The Red Eagles, Mukwano gw’abangi, and square pass “ye motto” are some of the tag names for Express FC (the oldest team currently in the Uganda Premier League).
The greatest task the newly contracted coach Wasswa Bbosa and his assistants James Odoch, Hassan Mubiru, Sam Kawalya, and Ayub Balyejjusa have is to bring back the good old days at Wankulukuku.
Many coaches have held the hottest seat in club football since the new millennium commenced and left with egg on face. Apart from Godfrey Nyola (2001), Jan Frey (2003), Kefa Kisala (2006), and Sam Ssimbwa (2007 plus, 2012), no other gaffer has delivered silverware to the red army in the last 20 years.
This drought is almost synonymous with the pre-David Otti era where only the 1985 Uganda Cup stood between his golden times and the 1974 and ’75 success delivered by the late Robert Kiberu.
The most fruitful times of the club known to possess the biggest and most vibrant following are arguably traced between 1990 and 2003. One would summarize it with a statement, “From Otti to Frey, a juicy journey partly fueled by GAPCO”.
Otti (RIP) took over from Billy Kizito, the interim successor of fallen icon Robert Kiberu who had been optimistically brought back in 1987 to try and rebuild a side struggling under the pressure of success their “offspring” SC Villa was garnering.
They were limping returning from the Governor Nasur ban in the mid-’70s which left many fans and officials exiled, the team failing to keep players and, or coaches on top of losing influential leaders like Jimmy Mugambe Kiwanuka, Mr. Mugerwa and Patrick Kiwanuka in the dark ‘80s.
The former Coffee, Simba, and Cranes coach found legends like Issa Ssekatawa, Isaac Nkaada, Godfrey Nyola, Umar Ssenoga, Joachim Matovu, Fred Mukasa, Ken Lubogo, Philip Musoke “Maradona” etc aging, and with most of them nearing the exit door (captain Paul Nkata eventually joined SC Villa).
Otti’s work was cut out for him (molding a team around the likes of George Ssimwogerere, Robert Aloro, Badru Ssenkayi, and Jackson Nyima). Using relatively young players like Chris Karama, Richard Tushabe, Edward Kalungi, Richard Kirumira, Abdu Nsubuga, Philip Obwin, Chris Kasasa, James Kirinya, Joseph Mutyaba, Kefa Kisala, Badru Ssenkayi, Simon Kyobe, Robert Kamya, Gerald Tenywa, Davis Odowa, Benton Maseruka among others and won two successive Uganda Cup finals in 1991 and ’92 (each time overcoming Nile FC 4-1 and 1-0 respectively).
Fate twice handed them, Sudanese giants, El Merreikh in the CAF Cup Winners’ Cup and they twice fell short, a situation that warranted a beef up in the squad. The strengthening process led to the signing of keeper Abu Kigenyi (UCI), schemer Fred Tamale and crafty winger Ally Ssemyalo (Bell FC), Congolese playmaker Zazak Lingaya, and new striking sensation Andrew Arinaitwe who had impressed the scouts in the Mbarara post-primary games of 1993 featuring for little known Mbarara High.
They went on to win their 1st league title in 18 years that year and relished another bite at the cherry, this time in the more prestigious CAF Club championship (now called CL) but it wasn’t to be after CAF banned Ugandan clubs due to the Villa-ASEC trouble where the Jogoos avoided a CL return leg away to the Ivorian giants after a 1-all draw in the quarter-finals.
The ensuing beef made the 1994 championship so contested esp. with a divided Villa after their boss Patrick Kawooya faced the axe in the wake of that ASEC. In came Franco Mugabe while a distraught Kawooya started Villa International and went with some players and officials.
The latter however emerged victorious after winning the penultimate game 1-0 in Masaka to create an unassailable margin over the red eagles, thanks to the 3 points Express FC lost for erroneously fielding suspended Richard Kirumira in their 1994 league opener against Nsambya.
Express however reclaimed the Uganda Cup (1994) from KCCA FC and also went on to win the HEDEX CUP in the 1995 pre-season. That trophy was not only lucrative but also sweet because FC conquered Villa who had prized away David Otti in one of the most talked-about transfer heists between the two clubs.
Eventually, Otti eloped to APR in Rwanda after just 4 months in the job while and his Wankulukuku successor Jimmy Muguwa engineered a league ‘n Cup double in 1995 after boosting the team with impressive defender and Uganda U-17 captain Patrick Ntege (Dairy), artful Willy Kyambadde (Arua Young), left-back Aloysious Kyazze (Miracle), and tough-as-nails defender Robert Kizito (Entebbe Works) among others. Around that time is when oil company GAPCO sunk in millions into the Wankulukuku side, complete with a branded “bus” and signature lotto boots.
The double aside, Muguwa led them to the CAF CL semi-finals, agonizingly missing the final after Orlando Pirates’ Gavin Lane equalized an Arinaitwe goal which would have sent the game into penalty shoot outs. They had lost the away leg 0-1…
The leadership of Vincent Bbale Mugera then brought in Serbian coach Dragan Popadic and also signed acrobatic Congolese custodian Issa Bin Mungu & fiery goal-grabber Ayew Mbo (DRC), utility defender Sulaiman Tenywa (KCC), forward Lulenti Kyeyune (Posta), box-to-box midfielder Friday Ssenyonjo (Military Police) plus promoting youngsters Ojok Robert, Yusuf Musisi, Sulaiman Lusonda (State House) Francis “Pele” Ssenyonjo, Ali Kiyonga, Samson Luwuge, and William Makumbi.
With supplementary monies from prominent club officials like Francis Buwule, Edward Mperese Nsubuga, Robert Saawa, John Bagambe, Angello Odongo, Hajji’s Kaddu Sserunkuma, Abbas Kangave, Erias Sserunjogi “Kamdas”, manager Kassim Buyondo and a one Bagalya, the Express vehicle was surely the team to beat.
However, they lost Philip Obwiny to Villa after the versatile player blamed them for bottling his chance of joining English side Portsmouth (the transfer saga dragged on for 6 months with the big defender-cum-striker pocketing in excess of 6 million shillings, the biggest fee for a local transfer then).
They however managed to reclaim the league in 1996 but lost the Uganda Cup to emerging giant-killers Umeme who even beat them in the HEDEX cup. The reaction was more beefing up with the signing of Police’s wonder boy Odoch James, Iganga’s Magid Kigongo, Cranes reserve keeper James Magala (State House), Peter Lwebuga and Odoch’s Lubiri SS colleagues Bobic Odowa, William Tamale, Francis Gonzaga, and Kagoda “Cardoso” Francis.
The 1997 season was quite tight with Otti coming back to Villa, Umeme growing even stronger and a young KCC side maturing under Mike Mutebi. Express however squeezed in with another Uganda Cup triumph as the Kasasiro walked away with the league championship but the former had started crumbling administratively.
Bbale’s successor Meddie of the Ssebaggala & Sons Electro Center fame eventually gave way to Godfrey Kirumira “Baggery” and the ensuing years saw a rapid change of coaches despite the money bags making a plethora of marquee signings. As the signings kept coming in, they also lost some stars in the process.
Coaches Abo Korouma (1998), Rishadi Shedu (1999), Godfrey Nyola, Muguwa and Leo Adraa (on an interim basis), Eddie May, Asumani Lubowa (2001), Abdul Kadir (2002) plus Jan Frey (2003) all had a chance but the player exodus affected the team’s stability.
Star players Kefa Kisala and Willy Kyambadde went to KCCA FC while Joseph Mutyaba and Geoffrey Bukohore joined Villa (not forgetting Odoch in November 1998) but they also got Livingstone Mbabazi, Andrew Lule, Kassim Katumba and Sam Kawalya before the heist called Figo when Hassan Mubiru joined them from SC Villa in 2000 for what was believed to be over 25 million shillings and was later joined by Mu-Mu partner Andrew Mukasa, Alex Isabirye, Kenyan genius Morris Sungutti, Mathias Kaweesa, and Ibrahim Buwembo but they only won the HEDEX ’01 & Uganda Cup in 2001 and ’03 as earlier stated.
In conclusion, the onus is upon Bbosa and company to help the eagles soar again, and of course, the executive led by Kiryowa Kiwanuka and represented daily by newly appointed CEO Mwesigwa have to duly support them. May be, square passes will resurface and the songs ‘EXPRESS OYEE’ will re-emerge from within the loyal and vocal red army.
The author is a sports analyst with Sanyuka TV and presenter of 102.1 FUFA FM‘s Ataakulaba show every Sunday from 6 pm–8 pm.