Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Trouble With Leopards

A few days ago, the Daily Nation carried two interviews featuring Julius Ochiel and Robert Asembo. You can read about their interview here

We wish to make it very clear that on this blog, we have not taken any sides with the numerous factions that have emerged at Leopards. This blog has been in existence for almost two years since the time that Alex Ole Magelo unveiled a kit for Leopards. The comments are therefore made with a sober mind and hopefuly will be a guide to the other Ingwe Fans, those real fans whose interest is merely to see the club return to its glory days!

From the Nation interview, one can piece about some real problems that AFC Leopards, arguably one of the most popular team in the country, is currently facing. There seems to be a serious issue of dishonesty that is alleged between the persons who are being interviewed. We were able to pick out that one of the controversies involved what the current constitution of the club is. Ochiel indicated that Asembo altered the constitution that was passed at the Special General Meeting.

Which begs one thing: Was the constitution that was approved in June 2010 ever circulated to the members of the club before it was passed so that they can compare it with the disputed constitution now?

It seems that an Ingwe Fan can not read the Constitution of the club at this moment, other than having to peruse the records at the Registrar of Societies. There are serious credibility issues that arise out of the constitution that was adopted by the club including the procedure followed in its adoption.

Unlike other fans, Ingwe Fan does not pretend that the two offices of Ochiel and Magelo have been full of negatives only. No. There have also been positives and we shall start with the regime of Magelo.

Magelo was the Chairman of Leopards when the club came back from the Nationwide League to which the club had been relegated in the year 2006 after leadership wrangles had rocked the club. Leopards had played a total of 38 games and won only 9, drew ten and lost NINETEEN matches to be relegated together with Shabana FC. The Leopards officials at the time decided not to take part in the 2007 Nationwide League opting instead to try arbitration so that they could be readmitted to the League. When all failed especially when FIFA representative Jerome Champagne put his foot down that Leopards should remain relegated, Leopards with their tail between the legs went to play in the Nationwide League in 2008 that was divided in two Zones. Zone B was comfortable won by Sofapaka FC.

Zone A was won by Leopards in rather interesting circumstances. Midway though the league, Leopards was second last...

but recovered through series of decisions that went the Ingwe way after some of the losses were turned into wins on account of the other teams using ineligible players. Leopards still needed to pray for Eldoret Mahakama to lose its last match and true enough, Mahakama lost its last match on a technicality after they were found to have caused the abandonment of their last match against Compel FC.

Eldoret Mahakama filed case in court on 1st December 2008 though High Court Misc. Civil Application No. 741 of 2008 which was however lost on a technicality.

The Magelo regime then decided to take it as if Leopards had earned their right to be in the League and this saw the club suffer in its first leg session in the league with most people predicting that the club will go back to the Nationwide.

The positives of he Magelo group were that they had gotten us back to the League. They also unveiled a new playing kit that featured the popularly called 'Rio Tinto' jerseys that were first worn by the club in the 1982 season after the club abandoned the stripes jerseys in favour of the hoops jerseys.

Secondly, they also unveiled replica jerseys for probably the fist time in many years for many fans. Though some fans question whether the club ever benefited from the sale of the jerseys, the same fans never bother to ask where the money to order those jerseys came from. Surely, if Leopards did not order the jerseys as a club, then it matters little if the monies were not all remitted to the club.

Players signed contracts with the club for the first time in a long time. However, most players claim that they were not paid what was contractually indicated and that the Magelo team left office with debts to the players.

The team unveiled a website and the same was constantly updated by the Magelo office. This was second Leopards website after the previous fan mooted that had lapsed after a previous Secretary General Steven Mutoro took it over in 2002 and ignored it.

The Magelo team also unveiled a new club crest that appears on this blog. The crest also featured a new motto, OURS FOREVER.

The Magelo team had an office in Hurlingham but the same was not owned by the club and was instead owned by the then Secretary General Richard Ekhalie. However, the office was well kept and most statistics about the club were available. One could easily tell how many members were paid up and receipts were routinely issued for any purchase.

The Magelo team also tried using the Ticket Masters firm to man the ticketing of the club.

I would say one of the things that didn't go the Magelo way  was the results in the Premier League. However, the club entered in the FKL Cup which was boycotted by many teams from the Premier league and having played only two matches, the club won the tournament earning the club the right to represent the country in the CAF Confederations Cup.

Like many previous offices of Leopards, the Magelo team also had some failures. They failed to put some other structures in the club and even the constitutional amendments that had been sought were not subjected to the membership and widely.

The Magelo team tried to walk before it could crawl. There were plans to sell shares in the club before the club had been transformed into a company. There were ambitious plans to have 100 members take over the club though contributing Kshs. 100,000 a lot of money by any measure.

it appeared that the driving force of this office and perhaps the one who ought to have taken credit was Richard Ekhalie as he was young and savvy and quite persuasive in the media and though other forums he arranged such as the fan Forums. Ekhalie sadly lacked substantial support from the entire office who had olden ideas whilst Ekhalie was for the new ideas. Therefore, for Magelo to take credit for this term of office sometimes looks a bit misplaced. For instance, whilst Ekhalie did not like the club relying on handouts or fundraisers and even arranged the relaunch ceremony for the club, which was widely covered by Supersport and other media, Magelo and other officials such as Duncan Angode favoured the fundraiser way and ended up overruling Ekhalie. In the end, the media focused on the paltry sums that were raised in the impromptu fundraiser instead on the many products that Ekhalie wanted to launch such as Season Tickets, Funeral Cover to mention just a few. Ekhalie had been right all along!

Ekhalie however rubbed many fans the wrong way too. He was an official who had been parachuted into Leopards unlike people like Magelo who had been with Leopards many years (perhaps the reason for Magelo sticking to the olden ways of doing things) and took some time to learn the ways of the club and its murky politics. Whilst he didnt seem to habour any ambitions for politics, he was surrounded by Councillors such as Magelo, Aladwa and Angode who sat on the Executive Board. Ekhalie also seemed to concentrate more on the financial aspects of the club such as merchandising which raised some controversy as some people asked for the accounting of proceeds.

In June 2009, Leopards were supposed to hold an AGM which wasn't held and was postponed on the flimsy ground that it was mid season. However, one Julius Ochiel joined the Executive Commitee as he was rumoured to have paid a sum of Kshs. 200,000 which entitled him to get at least 200 members on record, passing the then membership that stood at around 130 or thereabouts. These were the members who had paid the new membership fee. It seemed that Ochiel being given the Executive Committee position was supposed to calm him down not to contest the Chairmanship from Magelo with a promise the elcdtions will be held at the end of the season. So Ochiel got into the Executive Office by this invitation.

By December 2009, things had changed. Ochiel wanted the seat and Magelo feared he would lose. Magelo resigned and called for elections. You can watch the clip here. Ekhalie hadnt expected Magelo to resign and for a moment there were words exchanged between these two officials. From this report in the Standard, it appeared that Magelo blamed Ekhalie for his tribulations.

Magelo said he regretted his decision but added: "I am helpless and I cannot continue to serve as the chairman. It has been unbearable working with some of them because I realise we share nothing in common as to where Leopards should be."

Magelo’s resignation comes in the wake of the departure of the treasurer Duncan Angode who, too, cited political interference and ‘unfounded allegations of corruption.’

The two resignations have unearthed serious leadership undercurrents within the club that was teetering on the brink of relegation after regaining promotion last early this year.

Both officials point fingers at the club secretary, Richard Ekhalie, with other unnamed persons as the source of their tribulation.

Ekhalie, however, denied he had a hand but said their move was welcome, as it would now pave way for the club to push for a corporate agenda, which he says the two were opposed to.

"I am aware of his resignation and the Executive committee accepts it," Ekhalie said. He added: "The club has to move on and there will be no vacuum. If they decided to quit they know best the reasons but no one pushed them to do so."

But even as Ekhalie said there would be no vacuum, Magelo said he would call for clubs annual general meeting within seven days to hand over the club officially.

"Although I am leaving, it is only in order to call for a special general meeting within seven days where I would hand over the club to its owners," Magelo said.

Which served as a perfect opportunity for Ochiel to take advantage of the confusion. With the discovery that Micah Luvutse had never been changed as the Secretary General at the Registrar of Societies during the elections held in June 2008, and that Ekhalie for all his talking was merely an Acting Secretary General, Ochiel pounced and took over the Chairmanship when the elections were called by Luvutse.

It appears that Magelo has been caught off guard as he seemingly had surrendered without a fight. Ina late fightback, Ekhalie teamed up with Magelo once again and insisted that they were still the officials of the club.

But Ochiel and his new Secretary General Asembo were more scheming as they immediately filed the returns of their elections at the Registrar of Societies. They then filed a case in court being Chief Magistrates Court Case number 8664 of 2009 filed on 17th December 2009.

For the second year in a row, Leopards had a case in court that had been filed in December!

It appears that Magelo and Ekhalie didnt take part in the proceedings and Ochiel and Asembo (who acted as the lawyer for Ochiel and group) had a walk over!

The Ochiel group has also had some positives and negatives.

I will start with the negatives. They immediately changed the uniform of the team from the hoops to the stripes rubbing many fans the wrong way. They also changed the crest of the club and reverted to the motto OBULALA NA MAANI which means UNITY IS STRENGTH.

The reasons that were advanced were that they did not want the former office to continue to reap benefits from their unsold merchandise. What a hollow reason! Since Ochiel was legally recognized as the Chairman and his team as the new officials, all they needed to do was to cite the former team for contempt if they attempted to act as officials.

The club crest had been registered as Trade Mark number 64641 and this was in the name of the club. If any person attempted to use it, then the new officials would have stopped them for infringement.

It was embarrassing to see a club like Leopards play against Banks in a kit that had the JMJ Academy crest! How low could we sink to borrow kit from an Academy when we had our own kit!

The team also changed the website of the team from to yet we all know a website belongs to a team and not an individual. It appears that the former officlas tried to sell the new team the website which brings to question whether there was any handing over to the new team.

The other negative is that the team started looking as a dependent unit when it couldn't raise tickets to Ethiopia to attend the match against Banks. Politician Cyrus Jirongo, a former Leopards Chairman had to step in and donate tickets to the team. This was adverse publicity as it showed Leopards to be still a begging club.

The other major beef i have with the Ochiel group was the change of the constitution. This was once again done in a rather secretive manner unlike the change of the constitution of the country that was open to committee of experts who received views from a sections of Kenyans and even had sessions to discuss it before it was voted upon.

It is this constitution that could have been the savior of Leopards but it threatens the very existence of the club.

There were also claims of players not being paid but this has been a perennial problem at Leopards and is not a failure of Ochiel alone.

Now the positives.

After previous Leopards shirt sponsors such as Crown Paints, Bulkolin and Cyprerr, Ochiel was able to get a sponsorship deal with Mumias Sugar. This would save the club the embarrassment of having players who don't get paid.

It is however not clear what sort of sponsor Mumias Sugar is. If is is a shirt sponsor, then the powers they are exerting over the club are enormous. It was shocking to see Ochiel waving cheques from Mumias Sugar addressed directly to some players. Surely the right thing to do is to get Mumias Sugar to pay the club the monies and let the monies be disbursed by the club. This risks the club being seen by people as Mumias Sugar FC coming back through AFC Leopards. There are further rumours that Leopards will be expected to play some home matches in Mumias.

There is a saying that 'maskini hana chake' so it is expected that Mumias Sugar can wield the big stick at Leopards.

Hopefully, the guarantee of the players salaries being met will make the club perform better this season. Caution to the fans though Even Mumias Sugar FC didn't win the League despite all the backing from Mumias Sugar (except of course the time they were in a fiasco of bribing some team to win the chanpionship!). Ingwe Fans have to be patient.

With impending court room battles, Ingwe Fans also have to re-strategise.

The solution is not merely replacing Ochiel. In fact, the solution is to address the structures that are lacking at the club.

Fans have to play a bigger role in the club without necessarily being on the Executive Committee or Governing Council whatever you want to call it.

As it is, Leopards is still a village team. There is no difference between Leopards with Ebukwala United as they both lack facilities such as a stadium, a training pitch in the proportions of Carrington, a club bus, club vehicles for its coaches etc. Leopards is stuck to the 1960s when the world is moving towards 2030.

No team can continue to survive by the grace without putting in any effort. The Kshs. 15,000,000 sponsorship from Mumias Sugar is peanuts. If the team sold 20,000 season tickets at Kshs. 1,000 each for the fifteen home matches, it would raise Kshs. 20,000,000 which is more than the figure given by Mumias Sugar.

The Ochiel group or whichever group takes over have to think this big.

The teams needs to broaden its horizons from merely being a Luhya outfit and try to be all encompassing. Gor Mahia, who are our 'in laws' and big rivals attract all manner of fans such as Daniel Ndambuki (Churchill) and this isn't as a result of harping on about being  Lakeside team. When Gor Mahia couldnt get a stadium to play in, they went to Thika whilst Leopards went to Mumias! Who is being visionary here?

It used to be that Leopards led and Gor could only follow. Now Gor has a Facebook Branch which is validly recognized by the office and Leopards have also started a Face Book Branch which isn't recognized by the Ochiel office! Fans have to think broader than that! A Supporters Trust will be the best vehicle for fans to voice their thoughts rather than the usual branch structure that was conceived in the 1970s.

I am aware that some fans of Leopards are planning to start a Supporters Trust called CLAWS. Club of Leopards Avid Wise Supporters.

To me, this is the future. Fans can elect themselves and have a Chairman and other officials who can then engage whatever group that is in office. This idea of having someone parachuted into office as people were trying to do for Josiah Otupa and other officials who may be found on the Ochiel group.

This Trust should seek to get as many as 30,000 members. Surely from a country of 40,000,000 Kenyans we can raise that number of fans. This can be fans who do not even go to the stadium but who can give something back to the club. They can attend meetings and even vote by postal ballots on decisions affecting the club.

The Trust can keep the current office on toes and even start campaigns if they are unhappy. At Manchester United, the MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust) led a big green and gold campaign dubbed LOVE UNITED, HATE GLAZER. At Liverpool, the Spirit of Shankly Trust also had a campaign that recently saw the exit of the Americans Hicks and Gillette.

If someone can lead the Trust well, then he is fit for the office of Chairman of Leopards. Let there be a training ground for officials.

Let the Trust have fans from all sides. Ochiel supporters, Magelo supporters, Kituyi supporters and any others whom I haven't mentioned but who wish to be Chairman or well, Chairwoman! Let us get our club back to the days when it could roar and claw any team.

Let us realize that fans can support different Chairmen but still be part of the team unity. For Facebook Branch fans to think they are the only fans is to think narrowly. For Mlango Kubwa fans to think they are the only fans, it is a big joke.

Let us remember that even as some of use fight Ochiel he has support from some other branches. How do we engage these branches and help them understand that we can not just be YES men when something is wrong. And they can also make us understand that we cannot just be NO men when good things are happening.

Leopards belongs to all of us.

Once we come together in a Supporters Trust, then we can be the Parliament that watches over the Executive.

Then we can insist on the structures that we need and make it an orderly club. Not a club that each December has a case filed in court as was proved when Ochiel went back to court in December 2010 and filed case against Asembo in Chief Magistrates Case number 8094 of 2010 making it the third year in a row that a case is filed in December involving Leopards.

Amusingly, whilst Asembo had taken the Magelo team to court in 2009 as noted above, this time he was in the same court arguing that the court wasn't the best place for Ochiel to take a dispute. Some Ingwe Fans thinking this was the best way to get rid of Ochiel didn't see the contradiction and cheered on.

Ingwe Fans have to be more far sighted!

Then we can insist on what we want to see. A club not a team! The proud AFC Leopards Sports Club not some team which changes everything about it when we all know that a Leopards never changes its spots.

If these issues were resolved, Leopards will be a better team. With facilities, with Season Tickets, with merchandise that fans can buy, with an office that fans can visit, with an auditor who can be asked questions during an AGM, with a membership directory so that if you want to campaign for any position you know how to reach the members, with an elaborate electoral system so that you don't have people giving one day notice for elections forgetting that the club has fans even in Mombasa who need to make travel arrangements to travel or to seek posts in the team, with ambitions to get the club back to the glory days when Leopards was feared (or at least known) throughout Africa. With stewards paid for orderly watch over fans at the stadium and to avoid the scenario where a Leopards fan, Frankline, died during the Gor match in October 2010 and nothing has been done to assist his family.

Those are the problems that need to be resolved. Not mere change of officials who then inherit a terrible system and we blame them for ruling us like that.

Please join those progressive fans who want to make Leopards get its CLAWS back!

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