How Three Ugandan Soccer Fans Cheered for the Cranes in a Stadium Packed With Tens of Thousands of Tanzanians.

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[Soccer Story From Archives]

This is the season of World Cup fever so I pull out a soccer story from many decades ago.

Soccer is more than sports to most Africans. It can make us lose our minds and cheer for our favored teams even deep in "enemy" territory.

When we were kids living in exile from Idi Amin in Tanzania I went with two of my younger brothers to a Uganda vs Tanzania soccer match at the National Stadium in Dar Es Salaam, the capital.

It was a big game I recall then; probably one of the regional East African tournaments if it wasn't an African Nations Cup qualifying game.

This was during the 1970s. Relations between Uganda and Tanzania had been tense since Amin seized power in 1971; in 1972, Uganda had also repulsed an insurgency by Ugandan exiles in Tanzania. It was no secret that Tanzanian President, the Pan African intellectual freedom fighter, Julius Nyerere, was close to Uganda's ousted President Apollo Milton Obote, who was then living in exile in Dar Es Salaam.

I was about 11 when I attended the soccer game between the Uganda Cranes and Tanzania's Taifa Stars accompanied by my brother Andrew, nine, and Walter, who was seven.

I was the "adult" in the group. I held the money. I made sure we got on the right bus. I purchased the tickets. I bought the sodas and the samosas for all of us. My parents, the late E. Otema Allimadi and the late Alice Lamunu Allimadi, were confident that in a stadium with tens of thousands of soccer fanatics I would be able to take care of Andrew and Walter, enjoy the game, and return us all home safely.

I admit I was rather an unusual 11 year old. My mom accused me of being "too serious," for my age. I was always reading. Sometimes, I locked the doors and prevented my siblings from going outside until they had done their physical exercises and read some books. (Recently, they claimed they hated me when they were kids; but now they are thankful as that early investment paid off later in life).

So, on the day of the match, my mom knew Andrew and Walter were in safe hands.

We settled into our spots in the standing-only cheap-section of the stadium, with tens of thousands of Tanzanian soccer fans.

The game kicked off. I had already warned my siblings to just enjoy the game and refrain from cheering for Uganda since we were in hostile territory.

I had attended Tanzanian club soccer matches in the past. In those days the soccer powers were Young Africans, commonly known as "Yanga," and Simba Sports Club; they were Tanzania's versions of Real Madrid or Barcelona. Their rivalry was intense. We were all Yanga fans, or "Wanayanga"; we hated "Wanasimba."

But in the Yanga vs. Simba games, you always felt safe seated in a section with predominantly Yanga fans; Simba supporters sat elsewhere.

This was my first international soccer match. I had siblings to watch over. The entire stadium --at least the section where we sat-- was rooting for Tanzania.

I remember just two names from the Ugandan team on that day, Polly Ouma and Mubiru "Tank." Tanzanian names that still come to mind from that era include the brothers Sunday and Kitwana Manara, Abdallah Kibadeni, and Sembuli; I don't recall whether they all played for the national team.

The game was even for a while. It would go back and forth with the commentator capturing the action:

"Tanzania na mpira, Tanzania na mpira, (then the player with the ball would be named)....anamchenga moja, mbili, tatu...anakwenda....go-go-gooo-gooooo...Oh! Oh! Oh!"

Translation: "Tanzania with the ball, Tanzania with the ball, ...dribbles past one, two, three players....there he goes.....go-go-gooo-gooooo...Oh! Oh! Oh!"

You think the Mexican soccer broadcasters are great? You haven't heard the Tanzanians in Kiswahili!

The go-go-gooo that ended with Oh! Oh! Oh! always meant the spectacular moves had been for nought; the goalie had made a save, or the ball had hit the crossbar or post, or it had gone wide.

Then, at one point, the game went something like this:

"Uganda na mpira, Uganda na mpira, (then the player with the ball was named; I don't recall who it was, maybe Ouma, maybe Mubiru)....anamchenga moja, mbili, tatu...anakwenda....go-go-gooo-gooooo-goooooaall!!!

Uganda had scored!

We found ourselves --the Allimadi brothers-- hugging each other and jumping up and down and screaming at the top of our lungs. We then turned to people next to us, total strangers, and hugged them too, while cheering for the Ugandan goal.

Out the window with my wise earlier counsel to my siblings that we were to remain calm in "enemy" territory. Earlier, we may have even cheered -strategically--when Tanzania had nearly scored.

Now Uganda had scored and soccer madness had taken control.

Then, we suddenly sobered up when we saw the looks of shock and disbelief directed at us from tens of thousands of Tanzanian eyes. From people with mouths agape. Of course, we stopped cheering. We stopped smiling. We realized our whole section, perhaps the whole stadium, had gone silent after the Ugandan goal.

The Ugandan transgression.

After all, this was still a team from Idi Amin's Uganda.

Then somerone muttered that we were probably just some stupid kids from Uganda. I nodded eagerly, in agreement; hoping perhaps it would end there. Some fans jeered at us and while others cursed us out. Some laughed that we had the temerity to hug them.

Even at age 11, I knew that we had to get out of there quick.

Yes, we were kids; but soccer games also attract irrational fanatics. There were always stories of fights breaking out after games and people getting stabbed. I knew my mom would kill me if I failed to protect my siblings.

So I waited until the game resumed and Tanzania had a few good moves. Fans became distracted from us. I signaled my brothers and led them to another part of the stadium; closer to the exit gates. Then before the game ended I led them out of the stadium so we could get a headstart before the fans were let out.

Uganda had won and I wasn't taking chances. (Amin was notorious for sending infuriating messages to other leaders. Looking back now, I can imagine him, then, sending a telegram to Nyerere --"My Dear Brother, I Beat You Again!").

I led Andrew and Walter safely home.

We lived in Tanzania until 1979. That was the year Ugandan insurgents, this time accompanied by Tanzanian artillery and tanks, drove Amin from power after he'd invaded.

Nyerere had settled the score.

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