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On red soil

Football fever

I went to my first Premier League game yesterday. Football is big in Africa as most people are aware of, and it won’t take long before you know whether you’re dealing with an Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or the occasional Liverpool or Barcelona fan, judging by the shirt, accessories of the person or by the stickers placed all over their bajaj, taxi and car windows. The Premier League match I’m talking about now though is not the European version, but the Tanzanian one. Not known as a big football fan myself, how did I end up there?

Mussa usually functions as my part-time translator at the morning coffee place in the corner of Azikiwe Street and Garden Avenue (sidenote: a Tanzanian colleague calls it the ‘Jobless Corner’ but I know that’s not true, Mussa also has a paying job as engineer in a local architectural firm). The coffee place is mainly a collection of men, young and old, involved in heavy debate on current politics and what not. When the debate gets louder, I usually inquire from Mussa what the topic of discussion is, and it almost always is about football. This time the heat was on about the up-coming game on Saturday, between the two Dar es Salaam archrival teams Simba SC and Yanga (Young Africans) SC. Sounded like an event not to be missed, so when Mussa said he’s going to go watch it, me and my flatmate immediately jumped on the bandwagon.

There’s no real ticket salespoint in Dar es Salaam, and I’ve always wondered how people still manage to get tickets to events. I guess you just gotta know. For example last autumn I went to a big music festival and my Tanzanian friend directed me to a woman selling hamburgers, who, when I asked about buying a ticket to the festival, nonchalantly flashed a stack of tickets from under her hamburger counter. For the football game, the ticket salespoint was also by a hamburger place, but this time sold from the window of a car – talk about a mobile community. We decided to go for the 5000Tsh (c. €2.50) tickets that Mussa also had, but the cheaper ones would’ve been 3000Tsh and the VIP version a whopping 10,000Tsh.

So, the big day came and we headed towards the National Stadium in the southern Dar es Salaam municipality of Temeke. As we approached the stadium the traffic got worse, and the closer we got the louder it became, with stereos blasting party music, people filling the streets everywhere so cars couldn’t move and vuvuzelas honking away. As a friend of ours couldn’t make it to the game after all, we had an extra ticket to sell before entering the stadium. The whole process of deciding to sell the ticket, finding a prospective buyer and getting the money for it took about 20 seconds, that’s how busy the area surrounding the game was.

The National Stadium, built a few years ago by the Chinese was quite an impressive building slurping in about 50,000 football fans for this game. We followed Mussa to get our seats on the green and yellow Yanga side, and safely far away on the other side of the stadium sat a sea of white and red Simba supporters. As the game started and Simba was almost about to score a goal a man a few rows behind us made a small cheering sound. An even bigger booing commenced, followed by some slaps and a few jumps over our row, and the white and red Simba fan was quick to run to the other side of the stadium.

My knowledge of football is quite limited but the amount of times the ball was kicked outside the field, it didn’t look quite like the European version of Champions League. But before the first half was over, Yanga had scored a goal and our side of the stadium was in roaring cheers and applause. The man sitting in the seat in front of us wasn’t actually sitting during the whole game – he was hovering on top of it ready to jump off, turn around and hit the chair like a bongo drum whenever there was reason for an even louder statement, and with the Yanga goal he was already half way up cheering on the railing in front.

During the second half Simba scored a controversial goal, which first was thought to have hit the pole but the referee then accepted after all. The roar from the red and white side was quite overwhelming but our boos very pretty loud too. So the game ended 1-1, which was bad for both teams as they are leading the fight to become the number one champions of Tanzanian football. As the game ended the feeling while leaving the stadium was quite calm after all and no bigger fights among Simba and Yanga fans were initiated. Today’s The Citizen newspaper (6.3.2011, p. 40) is right to claim that “[t]he thrilling and sometimes nerve-racking duel lived up to its billing as ‘the battle of the titans’, and thousands of soccer fans who turned up at the 60,000-seater venue had lots of fun”.

Let’s see what the coffee guys have to say tomorrow morning.



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