DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Jul 14- Close to 50,000 fans thronged the national stadium in Dar es Salaam on Thursday evening as English Premier League side Everton played record Kenyan champions Gor Mahia in a pre-season friendly.
Obviously, the biggest attraction of match day was former Everton striker Wayne Rooney who returned to the Merseyside club after 17 years, having left United after a trophy laden career. Fans cheered his every touch and move off the ball.
It wasn’t a huge surprise when just 20 minutes into the match, an overzealous fan raced into the pitch just to hug the former United man.
Either way, this was not the first time it was happening in Tanzania. When the Brazil national team visited Dar es Salaam in 2010, despite watertight security, a fan still managed to invade the pitch and hug Kaka.
But nothing could hide the joy of the Tanzanians as they watched an English Premier League side play in their home turf for the first time in history.
“Sisi twataka hata Manchester na Arsenal waje sasa. Bongo safi (We now want Manchester United and Arsenal to come. Tanzania is a good land),” one of the fans shouted from the stands as he stuck his head out to the tunnel waiting to snap away Rooney, with his own phone probably to show future generations that he was there in the historic moment.
As early as 2pm, the lower stands were almost full; everyone wanted to be as close to the action as possible. Outside, long queues had already started forming four hours to kick off as fans patiently waited to get in and witness the action.
When the Everton support staff emerged from the dressing room to head in and prepare the training cones and bibs on the pitch, they were greeted to a rapturous welcome and the crescendo grew into deafening decibels when they got to the corner of the pitch where Everton would be warming up.
As soon as the Toffees got into the pitch, they were welcomed with a thunderous applause with fans cheering them on. The sight of Rooney grew the excitement even louder.
“This is a massive atmosphere. It is very exciting,” Robert Ecclestone, the Everton FC CEO Commented as he got into the pitch to savour the moment and ensure everything was okay with his team.
Into the match, the electric atmosphere was maintained with the stadium noises hitting the rooftop when Rooney scored his sublime goal just after the half hour mark.
The Everton team also acknowledged that the atmosphere was electric with head coach Ronald Koeman saying it was a great reception and an awesome way to start their pre-season tour.
“The reception has been amazing, the match day itself was great and we thank the people of Tanzania for according us such kindness,” Koeman commented after the match.
Another noticeable thing that many East African clubs would probably borrow from the Everton visit is their organization. Three hours to the match, an advance team purely made of support staff had already made its way into the stadium.
They carried with them kits and training equipment. They headed into the dressing room, arranged the jerseys and boots for each player then advanced to the pitch where they set up the cones, bibs and balls in each training zone.
The huge backroom staff gives the coaching team ease and the only thing they concentrate on when they come to the pitch is getting the team tactically and physically ready.
-Timothy Olobulu is reporting from Dar es Salaam-