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The gulf between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards continues to grow

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The gulf between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards continues to grow

Since their first encounter on May 5 1968, no Kenya Premier League clash comes close to the derby between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.

The clash is characterised by a whirl of feverish excitement, intensity, wild cheers from stands evoked by an unbridled passion and, unfortunately, hooliganism.

The Mashemeji Derby is a fixture that's been a consistent headline-grabber over the years, with the fans, donning their teams' jerseys and wielding vuvuzelas, make this encounter a spectacle, and the biggest match in the KPL calendar.

The two teams, formed in the sixties, have dominated the Kenyan football scene, producing legendary players, winning numerous local, regional and continental honours, and producing memorable matches and moments that have been etched in the country's football folklore.

With over 30 trophies between them, their success is almost unparalleled in the region.

However, the gap between the duo has been growing since the turn of the millennium, following Leopards' decline, and Gor's recent success has only increased the chasm between them.

When Gor beat Leopards 2-0 in the 89th derby in late August to secure their 17th record-extending league title with six games to spare, it was evident that the gulf between the two had grown even wider.

After Saturday's game, Gor Mahia had amassed 71 points while Leopards were a distant third with 48 points.

While K'Ogalo players and fans erupted with joy, Leopards were left ruing their lack of competitiveness both in the fixture itself and in the context of the season, and how far they've fallen.

Between 1979 and 1993, the winner of the KPL was either Gor or Leopards.

It was the golden era of the two teams; they were simply unstoppable and sent shivers down the spines of their opponents in the local and regional scene.

While Kenya Breweries, now Tusker FC, broke the stranglehold at one point, Gor and Leopards wouldn't go away.

The 1998 season is still vivid in most minds of Kenyan football fans, as it was the season Leopards won their last KPL title.

They subsequently suffered relegation, leaving many sports fans bewildered at how a team of such stature, with such a reputation, had been marginalised.

While Leopards have never recovered their former glory, K'Ogalo did bounce back despite suffering relegation in 2002.

Really, Leopards' struggles shouldn't come as a surprise, with boardroom wrangles and a lack of stability among the technical team among the reasons why the club have failed to sustain a title challenge.

With more than 10 coaches in four years, it's evident that there's a lack of coherent strategy as they look to return to their former glories.

Inconsistency is another major problem for Leopards.

In the 80s, they won the league three times on the spin, playing with desire and swagger, something which is conspicuously absent today.

Recently, there's a brittleness, betraying a weak mental attitude which can be shattered by bad results.

While Gor have five titles in the last six seasons, Leopards' league drought now extends to 20 years, and the rivalry is no longer the fearsome, hotly contested clash it once was.

Having ended their own trophy drought in 2013, Gor's own status has been boosted by playing in the CAF Confederation Cup, and they-like Tusker-can attract the nation's top players in a way Leopards cannot.

While they have endured some turbulent times over the past two decades, Leopards, with their illustrious history filled with unforgettable memories and many trophies, certainly have the potential and ambition to return to the summit of Kenyan football.

Without exceptional talents like master dribbler Joe Kadenge, JJ Masiga, Mahmoud Abbas and Wilberforce Mulamba, it risks being a long road back to the top for Leopards, and recent evidence suggests the gap between they and Gor might get bigger before it gets better.

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