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Gor Mahia take off to England looking to shock ‘Blues’

KENYA champions Gor Mahia are on their way to England for a clash with English Premier League’s Everton at Goodison Park on Tuesday, 7pm local time kick-off.

The two clubs have met before with England icon Wayne Rooney helping Everton to a 2-1 win at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam Tanzania last year. Since then, Gor Mahia have played another British team, Hull City, who won 4-3 on a penalty shoot-out after 0-0 in normal time at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani in Nairobi on May 13 this .

Gor Mahia’s visit to Britain will be the first by a top-flight Kenyan football while the history books of football relationship between Kenya and Britain have chapters on visits to Kenya British teams such as Scotland, West Bromwich Albion, Norwich City and Notts County.

Gor Mahia coach Dylan Kerr, an Englishman is already in England, having travelled on home leave at the conclusion of the Kenyan Premier. Kerr has been keeping an long eye on Gor’s preparation for the tour while in Nairobi under among his assistants Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno. The onus has been on Kerr to field interviews in Liverpool where the Kenyans are eagerly awaited.

Welcome aboard, from Kenya Airways at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport headed for England on Friday

Welcome aboard, from Kenya Airways at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport headed for England on Friday

Kerr told the Liverpool publication, Echo,  the match was a huge highlight in the history of Gor Mahia, formed in 1968, 17-time Kenya champions and winners of the CAF (Africa Football Confederation) Cup Winners Cup in 1987. Gor Mahia are Kenya champions in five of the last six years.

Kerr said he was expecting to face a strong Everton side at Goodison Park but believed his side has the ability and will surprise the “Blues” players and supporters alike.  Wrote Chris Beesley in lengthy coverage of  Gor Mahia impending visit:

“A true footballing globe-trotter, Kerr was born in Malta and has coached in South Africa, the USA, Vietnam, Tanzania and now Kenya but his voice attests to his Yorkshire roots.

Preparing for arguably the most high-profile game of his career, he told the ECHO: “I keep my feet firmly on the ground and I say it as I see it and that’s what I’ve done both home and abroad as both a player and now a coach.”

 

Ernest Wendo keeps tabs on England great Wayne Rooney at National Stadium, Dar Salaam last year. Everton won 2-1

Ernest Wendo (right) keeps tabs on England great Wayne Rooney at National Stadium, Dar Salaam last year. Everton won 2-1

While many of his squad are venturing to play outside of Africa for the first time, Kerr has already played at Goodison Park in his own playing career but that was in the old Central League against the ‘Blues’’ second string and he’s expecting next week’s match to be rather different.

He said: ‘Contractually Everton have got to put a very good team out. They have to pick the majority of players who are playing in the Premier League, I think they have to use at least six first-teamers.

‘To play at Goodison Park, which I still believe is one of the best football grounds, and one of the best playing surfaces in the Premier League, will be special. I played there myself for Leeds United reserves in the 1990s and it was always a pleasure to play on such a great pitch.’

Kerr realises that the game provides his players with a unique opportunity to showcase their talents in front of a British football audience. Tottenham midfielder Victor Wanyama is the only Kenyan to have played in the Premier League to date, having first joined Southampton in 2013 but he arrived via spells at Belgian club Beerschot and then Celtic in Scotland.

Gor Mahia line-up against Hull City at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani earlier this year. Hull City won 4-3 on post-match penalties after barren draw in regulation time

Gor Mahia line-up against Hull City at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani earlier this year. Hull City won 4-3 on post-match penalties after barren draw in regulation time

Kerr said: ‘They’re going to be blown away by the whole experience. I’m trying to get them to rest and recover but it’s going to be difficult because there are so many things I want them to see in Liverpool. I was with Imre Varadi this week and he’s going to come as are Mel Sterland, Andy Blair and Pat Nevin while Celtic and Rangers are sending scouts down.

‘I’ve invited representatives of a lot of other Premier League and Championship teams to come and watch the game and maybe they’ll just see one. I’ve told them ‘do not come off that pitch after the final whistle and think I wish I had or I should have done’ because it’s gone.

‘It’s a once-in-a-lifetime life-changing chance and we’ve got quality players, they’re technically good. They’re fit and they’re strong.’

Kerr, who has been told that he’s the only British coach to have won a trophy in South East Asia, was originally wanted by Gor Mahia back in 2014 but his Vietnamese club Hai Phong were unwilling to release him at the time. After previous spells in South Africa as both as a player and coach, he returned to the continent the following year with Tanzanian club Simba but after what Kerr describes as “six months of hell” there, he finally moved to his current position in Nairobi.

Gor Mahia coach Dylan Kerr (right) when the trip to England was being planned. At left is Gor's Rwanda international Jacques Tuyisenge and centre, Kevin Twissa, chief marketing officer of sponors SportPesa

Gor Mahia coach Dylan Kerr (right) when the trip to England was being planned. At left is Gor’s Rwanda international Jacques Tuyisenge and centre, Kevin Twissa, chief marketing officer of sponors SportPesa

Having steered Gor Mahia to the title with five games to spare in his first season and then six this year – the season finished on October 8 – Kerr is hoping to end the year on a high following a gruelling campaign that saw his side playing three games a week for almost three months.

Having been back in the UK since then, doing his CPD (Continuing Professional Development) to keep his coaching qualification, tending for his sick mother and making scouting trips across the Pennines to Goodison Park, Kerr has left the team in the hands of his assistants, but he will be reunited with his players today (Friday).

He said: ‘I’ve told them it’s going to be cold. When it’s 23 degrees my players are wearing hoodies, beanie hats and gloves for training while I’ve got a pair of shorts and a t-shirt on – applying the factor 50. The players are due in on Friday and I’ll meet them at the hotel. On Saturday morning they are going to get fitness tested and medically tested at Finch Farm and then we’re all going to the game between Everton and Brighton & Hove Albion.

“At half-time, 20 of our players and staff are going to be paraded on the pitch. They’re in for a big, big surprise because seeing things through their African backgrounds they won’t be able to take everything in such a short space of time.

Dylan Kerr (left) and assistant coach Zedekiah 'Zico' Otieno

Dylan Kerr (left) and assistant coach Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno

‘All they’re talking about is the game. They’re not talking about shopping or drinking – most of them don’t drink. We’re staying in Liverpool all week and there’s a Champions League at the Etihad the day after we play so maybe we could arrange to take them there.’

Kerr envisages that the game at Goodison will be rather different than the two clubs’ previous meeting in Dar es Salaam in July last year when Wayne Rooney and Kieran Dowell netted for Everton in a 2-1 win which was also his first match in charge.

He said: ‘Obviously we played in Tanzania but the Rooney factor made it go worldwide. The expectation seemed to be that we’d lose by six or seven goals so to only be beaten 2-1 was a very good result. I made 25 changes during that game. It was a one-off because we were on the pitch with Rooney and I didn’t want any player to miss out.

“I remember Ronald Koeman complaining because we were doing three substitutions at a time and he wanted the game to continue but I said ‘Look Ronald, I’ve got to give these players a chance.  Imagine you were a Kenyan player on the bench against Everton and the gaffer didn’t bring you on, you wouldn’t be happy – I did what I thought was right.

Gylan Kerr

Dylan Kerr

“This time when we come to Goodison we’re only allowed six substitutes so 10 are going to be sat in the stands not doing anything.’

As a football man who has enjoyed his greatest triumphs far away from home, the game also has an extra special meaning for Kerr as he hopes that an extra special spectator will be in attendance. Although tiny in stature, she is his biggest fan.

He said: “My mum has always watched from afar with the success I’ve had overseas but now she can see her wee boy in the dugout at a Premier League club.’

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