NAIROBI, Kenya- In more ways than one, Sunday, July 7, 2019 will go down as a defining date in Kenyan football history on a day when the nation lost its most celebrated hero in the game, Joe Kadenge.
There could not have been a more fitting occasion to celebrate the life of the legendary icon than the landmark international friendly that saw 2019 SportPesa Cup winners, Kariobangi Sharks FC test the might of English Premier League (EPL) visitors Everton FC at a capacity parked cathedral of Kenyan football, the MISC Kasarani Stadium.
After a pulsating 1-1 draw, the teams had to be separated by the dreaded post-match penalty shootout that the Kenyan side won 4-3 sparking wild celebrations of mammoth proportions
Dignitaries, celebrities and screaming fans made the occasion a day to remember as those gathered took pride in being part of history as what is good in local football, including the glittering career of Kadenge, was honoured in the most forceful fashion.
The biting cold of the July Kenyan ‘winter’ gave way to a bright sunny day as the weather too played its part in a glorious festival of football and rich entertainment.
It was always going to be a tough act for organisers to follow having filled Kasarani on May 13 last year when English second-tier Championship outfit, Hull City FC toured Kenya to play SportPesa Premier League (SPL) champions, Gor Mahia FC.
What transpired was a sold out affair that drew the largest crowd ever witnessed at the grand venue in over 21 years as officials a jaw-dropping attendance of 64,829 people- simply the biggest turn out in the 19-year existence of the team that rose from the low income estate of Kariobangi to international limelight.
Sharks, the 2018 SportPesa Cup winners who are an emerging force on the domestic scene, do not have the pulling power of the 17-time league winners Gor but the stellar cast of manager Marco Silva’s side proved to be an attraction that local supporters could simply not resist.
Kasarani was a sea of blue, green and yellow, the shared colours of both sides as they put their talent to display under a charged atmosphere that at the end of it all, left both teams with more admirers when they put a thrilling football show which Kadenge would have been proud off.
Sharks, the team formed in 2000, had never played before such a huge crowd and it will take something spectacular from them to match Sunday’s attendance that marked a great chapter in their history.
As early as 10am local time (+3GMT) – six hours to kick off- supporters had formed orderly and winding queues at Gate 12 where regular tickets holders waited patiently to fill in to the venue.
They were eager to see with their very own eyes visiting Everton stars among them, crowd-favourite Theo Walcott who almost brought the house down when the Blues number 9 was read out by stadium announcer, Tom Bwana.