Visiting the 60,000-capacity seat Benjamin Mpaka Stadium on the eve of the first Ligi Kuu Bara Kariakoo Derby of the 2022/2023 season didn’t fully prepare me for what to expect on Sunday, October 23rd, 2022.
It was a quiet, peaceful isolated facility (in good shape though) that has for years been defined as the Mecca of Tanzanian football, especially when Yanga and Simba are in the equation.
African giants have been humbled here, but the two sides, who also use it as their home ground have fought battles, and wars and settled so many scores here.
Sunday was just another day for Simba and Yanga to prove their might to their present unwavering fans and over 50 million watching on television.
Not ready to miss out on the action, together with my colleague from Radio City Peter Tabu our day started early, leaving Kisiwani in Kigamboni via a ‘bajaj’ motorcycle, onto a ferry to Kivuko.
While there we had to get onto another ‘bajaj’ to the Benjamin Mpaka, the mood was communicating one thing – the Kariakoo Derby.
We got to the stadium at about 0900hours (EAT) and the early birds were already down to business, merchandise of Simba or Yanga was already on display for willing buyers.
This ranged from jerseys, scarves, capes, rings, badges, bags and shoes, not forgetting vuvuzelas, anyone going for the game had an opportunity to brand themselves in their desired club colours.
It is here that I also learnt that the vendors got to their positions as early as 0700hrs (EAT).
“I needed to get the best spot, when you come late you miss out on positioning yourself well and that won’t be good business-wise,” one of the vendors told Football256.
The day of the Kariakoo Derby is a time to make money, especially around the stadium: “You must have enough food for everyone,” Aminah who vends food told me.
She also added: “People come here hungry and many are always hungry after the game, so we are feeding them.”
Meanwhile, the gates won’t be open until 1000hrs (EAT) but the fans are already in their cues with their matchday tickets ready to enter: “I came early because I wanted to get a good view,” one Yanga fan said.
From a calm peaceful place on Saturday to being a bee hive on Sunday, that was the atmosphere from the streets around the stadium and inside.
At 1558hrs (EAT), Yanga coach Mohamed Nabi came out of the tunnel just to wave to the fans and the applause that welcomed him could take the roof off the stadium if there was one.
By 1600hrs (EAT) both teams were set for the warmups, surprisingly though, Yanga the home team, maintained the home team side of the pitch while Simba the away team also took their side.
It wasn’t the case for the fans though, Yanga maintained their traditional right side of the pitch like it has been the norm, and Simba also sat on the left side of the pitch as they have always done.
The arrival of Simba players for warmup at 1612hrs (EAT) got every member of the red army off their seats and cheering as loud as they could.
Three minutes later, Yanga players made their grand entrance, in their green and yellow stripes and the cheers got louder than the voice of the stadium announcer who struggled to be heard.
Meanwhile, bongo flavour artist Harmonize had not only trained with Yanga on Friday, but he also made his way to the ground, didn’t chill with the big boys in the VIPs but with the Wananchi.
He had good competition in Simba’s Diamond Platinum on an occasion that attracted socialites, politicians, ambassadors and several public figures.
At this point, Yanga fans also held placards with the image of President Samia Suluhu Hassani, probably claiming her as their ardent fan.
With 30 minutes to kickoff, the Benjamin Mpaka Stadium is at least 90% full but the gates to the main stands are still busy with fans making their way to the empty seats.
The league sponsors NBC Bank also used the occasion to reward Feisal Salum with his award for Player of September – a plaque.
Five minutes to kickoff, captains Feisal Salum and Mohammed Hussein led their Yanga and Simba teammates respectively out of the tunnel infront of a packed house.
Augustine Okrah gave Simba the lead to silence the Yanga fans for atleast the next 30 mins | Video by Azam Sports
Days and nights of preparations were now down to 90 minutes, who was to take the day, the hunger from both sides was very evident from kickoff.
But, it was Simba who broke the deadlock in the 14th minute as Augustine Okrah slotted home past Djigui Diarra off a Clatous Chama pass.
The goal silenced the yellow wing of the pitch, there was no more singing or beating of drums as the red army took charge, both in the stands and on the pitch.
A minute to halftime, Uganda Cranes’ Khalid Aucho fouled about 20 yards away from Simba’s goals, and they had to make it count.
The responsibility fell on Azizi ki, his left foot didn’t disappoint as he powered it home.
The goal was a spear straight into the hearts of the red wing and a breath of life into the yellow branch whose applause didn’t stop until the commencement of the second half.
Nothing changed in the second stanza, as both teams could not be separated and for the third straight time in the league, a Kariakoo Derby failed to produce a winner.
A result that left both Simba and Yanga fans satisfied, ninety minutes full of breathe taking entertaining moments and an experience to behold.