By Denis Jjuuko
Many years ago, whenever there was a match at Masaka Recreation Grounds, a powerful motorbike with a showy rider showed up in the early afternoon in Masaka town. The rider used to dress as a gladiator. He was the early warning and perhaps confirmation that the match was on. His arrival meant people taking up vantage positions in the stadium. An hour or so later, other SC Villa fans would arrive blowing whistles, vuvuzelas, sounding tins and anything else they could lay their hands on. If the match involved Express FC, the whole of Masaka would be on tension. It was a ‘derby’ atmosphere of unimaginable propositions. If Villa lost a match, the town would be more silent than a graveyard! As a schoolboy, I used to escape to watch some of these matches (mum, I hope you skipped this line).
Anyway, this kind of love Villa had in Masaka may be the reason for their return to the town as their base. Probably, they have learnt some lessons, which I will return to shortly. Like most of you, I received a message inviting me for a fundraiser for Express FC because in their view they need money if they won’t be relegated from the top flight for the first time since their founding in 1957.
Express FC, SC Villa, and KCC (now KCCA) have been the dominant forces of Ugandan football for many decades. They have won a lot of trophies and all of them have had difficult patches just like any club. As recent as 2001, Manchester City was relegated. Chelsea was to be relegated two or so seasons ago if they hadn’t fired a certain Special One. But Express’ problems are mainly leadership. Soccer like most sports is unifying and, therefore, when one club elects a politician who doesn’t have much appeal, chances are high that people will turn away.
Secondly, soccer in Uganda is male dominated by people who mainly work in the informal sector. Express FC had presented itself as a martial club with some of its fans gladly identifying themselves as Abayaga (the desperados). If there were any hooliganism during a match involving Express, you would know that it is their fans that started it. Now such a fan base involving uneducated males working in the informal sector wouldn’t be happy with a woman leading them. She had another disadvantage too — she is government minister who stood for elections in Kampala and failed. Express’ fan base is in Kampala and Wankuluku is in a constituency that has voted opposition for many years. The typical Express fan cannot identify themselves with a government politician unless if they brought in a lot of money.
But to return to lessons why SC Villa may succeed more by returning to Masaka, we need to understand Onduparaka and Amasaza Cup. The Amasaza Cup is now the biggest tournament in the country attracting mammoth crowds you can’t begin to imagine. The attraction to Amasaza Cup is the same reason Onduparaka is so popular. Both have unshakeable home bases — an appeal that is natural. Onduparaka represents Arua and the whole of West Nile. Anybody from West Nile looks at Onduparaka as their club. If Onduparaka fails, West Nile has failed.
The same applies to Amasaza. Anybody from Masaka was devastated when Ssingo beat Buddu in a cup final. Yet Ssingo spent the weekend partying. I drove to Fort Portal that weekend and Ssingo was in such a celebratory mood. Losing the cup is loss of pride and bragging rights.
When Buddu won, the same happened. Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga who hails from Buddu even though lives and works in Kyaddondo used his Lukiiko address to brag about Buddu’s soccer prowess. Masaka partied like they had won a World Cup. If you are from Masaka, Buddu is your team. Even non-soccer enthusiasts turn up to support their county team. It brings out the regional patriotism that clubs like Express can only dream of.
In Spain, Barcelona represents the Catalonia cause. When Real Madrid was in so much debt that creditors were evicting it from the Santiago Bernabeu, the city of Madrid quickly paid them off. They represent a city. They are the pride of Madrid. KCCA FC benefits from the same. Jennifer Musisi won’t starve it and survive in her seat. Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago would do anything to ensure KCCA is well oiled lest he faces questions about it next time he goes begging for votes. That is why a small team in the English Premier League has season ticket holders. The clubs mainly represent a region or a city.
With a changing metropolitan like Kampala, Express FC has no fan base to talk about especially among the young ones. Most of those who existed have been alienated by politics. As Onduparaka is signing billions of shillings from MTN and Betway, Express is betting on nostalgia. That explains why the message being circulated was more on what Jolly Joe Kiwanuka had done and how that glory should not be lost. It wasn’t about soccer. No wonder most of the Shs35 million raised came from an individual desperate for relevancy and acceptance. So Ugandan clubs need find a base like Onduparaka and Amasaza teams.
The writer is a businessman and media consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org