It has been there for generations. It has been played under diverse weather conditions, and thousands of fans have witnessed exciting action which has probably left an ineradicable mark in their lives. Forever.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Blantyre derby which both unites and divides city rivals, Big Bullets and Be Forward Wanderers.
Obviously, this derby is more than a match, with pride the ultimate prize at the end of the day. To some it is like a religion. It is as if their very lives depend on these two giants.
The intensity of the rivalry is so great that it could make a newly-wed couple repulse each other on a honeymoon. You just cannot resist this football festival.
Every nerve and muscle works to its extreme to be party to the great football feast whose power forces some to put on comical costumes.
The excitement is not just at the stadiums, but everywhere—market places and other gatherings— where supporters, clad in either blue- white or red-white scarves, swarm even the smallest radio set just to follow the live match commentary.
The match has changed the lives of overlooked players, turning them into legends for both club and country.
While spectators have whirled in the glory of the classic football the derby usually produces, only a few football fanatics of this generation could trace the roots of this great rivalry that always keep tongues wagging and minds boggling with expectations when it is imminent.
Osman’s role and Bullets’ breakaway from Wanderers
Any manuscript on the Blantyre derby could be incomplete without the mention of Yasin Osman, who ironically is the current Nomads technical director.
Osman joined Wanderers in 1963 while aged 14 when he was a student at Robert Armitage Secondary School (now Chichiri Secondary School).
He was one of the first players at Wanderers since its formation in 1960.
Wanderers, at that time, had a reserve side which was playing in the Reserve League.
“During the period between 1965 and 1968, Wanderers dominated local football. They could have nine players in the starting line-up of the national team. The players at the Wanderers Reserve side could not find an opportunity to play for the main team because there was stiff competition,” he said.
With the lack of game-time, the reserve side broke away from Wanderers to form a new team in 1967.
The new team was thus named Blantyre City and it played in the Blantyre and Districts Football League (BDFL).
After a year in the BDFL, Blantyre City secured sponsorship from Bata Shoe Company, and the team was inevitably named Bata Bullets.
Bullets’ new fat purse forced them to go on the market in search of the best talent and Osman was the hottest asset on the market at that moment.
Bullets signed Osman from Wanderers at a fee of 100 British Pounds in 1968.
This was the first ever transfer involving money in the history of Malawi football.
“However, I did not get any cut from the transfer fee because at that time we were amateur footballers. I was just getting normal training and match allowances. I was lured to join Bullets because I was offered employment at Bata Shoe Company,” Osman said.
In the course of the season, Bullets bought other players such as Damiano Malefula and Henry Kapalamula (now deceased) to strengthen their side.
Two years after Osman’s move to Bullets, his brother Alaudin Osman also crossed the iron curtain from Wanderers to Bullets to join their other brother Satar Osman, who had parted ways with Blantyre City.
Farid Osman was Bullets’ first chairperson but their relation, Jim Pinto was also a manager at Wanderers.
“We had relatives at both clubs, therefore we used to mock each other on football issues,” he recalls.
This led to the development of a rivalry between the former parent club Wanderers and the new baby, Bullets aiming to end Nomads’ dominance.
“Bullets continued growing and there was a lot of competition from Wanderers who wanted to maintain their top status. The rest is history,” said Yasin Osman, who returned to Wanderers in 1976 in the twilight of his career.
Blue and red colours
Wanderers’ choice of blue and white club colours was not just made out of the blues, but it was because of the connection with Portuguese giants, FC Porto.
“Wanderers were sponsored by Portuguese guys who built the club house in Blantyre. They were Porto fans therefore they decided to use the blue and white Porto colours at Wanderers. These have remained the club’s colours up to now,” he said.
Bullets’ sponsors, Bata Shoe Company were the ones that determined that the club’s colours would be red and white.
Bullets, Nomads rivalry back then
Osman observed that back in the days, Bullets and Wanderers rivalry was exciting and competitive but it was played in a more cheery manner.
“Supporters and the players knew that football was all about entertainment. The players mingled well off the field and rival supporters mixed in the stands. There was no such thing as violence,” he said.
“These days most players do not know why they are playing football. They do not have the right mindset to play for big clubs like Bullets and Wanderers. No wonder, some of the derbies have left a lot to be desired. The spirit of sportsmanship has also disappeared that is why there is a lot of fighting and violence during the derbies. People must understand that football is entertainment and back then it united people.”