Home General GACHUHI: Legend of Abdalla Shebe and the twists and turn of his Swiss sojourn

GACHUHI: Legend of Abdalla Shebe and the twists and turn of his Swiss sojourn

by kenya-tribune
7 views


By ROY GACHUHI
More by this Author

On a sun-bathed Sunday afternoon late in the 1982 season, Abdalla Shebe, in Feisal Football Club colours, spread such extensive mayhem in the Gor Mahia defence that scouts off the pitch had little difficulty deciding what to do with him: sign him.

The next season, Shebe lined up in the olive green of K’Ogalo and happily raised his arms, accepting the cheers of crowds chanting his name.

But towards the end of 1986, Shebe was a man living in fear. The same fans who adored him were looking for him, like sharks that had smelt blood.

They wanted to know why he was not playing for them.

One of his unfortunate neighbours had his house stoned after goons mistook it for Shebe’s.

I also started looking for Shebe but with a story in mind.

When I found him, after a bit of trying, he told me that there were people who had sworn to lynch him the moment they got hold of him. The party was over.

Shebe was a handsome and flamboyant player whose appetite for blending skill with dirt ensured him continuous tenancy in the sports pages.

When we were not reporting the goals he had scored or helped score, we were talking about his yellow or red cards.

Mostly, we dealt with both.

Gor Mahia forward Abdallah Shebe (left) in a tussle for the ball with Bata Bullets FC’s John Mwale during their league match at the Nairobi City Stadium in 1986. Shebe scored a hat-trick in Gor’s 5-2 win. PHOTO | FILE |

Gor Mahia forward Abdallah Shebe (left) in a tussle for the ball with Bata Bullets FC’s John Mwale during their league match at the Nairobi City Stadium in 1986. Shebe scored a hat-trick in Gor’s 5-2 win. PHOTO | FILE |NATION MEDIA GROUP

As his career matured, so did fresh chapters open. Shebe started attracting suspensions.

The latest one particularly riled the fans who were beginning to regard him as a saboteur of their ambitions, an enemy within.

His time in the dog house was to last one year and not surprisingly, Shebe was not taking it lying down: “I have read in the newspapers that I am suspended,” he told me.

“But nobody has written to me officially about it. As far as I am concerned, those are just newspaper stories.”

Of course, they were not, I told him, we had a written statement from the club.

He scoffed: “If that is the case, then I’ll make my next move.”

He was puffing at the cigarette in which his tormented soul found transient relief but which tarred his otherwise fine set of teeth and ravaged whatever else in his guts.

“Will you appeal?” I asked.

“How can I appeal?” He asked in return, giving me a close-up view of the disputatious mind-set that had exasperated so many referees into flashing their cards on his face every so often.

“What letter would I quote? Official matters are dealt with official correspondence. Do you expect me to quote newspapers?”

He opened his arms as if he was protesting an unpunished infringement upon himself.

“What will you do, then?”

“Lawyers,” he answered and stomped the butt of his cigarette.

He rubbed it on the earth as if to ensure it couldn’t start a fire but from his look it was clear he was thinking hard.

He had not played for Harambee Stars. But he had tasted a life that many could only dream about. For two seasons since January 1985, he turned out for the Swiss First Division side, SC Schaffhausen, as a semi-professional. The club had toured Kenya late in 1984, and after a match with Gor Mahia, they were sufficiently impressed with Shebe’s skills as to make him an offer.

After protracted negotiations, Shebe was released by Gor.

“I was making good money there,” he told me. “Something like Sh30,000.”

So, why then could he not stay?

“I returned last December to get married,” he said.

Ex-Gor Mahia FC Switzerland-based forward Abdallah Shebe (in headscarf) during his wedding with Modhihiry Halima at Nairobi’s Eastleigh Section Two in 1985. Among the guests in attendance were Gor Mahia coach Len Julians (left) club chairman Zack Mbori and players. The wedding reception was held at the Lavington residence of Gor treasurer Abdallah Bekah. PHOTO | FILE |

Ex-Gor Mahia FC Switzerland-based forward Abdallah Shebe (in headscarf) during his wedding with Modhihiry Halima at Nairobi’s Eastleigh Section Two in 1985. Among the guests in attendance were Gor Mahia coach Len Julians (left) club chairman Zack Mbori and players. The wedding reception was held at the Lavington residence of Gor treasurer Abdallah Bekah. PHOTO | FILE |NATION MEDIA GROUP

“Then I turned out for Gor in a few friendlies and then I returned to Switzerland. When the season was finished, I came back and played for Gor in a few league matches.

Then I was suspended and letters written to Schaffhausen that I was under suspension.

The Swiss take a player’s integrity very seriously and because of the damaging nature of those letters, I could not renew my contract.”

How could he be suspended by Gor when he was turning out for Schaffhausen?

“That’s the point,” Shebe replied, lighting up a fresh cigarette.

“I am not a Gor Mahia player. So they cannot suspend me. But a lot of damage has been done.”

Shebe was an entertainer, on and off the pitch.

Even the way he spoke as he smoked kept you glued to what he was saying.

But there were many gaps in his story which were made wider by his habit of being alternately cagey and forthcoming with his words.

Shebe left you with more questions than answers and it was up to you to figure out where to go for the truth.

But you could not ignore him.

Now he angrily told me between his puffs: “People should not look for me. My wife has just got a baby. Can she have peace! Let her and the baby not be part of any quarrel people have with me and my football.”

When he spoke like this, it was hard not to sympathize with him.

Yet you couldn’t help this sneaking suspicion that he was acting. He described himself as club-less.

But he also declared his intention to continue with football. That meant plenty more would be heard from him. And it was.

On the heels of his outburst, the club’s deputy secretary, Sylvester Inda, called me to disprove of the striker’s comments.

He sent me a copy of a letter Gor Mahia had received from SC Schaffhausen in Switzerland, releasing Shebe from their ranks.

Inda said: “Shebe left after the league season in 1984 after we had cleared him to turn out for Schaffhausen in Zurich. During this time, he stayed in the house of the Schaffhausen patron, Ernest Gremlich.

He was subsequently offered a contract which had – as many contracts tend to have – some ambiguous fine print.

Since as the Swahili say kuuliza si ujinga (seeking to know is not ignorance), Shebe decided to return home and consult with family and friends on the contract’s stipulations.

“Such a mission could obviously not be sanctioned by Schaffhausen and so Shebe cooked a story that his father had died.

“We soon after received an urgent telex from Mr Gremlich requesting us to ask Shebe to return immediately if the funeral he was attending was over. When we enquired from Mr Gremlich what funeral he was talking about, he told us that they had bought him a ticket to deal with the emergency of his father’s death.”

President Daniel arap Moi juggles the ball with Gor Mahia’s guest player, Abdallah Shebe (right) while other players watch at the Nairobi City Stadium in 1986. Shebe was one of the first Kenyan pro players abroad. PHOTO | FILE |

President Daniel arap Moi juggles the ball with Gor Mahia’s guest player, Abdallah Shebe (right) while other players watch at the Nairobi City Stadium in 1986. Shebe was one of the first Kenyan pro players abroad. PHOTO | FILE |NATION MEDIA GROUP

That was news to Gor Mahia officials but they let it slide and did nothing to give Shebe away. Shebe returned to Switzerland as soon his father’s “funeral” was over.

But very soon afterwards, he wrote to Gor Mahia informing them that he was now on loan to another Swiss team, Matigny.

There was nothing for the club to do about that and so they just noted it.

But in short order, Shebe wrote another letter, this time addressed to Gor Mahia chairman Zack Mbori, informing him that he had had a disagreement with Matigny because the club had breached his contract.

Shebe announced that he would be coming home in December and he had a request: was Gor Mahia willing to take him back? Mbori confirmed these developments to me, complete with Shebe’s letter.

Shebe indeed came back in December 1985, got married and requested Gor Mahia to field him in the Cecafa Club Championships held in Tanzania in January 1986.

Gor, however, rejected the request as they were unsure bout his contractual status in Switzerland.

Ever restless, Shebe departed for Switzerland as his former team-mates at K’Ogalo prepared to defend their title. Alas!

The trip lasted two days!

Inda told me: “Shebe got stranded in Zurich and the Gor Mahia council had to organize an urgent fund-raiser to send him a ticket to return home.

He could not find a club that wanted his services. We received a telex from the Kenyan consulate there requesting us to come to his aid. Arrangements were made with Kenya Airways to fly him back. We saved Shebe the embarrassment of being repatriated.”

As they were doing all that, Gor Mahia talked to Gremlich, Shebe’s first host in Zurich, to find out what he knew of their homeboy.

Gremlich told Mbori that no team in Switzerland wanted Shebe’s services, and that Matigny had actually finalised payments to him.

If he was not satisfied, he was free to consult his lawyers, Gremlich added.

Shebe chose to make no fuss about it.

On his return home, he disappeared only to resurface when Gor Mahia played the one-off Motokura Cup tournament in which Gor lost a breathtaking final to Honda FC of Japan at the Nyayo National Stadium.

Shebe was then rumoured to have gone in the hotel business, pursuant to some catering and hotel management training he had received while in Switzerland.

Far from being the case, he turned out to be an itinerant seeker.

Some people go through an entire life without even the faintest glimmer of a break in their daily sufferings.

Others get one chance, seize it, and cross the great abyss of want.

Yet there are those upon whom multiple chances are thrust but somehow, they cannot break free of their dire condition until the good luck gives up and goes to try its own luck elsewhere.

Where in this matrix did Abdalla Shebe fall?

When I spoke to him, he told me he was doing nothing; that he was just weighing his options.

He couldn’t rule out a return to Europe. But he was emphatic about one thing: Gor Mahia fans should stop looking for him. He just wanted to enjoy his peace and take care of his new baby.

Shebe soon went out of circulation for good.

When he died some years after this episode, the man who was among the first Kenyan players to play in Europe couldn’t merit more than a few paragraphs in the pages he once ruled.



You may also like