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We are always on the lookout for new talent at NAS. So if you're passionate about African football and love to write, get in touch!



2009.02.04 21:23:35
Jake Brown

Local derbies stir the blood of any football fan. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Glasgow, Rome, Cairo or Buenos Aires – there is something about the meeting of two local sides that touches our tribal instincts. I should include Addis Ababa in that list, because the St George versus Ethiopian Coffee clash is guaranteed to fill the national stadium irrespective of the form of the two teams. So, when I saw that the southern derby between Awassa City and Debub Police was due to take place last weekend, it was time to fill the car up with petrol!

On my previous visit to Awassa I was told that when the derby takes place most fans will cheer on the Police team because they are the underdogs. I was unsure about this information, thinking that surely the former league champions would be the more popular club. It was soon clear that the locals did favour the Police side and by quite a considerable percentage of the 10,000 crowd (the first five-figure “gate” for this fixture for three years).This trait is something that I can associate with because the English tend to cheer on rank outsiders, but the atmosphere was different to an English derby game in that fans of both clubs sat side by side and there was no hint of malice in the air. It was if the football supporters of the city were there to simply celebrate having two Premier League clubs.

The main stand was packed out well before kick-off but the usual Ethiopian habit of wandering in after kick-off showed itself even at this game – I noticed streams of people arriving when we had already had half an hour of play. The crowd in the stand were entertained by a man who performed comedy versions of popular songs. My friend Mesfin was roaring with laughter at one ditty, so I asked him what was being sung. “It’s about onions” was his reply, which I found bemusing to say the least. A man selling nuts came to the front of the stand and held up a packet, shouting, “this is my ticket. It is for the Awassa section, is this it?” and the crowd roared back “Police, Police”. Such was the good humour of the occasion. A crowd of 7 or 8 people staggered and danced their way around the ground, clearly having spent the morning drinking/chewing/smoking something strong, but they gave the impression of being travelling clowns rather than troublemakers.

It was the Awassa contingent of the crowd who had first cause for celebration, and a fantastic goal as Ashenafi Adam controlled the ball with his right foot and volleyed over the goalkeeper with his left from the edge of the area. 15 minutes had elapsed but five minutes later Debub Police were level as Getaneh Kabede headed into an open net when the ball rebounded from the post. As this point it seemed as if we were going to be treated to a classic, but most derbies are tight affairs and the remainder of the match passed without further scoring. 11 minutes into the second half Police had reasonable claims for a penalty turned down and that was as close as we came to a winning goal. With five minutes to play probably half the crowd decided to head for the exit and we had the bizarre spectacle of the final few minutes being played with around 5,000 people only inches from the pitch at one end of the ground.

After the game I was asked for an interview by ETV. As I was waiting for my turn after players and managers I chatted to a local radio reporter, who asked me about the proposed 100 million Pound transfer of Kaka to Manchester City. I wondered aloud just what such a sum of money could achieve in Ethiopia. His eyes glazed over and he replied, “yes, just think of the stadiums we could build”. Lesson for the day – liberal concerns in the west are not necessarily shared in Ethiopia!

On the way back to Addis the following day we decided to try and find the elusive town of Alaba, armed only with the vague directions given the week before by the Meta Beer number 19! Although it turned out to be more distant than we’d imagined we arrived there in good time for the game between Alaba and Meta. This town really did feel remote. I wandered onto the pitch before kick-off and was shocked to find cow-pats, litter and large sticks strewn across it. There was a grandstand, positioned at a strange angle behind one of the corner flags. I didn’t fancy watching the game from here so suggested to Mesfin that for a sum of money the café across the road might be persuaded to lend us a couple of chairs, that we could put down by the half-way line. I had visions of white plastic garden furniture but he brought back two tall bar stools. Whilst I am often amused by things I see on my travels here I have no doubt that the sight of an Englishman perched on a bar stool watching the match will be remembered by the Alaba fans for some time! The temperature reached about 32-33 degrees C, but this was not a pleasant warmth, just a baking, oppressive heat that made any movement uncomfortable. It was like wearing pyjamas in a sauna. Given the state of the pitch and the temperature it was no surprise that the game was distinctly average. It had the scent of a 0-0 draw from soon into the second-half and that is how it ended, although both sides did try to play decent football. When Meta’s number 19 (Kassahun Giramew) was substituted, the crowd gave him a round of applause, realising he was from this area. Given the late arrivals that boosted the attendance, I would say that by the final whistle there were 2,000 people present – an impressive figure. I must mention the most extraordinary medical machine that was used; it was basically a stretcher attached to the side of a motorbike, which roared onto the field whenever there was an injury. As an incentive to get up and carry on with the game, I’d say it worked pretty well!

On the way back from Alaba to Addis, the car in front of us smashed into a pedestrian, sending him flying over their vehicle and landing, unconscious, at the side of the road. We stopped and did what we could to help, driving back to the nearest town to bring a policeman to the scene. I have no idea whether the young man lived or died, but it was a horrible incident to witness. Shaken, we stopped for a drink and some food at a restaurant in the next town we came to. We gatecrashed a party and it was strange being amongst people dancing and being merry after the accident we’d encountered. Yet celebrating life is exactly what we should do, because – like this story - it can end abruptly.

Neil Morris


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