history.

Whatever crisis it faced before, the notion of breaking it up has never gained as wide a currency as it has now.
This week, the country seized yet another opportunity to widen rather than bridge those rifts when it inexplicably excluded Kisumu from hosting some of the matches.

Here was an early self-presented chance to do what Didier Drogba did for his country when he insisted that an Africa Nations qualifying match in 2006 against Madagascar take place in the rebel stronghold of Bouake in Central Cote d’Ivoire.

Page 1 of 2