Palos FC's Shadrack Omondi takes on Vihiga United's Ben Ochieng during the two team's last encounter staged at the Moi Stadium in Kisumu. The two clubs have over the past four years established what in a few years to come, will be a fixture worth marking
VIHIGA UNITED VS PALOS FC: Peers tailoring a regional clasico
By Fabian Odhiambo | Mon 10 Apr, 2017 11:30

Michael Isabwa Misigo’s first touch is a push on the ball with the outside of his right boot, and as the two cross the centre-line, a generous chunk of unoccupied Astro turf stretches all the way to Kennedy Ouma’s goalpost. In here, he will task the Palos FC goalkeeper with the honor of-for the 3rd time in the match-plucking the ball from the back of his net.

A few things were certain when Vihiga United traveled to Kisumu for the two team’s reverse 2016 league clash in mid-November; the first duel in Mumias Sports Complex having ended in a one-all stalemate. One of those few things however was not a 4-0 win for the visitors. So great was the home side’s fall that unnerved as its fans were, ten minutes from the final whistle had every seat vacant.

‘’I was surprised, and I’ve never fully understood what happened on that evening. This has always been a close tie as evidenced by our first leg encounter of the same season. Palos simply never showed up and we still wonder why,’’ says Manoah Edward, victorious on that day as Vihiga United secured three massive points to keep the hopes of a top four finish alive. That was week 34 of the National Super League (NSL) and both teams, be debutants in the 2nd tier, obviously had put in a creditable amount of work to be lying in the top half of the table standings at such a time in the season.

Junior Mashemeji Derby 

Vihiga United versus Palos turns four this year, three seasons of close scores, controversy and a conglomerate of the blue, red, yellow and green colors in their entire beauty. Plainly dubbed the junior mashemeji derby, it’s difficult for any football fan from the Western part of Kenya to not to resolve this fixture in one’s to-do list. Geography doesn’t help either, as only 25 miles separate these two teams’ training grounds. While Vihiga United take their instructions every morning at the Chavakali High School grounds, half an hour’s drive away has Palos taking their own at the Moi Stadium in Kisumu. For this proximity therefore, home advantage is as good as naught. Fans travel in droves, with both the County government of Vihiga and the Makini Schools-sponsors of the two clubs-striving to outdo each other in who ferries the most.  

The first face-off comes in 2014 in the Super league- at the time- Kenya’s third tier of football. Vihiga United has just been formed from a number of now defunct clubs; chief among them being Chavakali United. Palos on the other hand, has won the 2013 edition of the Provincial League unbeaten, hence the promotion into the third tier. Victor Manuel, a centre-half, is ironically Palos’ top scorer as the now two-year old club seeks to chart fresher frontiers. It won’t be a surprise then, that the brawny defender would prove the difference in the first ever match between Palos and Vihiga United, a fixture staged at the dreaded Kondele Carwash grounds. The return leg is a square affair, a barren stalemate at the Chavakali High School as the pioneers of this fixture lay the foundations to what in a few years would become a regional clasico. The end of the 2014 Super League season has Vihiga United as champs on goal difference, second place on the 16 team log is- of course- Palos FC. The two however do not qualify for the 2nd tier due to the domestic football wrangles that marred Kenyan football at the end of 2014.

The two will now have to do another year in the same league, albeit with rejuvenated squads as the benefactors have at this moment realized the immense weight that their noble causes bear on the two clubs’ respective communities. The idea that rivalries are borne of derision will be obliterated right from the start, and to help set this up are two special players. Jacob Atinda ditches Palos FC for Vihiga United while John Vincent Wonder does the exact opposite. Smooth transfers. The season 2015 should start already.

‘’I have played in all the six competitive matches pitting Palos and Vihiga United- three on either side, and the pressure to win that comes with it is the same from both ends,’’ Atinda reminisces. ‘’It didn’t look too huge the first time we played at the Kondele Carwash grounds, and the enormity of the fixture only became certain to us when we went for the 2nd leg at the Chavakali High school. Having beaten Vihiga in the first leg, all they wanted was revenge, what moved us however, was the fan-turnout on that day. If one had a keen eye, you could see that this was the beginning of something special,’’ continues Atinda who has been on the end of three wins out of the six matches between the two sides.

John Vincent’s sojourns between the two clubs has him in Green and Yellow when the season 2015 begins. He too, just like Atinda, has reveled in the support offered to both teams. He too, has had pangs of remorse at the sight of his former team falling by his design. It was Vincent who intercepted a lose Palos pass in the two teams’ first leg clash of 2015 and gifted it to the evergreen Amos Kigadi for the lone goal of the match, and the first for Vihiga over Palos. Retribution had been served by and old boy. 

As if the previous year’s results had acted cue, the reverse clash of the 2015 season ended square, only this time, goals were actually scored. Former Friends College of Kaimosi winger Michael Isabwa had sent the visitors up at the Moi Stadium in Kisumu, a goal equaled by Palos left-back Geoffrey Ochieng in the second half. Four matches played, one win for each, two draws. Qualification is guaranteed this time as there is relative calm in the country’s football governing body. Vihiga United have finished top once again, and Palos second. This time it’s a point that separates the two but both will storm into the second tier.

On facing one’s old club, John Vincent sees a cakewalk whenever he has to play against his former teammates. ‘’To be honest, I have never had difficulty in facing opposition that were once my family. The team tends to focus on you and if you can convert all that attention directed at you into something positive, winning is always easy,’’ says Vincent, who at the moment, has switched back to Palos FC and will be in Blue and Red for the 2017 National Super League season.

You would be mistaken to assume that John Wonder and Jacob Atinda are the only household names within the circles of this rivalry. Far from it, Vihiga United versus Palos only does quality produce. Players that leave these two walk straight into the starting eleven of their Premier League destinations, and Kenneth Muguna bagging the Kenyan Premier League’s  Most Valuable Player accolade is testament enough to what this fixture that envelopes two neighboring counties can do. Michael Isabwa, with three goals from the six matches he played in this regional contest, is now in the ranks of Premier League side Kariobangi Sharks. Bernard Ondiek (Western Stima), George Odiwuor (Kakamega Homeboyz), Said Tsuma (Thika United), Derrick Nzosi (Mathare United), Sydney Ochieng (Tusker), Edmond Adem Balaa (Thika United), Clifford Omondi (Chemelil Sugar) and Timothy Ludda (Thika United) are all starters in their respective stations, evidence of the brief but methodical thorough-breeding that goes on in this part of the footballing world. 

2017 season

Palos head coach Paul Ogai has been on the touchline four times against Manoah Edward, and the former has a few regrets- unlike his compatriot.

‘’2017 would have been different for both clubs. Had we done a few things differently in the past, we both would be playing in the Premier League by right,’’ says Ogai who at 33 is one of the youngest coaches in the local scene.

One can virtually form two formidable premier league sides from the mass of exits that have left the two clubs for greener pastures in the past and it is here that Ogai has his qualms.

‘’We recruit well, I mean, look at the bulk of the players who’ve been here. Though we can never hold back talent, it saddens that a player you’ve moulded into what they are can no longer be sustained by the club. All the same, it’s always a joy to see them continuing to excel at their next stations,’’ continues Ogai who was one of the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) instructors at the 2017 series of coaching courses by the country’s football governing body. His opposite number though, only rues the progression setback. Edward Manoah’s vision for Vihiga United football club was one borne of the need to set up a platform for the county’s talented youth, and prepare them for a prosperous career after leaving the club.

‘’When we started we didn’t realize how fast this would grow. We in fact just wanted to give the many talented youth within the county a stage that would see them land on fertile spots in the country’s top tier,’’ says Manoah who at the moment, has just roped in two form four leavers in his squad. Zablon Khaemba (Ebwali Secondary School) and Mophat Lwiva (Muhudu Secondary School) are the freshest blood you’ll find in the team.

‘’We’ve had success stories in the like of Michael Isabwa and Nzosi Derrick. Amos Kigadi even though still with us, has been in the national team twice and that is huge for the club,’’ a perceptibly elated Manoah says. A parallel look at Palos and the list flows further downwards. Sydney Ochieng, Kenneth Muguna, Shaphan Oyugi, Salim Hamisi, Bernard Ondiek, Said Tsuma all were taken in by the Kisumu-based side just after completing their form four exams. Some two in fact, (Gad Mathews and Selemani Manjenga) signed for Palos while still in year three of their high school journey. Even though the above mentioned names have all left the club for greener pastures, Ogai hasn’t given up. Collins Wendo, Vincent Etyang and Boaz Maeri are the latest signed by Palos barely months after completing high school.

Just like the players it has produced, it is a competition Manoah doesn’t want to see manipulated. The quest for supremacy, he insists- is what has made the tie what it is and only wants it to be about football like it has always been. As much as he envies East Africa’s most famous clash pitting AFC Leopards versus Gor Mahia, Manoah is only careful to take up positives from the two giants’ rivalry.

‘’Given the pacey growth we have witnessed, I believe we ca get to the heights Gor and Leopards have set in the many years of existence between the two clubs,’’ he offers. ‘’I love the fact that for us down here, people just want to see football played and nothing more. We may be enemies on the field of play but at the end of ninety we are friend again, that’s how I have always known football to be,’’ Manoah concludes.  

Rebuilding 

As has been the tradition, the 2017 season begins with both sets of teams having lost a few key players to older and more established premier league clubs. United definitely will miss the pace Mike Isabwa offered on the right flank as well as the shrewd dominance Geoffrey Odiwuor exercised in the midfield. Palos has to do without Sydney Ochieng, Eddy Balaa and Gad Mathews. Jacob Atinda and John Vincent Wonder- both midfielders- have only traded places and it will be interesting to see who will be missed the most as each of them commences yet another season in a jersey they wore two years ago.

Sport is just one of the many avenues of interaction between the people of Kisumu and Vihiga Counties, regions that-until four years ago- had been starved of an identifiable football team that each would perhaps deem ‘their own’. As Vihiga United and Palos took their baby steps a couple of years back, few could have imagined what spectacle the two would fashion whenever they met. Only six competitive matches have been played yet the immensity in the fan-turnout is electrifying. We may have just seen the birth of an alternative to the Mashemeji Derby as we know it.

Head to Head


Played

Won

Drawn

Lost

Vihiga United

6

2 (1-0, 0-4)

3

1

Palos FC

6

1 (1-0)

3

2

Top Scorers’ List

Name

Tally

Isabwa Michael –Vihiga United

3 (2015 away, 2016 away)

Kigadi Amos Vihiga United

2 (2015 home, 2016 away)

Ochieng Geoffrey –Palos FC

1 (2015 home)

Manuel Victor –Palos FC

1 (2014 home)

Okulo Patrick –Vihiga United

1 (2016 home)

Mugisha Ivan –Palos FC

1 (2016 away)

Masinza Christopher –Vihiga United

1 (2016 away)


This story initially appeared on the fifth edition of the Soka Magazine 


Fabian Odhiambo

Twitter.. @Fabian_Odhiambo

Mail.. fabian@soka.co.ke

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