IN Tanzania, like most African countries, the pervasive interest in the English Premier League is now beyond question.
Interest in watching the English Premier League has also grown with the increasing presence of African players in the Premiership.
Soccer fans who, in the past, used to argue and sometimes fight about Simba SC or Young Africans, are now spending more time talking about Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea or Liverpool.
Almost everyone supports one of the four top teams or England's big guns, as they are fondly referred to, and some local players even adapt their stars' names.
In Dar es Salaam, for instance, a TV room that should hold 100 people, accommodates up to 150 on a day or night a Premiership match takes place, testament to how popular English football has become in the country.
Although some households still have no television sets of their own, big screens are available at various points in most entertainment spots and budding entrepreneurs regularly charge token entrance fees to watch the matches.
For the picture of the scene, Man United fans were the majority at Columbia Bar, Kinondoni District in the city on December 19, when Man Utd played Fulham.
Man Utd fans looked excited until Fulham broke the stalemate in the 22nd minute, before scoring two more goals to stun the Red Devils 3-0.
Suddenly, Man Utd supporters went quiet. It was interesting to see them give up on the football match and resort to beer.
The craze over the English football contrasts sharply with the Tanzanian game. Some local matches take place at almost empty venues, particularly upcountry.
Matches involving Simba and Yanga, whose rivalry is as old as the country's football history, are the only games fans seem interested to watch.
Last weekend, for instance, the Tusker Challenge Cup semi-final between the two teams was shifted to the ultra-modern National Stadium from the Uhuru venue so as to enable more people to witness it.
Ally Dominic, a Man Utd fan, singles out the increasing availability of television and satellite broadcasts as the major factor behind the local fans' pervasive interest in the English Premiership.
“African passion for the European soccer in general, and English Premiership in particular, has exploded with the increasing availability of TV and satellite broadcasts,” he observed.
Rajab Mohammed, another soccer fan, blames the lack of interest in Tanzanian soccer on corruption, poor refereeing, bad pay for players and poor administration on the part of club officials.
“Most club leaders are not focused and creative enough to secure sponsorship from the business community, and as a result many fans are now staying away,” he said.
The only good thing is that Tanzanian soccer fans remain attached to their national soccer team, Taifa Stars.
In the last four years, clashes with Senegal, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Mauritius and Mozambique attracted larger crowds at the ultra-modern 60,000-seater National Stadium in Dar es Salaam.
The reason is simple. Over the recent years, Tanzanian players have signed for clubs abroad, particularly Norway and Canada. So when Taifa Stars play, fans go to see their own professionals and expect to be treated to a higher standard of soccer.
And if Taifa Stars are playing teams like Cameroon or Senegal, there is the added bonus of watching players such as Samuel Eto'o or El Hadji Diouf.