The death of a former Harambee Stars player, Simon Gundi, would have passed unnoticed were it not for a story in the sports pages of The Standard.
The current breed of young sports writers may not have known about this footballer from Rabai in Kilifi County, which is why only one media house reported his passing.
Gundi played a major role in football development at the Coast and in the country, and he was no pushover during his playing days. Rabai was where German missionary Dr Johann Krapf set up Kenya’s first Christian mission. The first school in Kenya,Isaac Nyundo Primary School, was built in Rabai. Rabai is inhabited by Warabai, one of the Mijikenda communities and you will find people with full Westernised names like Esther John, Charles Anderson and Maurice Godwin.
Gundi lived in Mtwapa. For a bio-peek of Simon Gundi, I tracked former Gor Mahia and Harambee Stas player, Allan Thigo, at African Nazarene University, where he’s a coach. Thigo laughed off my reasons for calling on him. He said Gundi’s death was unfortunate, and recalled that, “He was a born entertainer, and he would uplift our spirits even after a very heavy defeat. If you wanted humour, then you had to be near Gundi and Maurice Godwin — another master humourist. Those two were like the happiest people in the world. May God rest his soul.”
Thigo recalled an incident in Lusaka, Zambia in 1975. Harambee Stars had lost against Zambia’s Chipolopolo in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. While returning home, something happened at the airport. Everyone had boarded the plane and the cabin crew were busy shutting up. There was a strange sound as if a chick or a bird was on board.
Kenyan players were seated towards the backseats, where a hostess thought the sound must have come from. As she walked towards the players, it went quiet for a moment. But as she left, the sound became even louder. Suddenly, the pilot’s speaker cracked up, “Ladies and gentlemen, we suspect we have a bird on board. The cabin crew are trying to locate and remove it before we take off. Please bear with us for a moment. Thank you.”
Kenyan players bust out laughing. They knew it was Gundi who had pulled the prank — he could mimic birds and animals. When the players revealed that it was a prank, few were amused.
It was then that Gundi was told the crew had powers to evict, besides charging him for being a ‘distraction to the pilot and causing flight delay.’ The team manager, Mahamoud Mohammed had to beg for mercy.
To those who played with or against him, Gundi was a refined and disciplined player. He represented the days when Coast clubs did not rely on wachezaji kutoka bara to thrive. They had their own home-grown talent.
When Kenneth Matiba formed Kenya Breweries FC in 1969, he recruited players from Pwani including Mohamed Magogo, Ben Waga, Livingstone Madegwa, James Ojiambo, Simon Gundi, Maurice Godwin and Binzi Mwakolo. These players gradually tampered the fierce dominance of Gor Mahia and Abaluhya FC (now AFC Leopards).
Like many great Kenyan soccer stars, Simon Gundi retired in poverty eking out a living in Mtwapa outside Mombasa. Fare thee well Harambe Stars’ official humourist.