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Bullets, Wanderers rivalry augurs well for Malawi football

Written by  Gospel Mwalwanda

Lilongwe, July 28, Mana: Dressed in a white maternity gown that shows an advanced ‘pregnancy’, the fan walks slowly along the terraces, casting his eyes here and there, a cell phone glued to his ear.

The football fanatic stops occasionally to make a gesture as he speaks on the phone, relishing the fact that the crowd is staring at him in total disbelief, wondering how he could have gotten ‘pregnant’.

But the ‘pregnant’ man, smiling broadly, keeps on walking, apparently oblivious of the stares from the terraces. There is a cheer from spectators now and again, and he acknowledges by waving his hand.

Biologically, it is unthinkable that a male human being can become pregnant. But when it comes to a contest between Big Bullets and Mighty Wanderers Football Clubs, such a sight is possible.  

The ‘pregnant’ man was one of the numerous spectacles that spiced up last Saturday’s Carlsberg Cup Semi-Final match between the two Blantyre-based clubs which Bullets won 1-0.

The match, played in Lilongwe at the 25,000-seat CIVO Stadium, saw the sports facility being filled to capacity. The attendance gave the impression the Malawi national team was playing, and not local clubs.

That the match attracted a mammoth crowd is not surprising, given the large number of supporters that Bullets and Wanderers command nationwide, not to mention their age-long rivalry for supremacy.

While the clubs’ standard of football seems to have declined, their friendly rivalry has continued to grow. This makes the atmosphere at every Bullets-Wanderers match venue to be pregnant with anxiety.

The semi-final match may have been moved to Lilongwe, yet this did not deter fans from traveling in their thousands from the country’s commercial hub to the capital city to be witness to a rare duel.

“Without a doubt, these two clubs’ rivalry does spice up Malawi football,” one male fan in his 30s remarked as a fan in a witchdoctor’s regalia walked past, an earthen pot on his head emitting smoke.

The Salima-based fan said he supported neither Bullets nor Wanderers, “but their matches provide a lot of thrill and I seldom miss them. There would be a big void in Malawi football without these clubs.”

The two clubs’ rivalry dates back to the late 1960s when Yasin Osman, one of the best footballers Malawi has ever had, quit Wanderers to join the then Bata Bullets, formerly known as Blantyre City FC.

A former Malawi international, Osman started playing football at the age of 14, and was the country’s first player to be sold when he transferred to Bata Bullets from Wanderers between 1969 and 1970.

He was sold for 100 British Pounds, which at that time was a huge sum. Osman’s decision to join Bata Bullets sparked divisions within his foot balling family as some of his brothers decided to follow suit. 

Osman, who had five brothers including Aladin who were also prominent footballers, said that at that time, Wanderers had too many reserve players who later broke away to form Blantyre City FC in 1967.

Blantyre City was later to be renamed Bata Bullets after the club secured sponsorship from Bata Shoe Company. The Portuguese Association sponsored Wanderers at the time, according to Osman.

 “Around 1969 and 1970, Bata Bullets started buying players in a bid to strengthen the club,” Yasin, 64, told the Malawi News Agency. “I joined Bata for 100 Pounds and was the first local player to be sold.”

Thus following the departure of Osman, who played as a centre forward and was nicknamed ‘Njinga’ by his adoring fans because of his speed, the rivalry between Bata Bullets and Wanderers started.

Asked what he thought of the seemingly endless Bullets-Wanderers’ rivalry, Osman agreed with those who say it is good for the country’s football, as long as it is not translated into hooliganism.

“In almost every country, you have this type of rivalry between big clubs,” he said in a phone interview, citing the Manchester United-Liverpool, and Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalries in Europe as examples.

Osman, who stopped playing football in 1977, said: “It [the Bullets-Wanderers rivalry] should never end. It keeps players on their toes all the time, provided fans do not resort to hooliganism. ”

Local football expert and former Minister of Youth and Sport, Moses Dossi also spoke positively about the Bullets-Wanderers rivalry. He said the rivalry had become a tradition that would go on for years.

Dossi, echoing Osman’s remarks, also likened the clubs’ rivalry to that of Manchester and Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid, and Kaizer Chiefs and Mamelode Sundowns in South Africa.

He said what was interesting about the Bullets-Wanderers rivalry was that their matches more often than not draw large crowds, as “evidenced by the K14.2 million realized from the match on Saturday.”

Dossi said: “These two teams will always be a marvel to watch. The rivalry will be there for centuries to come.”

The sight of the ‘pregnant’ man and ‘witchdoctor’ brought feelings of nostalgia for the Kinna Phiri and Jack Chamangwana era when the two clubs’ faithful would try to outdo each other with banter.

For instance, there was one Bullets’ staunch fan, Raphael Nasimba, who would dress like a Nigerian and go to where his fellow BB supporters were to whip up their feelings, to the amusement of the crowd.

And then there was the flamboyant Wanderers Manager, the late Dumbo Lemani who had no rival when it came to psychological war as he had no shortage of words ahead of any match involving his club.

On one occasion when Bullets and Wanderers were preparing for a crucial match, Lemani warned in a newspaper interview that their rivals would cease to exist as his team had acquired Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) which would be unleashed on the day of the match.  

“Without this rivalry, football would be dead in Malawi,” one female Wanderers’ fan who asked not to be named said. “Whether one likes it or not, the two clubs set the pace and others follow.”

And as the Bullets-Wanderers’ rivalry continues with no sign of abating, the football fraternity should expect to see more bizarre things from the clubs’ creative diehards each time the two teams meet.


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