Senior Sports Editor
IT’S the Beast from the East, a powerhouse football club that claims to have more than 10 million fans in Tanzania, and is driven by its ambitions to try and conquer the continent.
Powered by the Cinderella dreams of their billionaire chairman, Mohammed Dewji, the richest man in Tanzania, Simba S.C. have been on a grand mission in recent years.
They want to become the first Tanzanian club, to be crowned champions of Africa, and they have been investing heavily towards that cause.
“I’m pleased with winning the domestic titles,” Dewji, the 45-year-old with a net worth of US$1.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine, said after his club completed a Treble by winning the league, FA and Community Shield in August.
“My goal is the CAF Champions League.
“Our goal is to keep on the pace to compete and win the Mainland Premier League but also to reach the Champions League group stages and, if we can, win it.”
Known as the youngest African billionaire, with interests in companies that employ more than 100 000 people, largely in East Africa, Dewji has been on a mission to transform Simba S.C. into a giant whose influence is felt across the continent.
He took control when he snapped a 51 percent stake in the club and has invested heavily in foreign players and coaches over the years.
Simba S.C. showed promise during the 2018/2019 Champions League campaign when they reached the group stages and finished second to make the quarter-finals.
However, they then ran into Congolese powerhouse, TP Mazembe, and were no match to the seasoned campaigners from Lubumbashi who strolled to a four-goal demolition exercise.
Last year, Simba S.C. were back on the campaign trail and appeared to have set the foundation to advance when they held UD Songo of Mozambique to a goalless draw in the first leg of their preliminary round match in Beira.
But, roared on by more than 60 000 fans at the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Simba S.C. could not match passion of the dreams of their supporters, and owner, as a 1-1 stalemate gave UD Songo victory on the away goals rule.
The Mozambicans proved no match for FC Platinum who won both legs, including scoring four goals in Beira, to reach the group stages.
Today, what should have been a group stage eliminator between the two sides, last year, explodes into action at the National Sports Stadium when the Zvishavane miners host the Tanzanian giants.
It’s hard not to feel for the Zimbabwean side in this battle for a place in the group stages of the competition.
For the umpteenth time, they will have to play hundreds of kilometres away from their home at Mandava with the Confederation of African Football insisting their stadium isn’t suitable to host such matches.
Secondly, they will play behind closed doors as fans are not allowed to watch today’s match.
In contrast, Simba S.C. will have about 30 000 fans cheering them on in the reverse leg after the Tanzanian Football Federation petitioned CAF to be allowed to let fans rally their clubs in their home assignments in the continental inter-club tournaments.
“CAF has allowed fans, up to 50 percent of full capacity, to attend the CAF Champions League home games and CAF Confederation Cup home games for Simba and Namungo respectively,” the Tanzanian Football Federation said in a statement last month.
“The decision has been reached after the Federation wrote to CAF stating that there is no Covid-19 threat in Tanzania.
“As a result, CAF has accepted and the two clubs will now have fans cheating them as specified.”
Namungo, who are making their debut in the CAF Confederation Cup, thrashed South Sudanese side Al Rabita 3-0 in the first leg of their preliminary round game at the Azam Sports Complex.
The reverse fixture was abandoned, with the Tanzanians handed a 3-0 walkover win, after the South Sudanese failed to secure air tickets for the match officials.
While Simba S.C. reputation has been growing on the continent, there is also a disturbing link to the dark arts of the game, which has blighted their campaign of late.
In their last Champions League battle against Plateau United of Nigeria, the Tanzanian giants were accused of allegedly trying to bribe the captain of the West African side, Elisha Golbe, to underperform.
Reports in Nigeria claimed Golbe was the man who was allegedly targeted with a US$5 000 inducement and the plot would be for him to also recruit three other players into that web of deceit.
Simba S.C. vehemently denied the allegations, which they said was meant to soil their image, and won the first leg 1-0 in Nigeria.
The second leg ended goalless in Dar es Salaam.
However, the incident wasn’t an isolated one as last year, reports also emerged that there were attempts to allegedly bribe four Ud Songo players ahead of the second leg of their qualifier in Dar es Salaam.
Malawian sports agent, Felix Sapao, who has close links to football in East Africa, claimed about US$2 500 was offered to four UD Songo players.
“But this never worked out as the UD Songo chairman, who led the delegation to Dar es Salaam after they had drawn goalless in Mozambique, in the team bus on the way to the game, announced that the win bonus for each player, if they knocked out Simba S.C. would be US$4 000,” said Sapao.
The plucky Mozambicans battler their way to a 1-1 draw, in that match, a result which was good enough to take them past Simba on the away goals rule.
Ironically, that ticket earned them a duel against FC Platinum and UD Songo were no match for the Zimbabwean side who won both legs of their battle, including a come-from-behind 4-2 victory in Beira.
The drama hasn’t been limited to the Champions League.
When Simba and their biggest rivals, Young Africans, clashed in the Kariakoo Derby last month, Yanga chief executive, Senzo Mbatha, was arrested and detained amid allegations of trying to influence that game.
Mbatha, a highly-respected South African football administrator, was initially recruited by Simba before he jumped ship, this year, to join their biggest rivals Yanga.
He denied the charges.
Simba S.C. chairman, Dewji, also spent 10 days in captivity after he was kidnapped by armed men while on his way to a morning session in the gym two years ago.
He said on the sixth day of his captivity, he even asked one of his kidnappers to shoot him because he could no longer bear their threats.
He was released unharmed.