The Blantyre derby is like a civil war—it pits brothers against each other, husbands against wives, sons against fathers, neighbours against each other—even church members turn against each other in the rivalry.
And when that Blantyre derby returns to its original home—the Kamuzu Stadium—the city comes to complete standstill.
This afternoon’s top of the table clash is the first Super League Blantyre derby at the venue since 2016 when the Nyasa Big Bullets edged rivals Be Forward Wanderers 1-0 through Kondwani Kumwenda’s goal.
The two sides have been playing at Bingu National Stadium (BNS) in what was called ‘Blantyre Derby in Lilongwe’, following the closure of Kamuzu Stadium for renovations.
But as one Blantyre-based fan, Justice Malikita noted, the derby had lost its value because ‘it’s not a Blantyre derby if it’s not played at Kamuzu Stadium’.
No doubt every true Nomads or Bullets fan wants to watch this special derby.
With the stadium’s capacity drastically cut to 14 000, the venue is expected to park to capacity and with it comes the nerves on the players.
But both camps tried to downplay the pressure ahead to the battle.
Bullets coach Rogers Yasin suggested it is the Nomads who are under pressure since they are defending champions.
“We are leading the table and our aim is to consolidate our position. Our rivals are defending champions and are under pressure to defend the title,” he said.
But the coach declared that if they collect maximum points or even a point, the title battle will be over.
“If we win this one or even just draw, it’s over…no one will catch up with us,” he said. “I just play that the officiating panel should do a professional job. My plea to our supporters is to keep calm.”
Nomads team manager Stevie Madeira was sarcastic in his response.
“They can say that because they are leading and think they have already won the title. But for us, we just want to win and narrow the gap between us,” he said.
Wanderers have for the past four seasons played second fiddle to Bullets.
They have never beaten their rivals in eight league derbies; the best they have achieved is a draw.
The Blantyre derby has a tendency of bringing out the best in players and this afternoon’s episode will be no exemption.
On a good day, coach Bob Mpinganjira could be a hero if he gets his tactics right. He has enough arsenal to surprise Bullets.
In goals Nenani Juwaya has come of age. He managed to keep a seven-game clean sheet until last weekend when the Nomads drew one-all with Masters Security. This afternoon it would be suicide to put him on the bench.
At the back, the Nomads have experienced Harry Nyirenda, Bongani Kaipa, Stanley Sanudi, Lucky Malata and Francis Mulimbika who command respect.
But Mpinganjira has a lot of homework to do from the centre going upfront where his charges have proved impotent.
Midfielders Joseph Kamwendo, Mike Kaziputa, Isaac Kaliyati, Jaffalie Chande, Felix Zulu and Yamikani Chester have not done enough to create scoring opportunities for strikers Peter Wadabwa, Esau Kanyenda and Zicco Nkanda.
Bullets on the other hand are handicapped at the back where their traditional flat defence is proving problematic.
Playing with three defenders—John Lanjesi, Yamikani Fodya and Bashir Maunde has of late been leaky conceding unnecessary goals and Wanderers can take advantage of that. The defenders have often been saved by the heroics of impressive goalkeeper Rabson Chiyenda.
But upfront Bullets have perhaps the most lethal attack in the league.
Mike Mkwate, Henry Kabichi, Nelson Kangunje, Chiukepo Msowoya, Bright Munthali and Patrick Phiri perfectly fit like pieces of a single weapon of mass destruction.
But then sometimes in football, you just need luck to be on your side. At the end of the day, it all depends on which team the gods of football will simile at.