Dar es Salaam, Tanzania — When it comes to football rivalries, few in Africa are more intense than the one between Simba Sports Club and Young Africans (known locally as Yanga). Both from the country’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, they are the two biggest and oldest clubs in Tanzania. They have won the the greatest number of titles, boast the biggest fan bases, and in their squads you will find the best collection of talent in the nation.
When these two clubs meet, Dar es Salaam is transformed. A certain electricity courses through the city. It’s subtle, but the energy shift is palpable, with Dar’s famous edginess rising a few notches.
Tanzania has long prided itself on its unassailable unity. We are Tanzanians first, before any ethnic, religious or tribal affiliation. But on the day of the Dar es Salaam Derby, the city cleaves into two distinct clans. People don either Simba SC's famous red and white or Yanga's yellow and green. Street corners sprout flagpoles carrying the teams’ logos, marking a neighbourhood's affiliation. Cars fly banners signaling their drivers’ allegiance. The flag with the majestic lion is Simba; the torch superimposed on a map of Africa is Yanga. On match day, there is no such thing in Dar as a neutral.
I Bleed Red
I am a Simba fan. Always have been and always will be. My connection to the club runs deep. My father, Mohammed Hadi Tamimi, played for the club in the late 60s and early 70s, when it was known as Sunderland. And as a boy, I would wake up on the day of the Derby, don my Simba kit and my uncles would carry me on their shoulders to the game.
My memory of those afternoons is filled with heartache. I remember mostly the defeats, and the sense of despair that followed. One player in particular was a thorn in Simba's side. Said Sued “Scud” played for Yanga in the 90s and his specialty was scoring against Simba. He was slightly overweight and didn't play that much, but when the Derby came around it was almost inevitable that he would score the winner, with a thunderous strike befitting the nickname “Scud”.
As I’ve grown older, my devotion to Simba has waned somewhat. In the last ten years I attended no more than three Dar Derbies. But recently I started monitoring my old team's progress again and last Sunday, after a long hiatus, I decided to go and watch the latest meeting between the old arch-rivals.
A Classic For The Ages
I arrived, with some friends, at the fantastic, 60,000-capacity Benjamin William Mkapa National Stadium about an hour before the 4pm kick-off. The atmosphere was already electric, with the two sets of fans trying to out-sing each other. A pre-game match between the club's youth teams was underway. As I took my seat, I felt the sense of anxiety start to build.
Simba was coming into the game the more in-form team. Still unbeaten and leading the league, they had won five of their last eight games. Yanga, on the other hand, had already suffered their first defeat of the season, but with four wins and three draws, they were in fourth position, only three points behind the league leaders.
But as the game kicked off, it was Yanga who came out of the gate in blistering form. They handled the ball with pace and fluency and controlled the tempo throughout the first half. Simba seemed unsure of themselves, with no clear idea of what their tactics should be. They were lethargic, struggled to keep possession, resorting instead to long balls that inevitably led to them giving the ball away, which put them on the defensive.
The star of the first half was undoubtedly Yanga's number 10, Mrisho Ngasa. A former Simba player, he was causing his former club all sorts of problems. Playing in the pocket, between the midfield and attack, his movements off the ball wreaked havoc on the heart of Simba's defence. When he had the ball his pace simply terrorised Simba's back four. 15 minutes into the game, he was rewarded for his efforts. A ball swung in from the left, eluded Simba's defender and broke into Ngasa's path. Ngasa flicked it into the net to give Yanga a well deserved lead.
Things got even better for Yanga in the 35th minute. After Simba failed to clear a long throw into their six-yard box, Yanga’s Hamid Kiiza pounced, to give his team a 2-0 lead. And just before half-time, Yanga scored again. After an errant pass was intercepted, midfielder Didier Kavumbangu dribbled past a Simba defender before setting up Kiiza, who slotted in his second goal of the game. 3-0, Yanga. It was shaping up to be a massacre.
Simba had no idea of what hit them. When the referee blew his whistle for half-time, the players seemed relieved. Their fans were shell-shocked. Some decided they had seen enough and left the stadium. Those who did were about to miss one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the Dar Derby.
Soon after the start of the second half Simba made two changes. Midfielders William Lucian and Said Ndemla came in for the underwhelming Haroun Chanongo and Abdulhalim Humuod. The two young substitutes quickly transformed the match. All of a sudden Simba's midfield, out-run, out-hustled and out-played in the first half, grabbed control of the game. Lucian and Ndemla, in particular, injected some pace into Simba's attacks and soon enough they had helped their team pull a goal back.
Then, in the 54th minute, Yanga failed to deal with a speculative punt forward from Simba that found striker Bertram Mombeki in position to blast the ball into the roof of the net, giving his side some hope.
A few minutes later a corner kick swung in by Ramadhan Singano was headed powerfully into the net by the Ugandan centre-back Joseph Owino and all of a sudden it was 3-2, and we had a game on our hands.
Yanga’s fans appeared deflated and anxious while Simba's began believing that a comeback might be in store. The noise in the stadium was deafening, with the cries of “Let's go, Simba!”
But Yanga weren’t done yet. Ngasa, quieter in the second half, went through clean on goal at one point, but his tame shot was parried away by Simba's goalkeeper, Abel Dhaira. Ngasa was to rue that missed chance. Five minutes from the end of the match, Simba got a free-kick on the right wing, near the edge of Yanga's box. The resulting cross was met beautifully by Gilbert Kaze, who headed in the equalizer, sending the red and white half of the stadium into a frenzy. Simba’s comeback was complete.
It was a stunning turnaround, the first time in the history of the Derby that a team had been able to accomplish such a feat. The match ended 3-3.
A few minutes later, after the referee had blown for full time, some Simba players collapsed to the ground, not quite believing what they had just pulled off. Those who could manage to stand embraced their opponents, taking in the idea that they’d just been part of an unforgettable classic, one that will long live in the memory of their fans.
Omar Mohammed is a Tanzanian journalist based in Dar es Salaam. He tweets at @shurufu.