By Rehal Satwinder and Hillary Mukasa
The year 1987 is arguably Kenya’s ‘Golden era’ in its football history. This is argued on the fact that at the club level, Gor Mahia FC won a continental trophy, the African Cup Winners’ Cup (renamed the CAF Confederations Cup in 2004), and remains the only Kenyan football club to achieve that feat
Meru Bombers FC
Meru Bombers FC was formed in 1984 as Meru County Bombers after players from two rival teams, Meru FC and Mutindwa C“shook hands” to forge one formidable team to have a team from the then Meru District qualify for the top tier national league, the Super League, as it was then known. The format of the football league then was that winners from respective provincial leagues qualified for the 20 teams Super League. Thus, from the 8 provinces that administratively made up Kenya at that time, 8 teams replaced 8 others relegated from the Super League in the previous season. In 1987, Western Province was represented by Busia Simba, Nairobi by Hakati Sportif, Coast by Feisal, Central by Lenana Warriors, Nyanza by Kisumu All-Stars, Rift Valley by Eldoret KCC and Nakuru based KGGCU, and Eastern by Meru Bombers. North Eastern never had a team in the Super League in Kenya’s history; hence 2 clubs represented Rift Valley, which was divided into two football administrations: North Rift and South Rift. Volcano United was also included in the league that year based on boasting pedigree footballers of the time from around East Africa, and for its status as a professional club, a first of its kind. Football clubs from the larger Meru District had for long struggled, and at times allegedly frustrated, to represent Eastern Province in the Super League. The team that usually for long represented Eastern province in the Super League was Athi River-based, Blue Triangle FC which notably produced one of Kenya’s finest goalkeepers, Ahmed Sheru (who was part of the 1987 successful Gor Mahia team). It was Blue Triangle that Meru Bombers replaced in 1987 after the former was relegated in the previous year’s edition of the league. It was therefore the first time that a team from Meru had qualified for Kenya’s top football league, the closet other being Meru Fc. This is, however, a story for another day.
Given the introductory background, the Meru Bombers FC were therefore thrust into a star-studded and highly competitive Super League in 1987. It was a rude welcome for the team, especially in the first half of the season. First was a big loss to the mighty Gor Mahia at the City Stadium, Nairobi, on 30th January 1987 by a score of 6-1, with goals from Hesbon Omollo (2), George Nyangi Odembo (2), Anthony Ndolo (1) an own goal, while Bombers got its consolation from Joash Odindo, coincidentally a former Gor player, who later played for Mutindwa FC in Meru.
Relegation at the end of the 1987 season did not end Meru’s dalliance with top-flight football, rather it ignited more passion for a return, which it did years later, evidenced by Mafuko Bombers participation in the 1996 and 1998 editions respectively, and in the years 2000, 2001 and 2002 leagues respectively by Kisima Bombers. The end of ‘top-flight football romance’ by a Meru team was marked by Kisima Bombers’ disbandment midway into the 2002/2003 season due to financial reasons following withdrawal from the team’s sponsor, the Timau based, Kisima Farm Ltd.
The Best 11: We can debate on this
According to Rashid Omar, player/captain/coach of Meru Bombers in 1987, and who later played and coached for the Kisii based Shabana Fc, this is his best 11 of the 1987 squad:
1) Raju Singh 2)Paul “Cobra” Koome , 3) Caleb Anyanzwa 4) Boaz Zulu 5) Rashid Omar (Capt), 6) Gilbert Tela, 7) Richard Gatungwa, 8) Elisha Ssemwanga, 9) Muna Singh), 10) Joash Odindo, and 11) Lucheli Otunga
Our team: Community support
Meru Bombers Fc was a prototype community team. Its ethnic and racial diversity notwithstanding, local support for the team was without question. The main sponsor of the team in 1987 was by a local transport entrepreneur, Johnston Ntara Transporters, and a local beer distributing agency, Kaura and Rwito. Other forms of support came from members and enthusiasts from the local community. Mention goes to the Chairperson of the team in 87, the late Silas Muriungi, Pastor Kirimi Mburia of Kambakia Christian Centre, Mwenda Riungu of Embassy Hotel, who also doubled as Club Secretary, and Mr Paul Lobo, proprietor of Continental Hotel, among others. Years to come, local bread and confectionary makers, Mafuko Industries Ltd, came to play an immense role in supporting the return of big big-time football in Meru with the establishment and support for Mafuko Bombers Fc, followed later by Kisima Flowers Ltd’s support for Kisima Bombers Fc.
Thus, the very mention of the name ‘Bombers’ is now synonymous with Meru. From the core team of 87, there have been variants of the ‘Bombers’, notably Mafuko Bombers which plied the top tier league in the 1990s, and Kisima Bombers, in the early 2000s. At present, Meru Mutindwa Bombers remains the ‘hope’ that may rekindle and return the lost glory to Meru County. Maybe, it is time to rekindle the UBUNTU spirit in Meru County towards supporting a local team that will bring back the glory days.
Relieving past histories for posterity: In need for a Sports Museum
The Meru Bombers was a heck of a team that will forever be etched in the history of football in Meru, and the larger Mount Kenya region. We salute you, both the living and fallen souls. We saw the big stars of our times right at our doorstep, including the legend himself, the late Joe Kadenge who followed wherever his prolific son, the late Frances Kadenge, played in matches for AFC Leopards, heard Ali Salim Manga and Mohamed Juma Njuguna relay live commentaries right from Kinoru Stadium, witnessed tragic moments, such as Mahmoud Abbas getting knocked out cold after an ugly scuffle with fans that cost him a place in the 1987 All Africa Games squad, shook hands with JJ, Dawo, and Ayoyi, gasped at Mulamba’s skills, awed by Motego’s fierce kicks and throw throw-ins, pondered about Washington Muhanji’s trademark half field goal throws, mesmerized by the Volcano United professionals’ glamour, and read about Meru Bombers team scores in the mainstream newspapers. However, these are just memories as retold in articles as this. What is needed is a repository that can relieve the past for the sake of posterity. Maybe a sports museum is needed in this regard. A good site for this is at the newly refurbished Kinoru Stadium or the current Meru Museum. Lest we forget!