Col Bell: tribute to football and NRA Freedom fighter

Col. Bell - Victors FC

R0079, as he always stressed it to whoever got close to him, Brig-Gen. Jackson Tushabe commonly known as ‘Col Bell’ breathed his last in the wee hours of Tuesday, June 30th at Nakasero Hospital – Bell is said to have succumbed to multiple organ failure.

The army officer, a member of the famed daredevil commander group alongside Col. Patrick Lumumba, Brig. Matayo Kyaligonza, Col. Jet Mwebaze (RIP), and Stanely Muhangi (RIP) was no doubt a very respectable member of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces.

He was a was among the National Resistance Army (NRA) revolutionary fighters that led to a 5-year armed struggle which eventually sent the regimes of the old packing.

After the struggle, he served as a commander of 4th division in Gulu, 3rd Division in Mbale, and 2nd Division in Mbarara and later retreated to Ggaba where he joined ‘the fishing business’.

Bell became a colonel in the late 80s and remained at that rank for so long that many people thought ‘Col. Bell’ was his actual name – we will maintain the name ‘Col. Bell’ for purposes in this article.

He was arguably one of the most famous residents of Ggaba, Makindye East (Kampala). Just like the fishing mogul Ggabuda, the name Colonel Bell was a big focal point in the security and political literature of the lakeside area.

Like many UPDF officers, Col. Bell was a staunch SC Villa fan whose passion for football triggered interest in forming his own football club.

In 2001, Victors Football Club was founded and its administration ‘was purely the decorated soldier’ and his blue-eyed boy Emma, a popular deejay of a famous entertainment group Rock Sound International.

Col. Bell - Victors FC

Victors FC players pose for a team photo before a league game in the 2010/11 Uganda Super League | Courtesy photo

Dj Emma, an old boy of Lubiri SS where he featured as a striker with yours truly in the school junior team popularised the team to the extent that it eclipsed the Ggaba United brand in following and rivaled Makindye Division aristocrats Kansanga Half London, Kibuli United, Kisugu United, Lukuli Hearts and Kabalagala Rangers by signing the creme-de-la-creme of the area en route to a promotion to the Super League.

If a MADFA player didn’t join Victors then, either he feared competition or wasn’t good enough to fit into their structure. But the philanthropist that Col. Bell was made sure his team signed the stars of the area first before attracting those from far and wide.

Yudah Mugalu, Isaac Katwere, Stephen Kisenyi, Paulo Kabyomera, Robert Okello, Fred Muhumuza, Simon Sserunkuma, Eric Ssebuguzi “Bucha” and the popular Congolese skipper Jackson were some of the names that drove fear in the spines of opponents back then and after attaining top-flight status, they attracted bigger names like Benjamin Jamhuri (Kenya), Mohammed Mossi (Rwanda), Hassan Mubiru, Ayub Kiiza, Wasswa Bbosa to mention but a few.

Along with experienced founding secretary Harouna Tamale, the team attracted more financial muscle and passion in former Express official Lawrence Kato, who took up the chairman position and they pushed their fan base to Eastern Uganda by shifting their training and home ground to Bugembe Stadium.

This was a move that not only widened their scope of attracting players but also increased their matchday attendances hundredfold since the region was starved of league action following the relegation of Nile FC and the demise of Umeme SC.

When Dr. Lawrence Mulindwa came into power, Col. Bell became one of his Vice Presidents and also assumed the role of Chairman Super Division Clubs Association (SDCA) plus being a member on the Competitions Committee.

Everything that happened administratively within FUFA and the clubs between 2006 and 2010 had a lot to do with the army officer’s influence and advantage (that would be for another day though).

On his side, he guided Victors to two Uganda Cup triumphs in 2008 and 2010, each time representing the country in the CAF Confederations Cup without fail.

It should be noted that around that time, many giant clubs shied away from CAF competitions despite sportingly earning the right. The Uganda Cup victory of 2008 was a unique milestone in Ugandan coaching as Victors had Charles Ayiekho “Mbuzi”, Sula Kato, Wasswa Bbosa and Paul Mukatabala all handling the technical aspects of the club (the 1st time a full set of coaches was seen seamlessly working hand in hand for results).

Even when George Nsimbe won the 2011 Uganda Cup, he had able deputies picked mostly from ex-players to ensure loyalty and continuity which many UPL clubs had not fully embraced before.

Col Bell - Victors FC

George Best Nsimbe poses for a picture with his team Victors FC at Namboole stadium in 2011 | Courtesy photo

Sadly, for Victors and football in general, the big man started developing health complications amid which ushered in censorship by his family on football-related issues. Add that to the FUFA – USL saga which divided his club as well (his secretary and chairman quit alongside coach Nsimbe in the wake of insubordination as the Col. sided with the FUFA stand against Kavuma Kabenge’s USL) the morale sunk a record low and there was no surprise when they got relegated in 2012 and later dissolved in 2013.

To people like Julius Engude and Michael Kampi whose, goals partly decided the silverware attached to Victors, and Isaac Katwere (the longest serving captain) or Paul Mukatabala, a Villa legend who saw Bell as a Villa fanatic and Victor funder, football has lost a rare gem.

“I can’t explain what Bell was to football because there are no perfect words,” said Katwere, a former Old Kampala SS, MUBS and Kansanga HL captain who played for Victors.

“The Colonel was like a father to me and I could not imagine playing for any other top-flight team. I don’t think every player is as welcome in the home of their club boss the way we were at his Ggaba residence (sometimes his love for footballers made us feel ashamed of onlookers),” he added.

Like the procedure is for army officers, and of course the current guidelines, many people will miss the chance to pay their last respects to a man who emotionally and practically loved people from all walks of life more than they could ever love him back. Rest in peace Colonel.

The army has agreed to accord him a public viewing at his Ggaba residence on Thursday (for 5 hours and under COVID SOP’s) before the casket is taken to Mbarara. Burial is on Friday but strictly by invite.

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