While growing up in the sweet old ’80s, one of my favorite soul groups SOUL II SOUL featured Caron Wheeler on a joint called Back to life, and the most predominant part therein was the groovy line back to life, back to reality.
Again, it was those years when yours truly got a chance to see in action the stars now called ex-internationals. I had all along been exposed to these gallant soldiers of Ugandan football either via electronic media, when they appeared in flesh at the late Jimmy Mugambe Kiwanuka’s home parties or whenever I hang around the offices of Mister Jaberi Bidandi Ssali.
One of my mother’s sisters was a personal secretary to the legendary KCC and Cranes manager at Uganda House while another was married to the Express FC supremo of those times. That connection made me experience the clout of what we now call ex-internationals and shaped the way I wanted to live my life.
I chose to follow football more closely because I always got captivated by their vibe and one-on-ones even much more than the small clips Andrew Patrick Luwandagga’s UTV sports round-up or the pictures painted by Charles Byekwaso, Dan Byobyonka, Siraje Kalyango, and uncle David Matovu radio commentaries.
Together with my elder brother Kenneth, we started an operation to trace the factories that made these iconic stars and we crafted a format of following club training sessions, club meals, and league matches.
That sojourn took us to Kanyanya and later Bukesa (Express), Bugolobi (Coffee), Lugogo (KCC, Dairy, Barclays, Bell, Kampala Diplomats), Kyambogo (Bank Of Uganda, UCB and UEB), Kibuli (Police), Nsambya Railways (Posta), Villa Park (SC Villa) among others, and obviously Nakivubo or Wankulukuku for most matches.
It is at Lugogo where we got more fascinated though. Not because of the kawoowo of KCC but rather, a team of elderly men calling themselves EXIFA had the faces we recognized most and the names we had heard of most.
They played in the lower league, were coaches or admins in the top league, had cars, and that cool attitude of real film stars to match their even trendier passing game.
Year after year, another name joined them as several neared international retirement. The likes of Paul Ssali, Ali Ssendegeya, John Latigo, Moses Nsereko, Philip Omondi, Tom Lwanga, Timothy Ayiekoh, Godfrey Kateregga, Hassan Mutaasa, Vincent Ssemanobe, etc. As we went deeper into this group, one peculiar fact struck us. There were very few former players from SC Villa or Express and we asked ourselves, “is the club rivalry affecting this team too?”
First forward to the most recent lot of the ’90s, Nakivubo was their home and their god was Denis Obua (RIP). This one looked more accommodative because you would find guests with hardly any cap as compared to only a young Ibrahim Kizito I used to see with the ’80s lot.
And more so, here you would see Express and some Villa legends, but again the number of known KCC legends faded in my eyes. The question was always why not a united force?
The answers were to come later on when I became a freelance sports analyst and had to interview them more often than my observer status of the past years.
The SC Villa scandal of 2010 where a group of players organized a sit-down strike pulled me closer to the association than football love had pulled me to the friendly individuals.
And it wasn’t a surprise that when resolutions were made to try and get a voice for all footballers past, present and future, my name was fronted to be part of the interim Uganda Footballers Association.
Headed by Dan Walusumbi, the team had the likes of Polycap Kisekka, Tumusiime Vincent, Dan Muwanguzi, Dan Mubiru, Ibrahim Ssekagya, Timothy Batabaire, David Lumansi, Majidah Nantanda, Marble Kunihira and it apparently called for the merger of the Uganda Football Players Association (UFPA) and the Ex International Footballers Associations (EXIFA) and also to lobby for fresh FUFA delegates since the player delegates then i.e. Matthias Lule, Kiwanuka Paul, and Stephen Billy Kiggundu had evolved into coaches (and coaches too were a fully-fledged association).
Despite many developmental ideas put on board, the association hit a dead end when some individuals deviated into football politics and fell prey to the wrath of the federation and the end result was a total war that reached parliament, State House, and FIFA.
In the process, even the ex-internationals association fell in limbo and the mandate to have delegates to the FUFA assembly was withdrawn. Today, as this year’s FUFA assembly slated for 17th October at Silver Springs is taking shape, the only footballers’ representation expected is not by law but by choice of the federation. Why?
It depends on what side of the political argument you choose to take and how your level of comprehension of the facts stands.
The recent announcement of a new EXIFA interim committee led by Jackson Mayanja on paper seems like the closest thing to unity and ‘broadbasedness’ the association has ever been.
Let us put the other former footballers’ argument aside, this one has ex-internationals from a wider scope. Women legends Majidah Nantanda and Christine Wanyana plus Ali Ssendegeya, Fred Mukasa, Tom Lwanga, and Godfrey Nyola are members while George Ssimwogerere is Mayanja’s assistant.
The other executives include Gibby Kalule (secretary), Sam Ssimbwa (treasurer), Patrick Ntege (org. secretary), Andy Mwesigwa (PRO), Dan Walusimbi (project manager) and Charles Masiko (welfare) assisted by Kefa Kisala, Philip Obwiny, Umar Ssenoga, Dan Mubiru, and Daniel Ntale respectively.
EXIFA would definitely never get a more balanced team like this one albeit only in terms of VEK representation and trying to bridge old and new. But it is neither regionally balanced, doesn’t cover the non-VEK ex-internationals fairly and surely has just one ’70s and before member.
How those people’s input will be brought forward remains a test of integrity to the interim committee.
Having said all this, the onus is now upon them to walk the talk. A lot has been said by them and also about them, both positive and negative but now is the time to either use the rope productively or strangle themselves. Is the association going back to life or back to reality? Only time will tell.
For starters, they have the task of pulling closer the more elderly generation of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s and ultimately taking care of their plight the same way other concerned stakeholders have advocated to the extent of making FUFA the scapegoat.
Secondly, they have another task of taking care of their own generation with cases like Andrew Mukasa, Peter Lwebuga, Jamil Kyambadde, etc who most of them have ignored over the years opting to shift the blame to others.
All this is very possible with the thinking heads in that basket and the brand can rise again to admirable levels. But the reverse is also true if history is to be consulted.
The fact that most of them are active coaches, and judging by their way of handling the coaches association let alone how they go for each others’ throats in the coaching hustle may undermine the blessed union of souls needed to run a fluid association.
Need I mention their individual dealings with current players who are also moving towards ex-international status someday? No need to, because, am no doomsday prophet.
Every football purist let alone a keen follower of these legends will wish they pull it off and work in harmony with all the levels of Ugandan football to make a better platform and, or a decent case for the other associations to be trusted and empowered. Like one Vanilla Ice lyric goes, “anything less than the best is a felony.”