Soccer in Tanzania: remember ‘Yunge na mpira…?’

By Karl Lyimo
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The other day, I was in this licensed watering hole for persons over-18 somewhere in Kinondoni. After a tiring stint at my workstation, I convinced myself I’d earned the right to cool my feet and parched thrapple in two of the very few ways I knew would warm the cockles of my heart!

Soon enough, I was cooling my thrapple with the golden waters which are rapidly becoming famous as ‘Kikombe,’ as concocted by a brewer of no mean standing in Ilala District.As for the feet, all I needed was a barstool high enough to enable me dangle my feet inches above terra firma – thus taking my weight not only off my feet, but also off the ground!

As it also happened, I couldn’t help overhearing heated discussions by a group regarding ‘Association Football.’ Incidentally, the term ‘soccer’ is a corruption of the word ‘Association’ – compliments of East End natives of London whose dialect, Cockney, made it hard for them to wrap their crude tongue around such a complex word, ‘Association!’

But, that’s another story… As I was saying, these folk were heaping derogations and detractions upon each other, upon each other’s football clubs in particular, and Tanzanian soccer in general. I didn’t participate in their discussions… But, that didn’t stop me from reminiscing about soccer going back to the late 1950s…

In Kilimanjaro – my place of birth and upbringing – football and other games were considered a waste of precious time, energy and other resources which were better directed as income-generating activities such as farming and livestock rearing. Parents and guardians frowned upon all games!

I know there was a footballer of considerable renown, John Lyimo (or is it ‘Limo,’ from Tanga Province?) who made a name in such important tournaments as the Sunlight and Gossage Cup matches…
There was also one Yunge Mwanasali…  I can clearly remember broadcasters’ excited yells of ‘Yunge na Mpira, Yunge na Mpira – Goooooooal!’  To say nothing of Sembuli, Chuma, Dilunga, Chitete, Zimbwe, the Manaras…
Oooh; ‘those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end…’!

I never became a soccer player worth writing home about. In primary school (1949-54), our sports master, bespectacled Isaria Malisa, was the instructor, team manager, referee, one-man linesman, timekeeper and discipline master rolled into one. He held the whistle in one hand, and a cane in the other.

It was a punishable offence to kick the ball high into the air – ‘Mnazi,’ it was called – or back-pass! He had only one rule: kick the ball towards the opposing players’ goal, not into the Heavens or towards your own goal. Whew!

In secondary school, I was captain for the Meru House Team. Again, nothing to write home about. We had an English schoolmaster, G F K Wittekind, who played soccer with us then. But I saw wizardry when the English soccer maestro, (Sir) Stanley Mathews (1915-2000), toured ‘Tanganyika’ and showed us at the King George Memorial Ground in Moshi his immense dribbling skills. You’d think the ball was tied to his bootlaces; he never ‘lost it to an opponent!

What happened to all that magic in general — and Tanzanian soccer in particular?  Ask you! Cheers!

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