Every hockey player’s dream was to play in ‘derby of the Simbas’

Sunday June 28 2020

It’s a sprint for the ball for these Nairobi Simba Union and Kisumu Simba Union players during the final of the Jamhuri Cup hockey tournament at the City Park in 1990. The Nairobi team won 3-2 on penalty flicks. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The hockey match between the Nairobi Simba Union and Kisumu Simba Union was the clash of the two lions.

In the earlier years, Nairobi Simba was the strongest.

Narinder Singh Chana “Nindi” says in 30 meetings between these two in 1980s, Kisumu would win about two.

Kisumu Simba started to challenge Nairobi Simba towards the end of ‘80s.

“Until recent years, though, the derby was always tough. But both teams have always had good respect for each other, and the competition in the matches was always fierce,” agrees Kisumu legend Parminder Singh Saini “Kake.



Former Kenya international Owoka, who played for Kisumu Simba for 10 years and then three when it changed to Butali before also coaching Butali for three years until last season, claims the rivalry ended eight years ago.

“Growing up, we all wanted to be like “Kake” or “Coolie” (Inderjit Matharu) who featured in the Africa Select team. They were so disciplined and played with a lot of passion.

“The rivalry between Kisumu and Nairobi Simba was mainly on the pitch. Off the pitch, the respect and friendship was immense.

“The Derby of the Simbas started long before I was born. Unfortunately, it ended around 2012 when Nairobi Simba just lost their glamour and became whipping boys,” says Owoka.

Said Rashid, Zack Aura and Arif Shah are some of the few players who turned out for both Kisumu and Nairobi Simba teams. Aura says he has had good times in both camps.

“I mingled with great players like “Coolie” and Kamal Sembi from both Simbas. There’s excellent atmosphere and support from both clubs,” said Aura, now a player-coach at Butali.

The Sikh community in Kenya has played, and continues to play, a major part in hockey in Kenya. “Though they may not be as prominent now as they were before, they still play a big part in hockey in Kenya through teams like Nairobi Sikh Union, Karate Axiom, run by the legend Gursharan Lall, and Avtar Singh Sohal “Tari”, who help a lot of schools,” noted Sembi.

Apart from hockey, the Sikh community has been felt in motorsports in Kenya.
Sikh Union Nairobi has held Guru Nanak Rally since 1973.


It’s the oldest rally national rally after the Safari Rally which was first held in 1953. “It continues to attract large numbers of competitors every year,” says Onkar Kalsi, a member of motorsport at Sikh Union Nairobi.

The club gets sponsorship of between Sh2 million and Sh2.5 million every year from KCB Bank to organise the Guru Nanak rally, which celebrates Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Notable motorsports persons from the Sikh Union Nairobi who have put Kenya on the rallying map include legendary driver Joginder Singh, current national champion Baldev Chager, 1993 Equator Rally winner Sarbi Rai, current International Automobile Federation (FIA) Vice-President Surinder Thatthi along with WRC Safari Rally Clerk of the Course, Gurvir Bhabra.

The Sikh community has made great contribution to motorsport in Kenya from the days of Joginder Singh.


They have consistently organized Guru Nanak Rally every year and continue to play that pivotal role,” says Kenya Motor Sports Federation President Phineas Kimathi.

Carl “Flash” Tundo won the KCB Guru Nanak Rally in February before the 2020 season was stopped in March due to coronavirus pandemic.

Officials from the Sikh Union Clubs in Kisumu and Nairobi offered some piece of advice to the country during this pandemic: “Be safe, respect and adhere to all guidelines in respect to Covid-19 regulations set by the Government, and Kenya Hockey Union. This pandemic is serious."