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Money Matters: The success of Uganda Premier League clubs KCCA FC and Vipers SC

KCCA were the StarTimes Uganda Premier League Champions of 2018/19 season | Photo by John Batanudde

If you have been around Uganda football long enough, the word VEK can not be new to your ears. But, for starters ‘VEK’ simply stands for SC Villa, Express FC, and KCCA FC. Gone are the days when the Uganda Premier League was dominated by the three traditional Clubs for a stretch of over 24 years.

Their dominance was glued on many factors which included financial stability, good player recruitment, success on the pitch, huge stadium attendances among other factors.

SC Villa had the lion share of the 24-year dominance with sixteen-league titles,  KCCA with five-league, and Express FC with three between 1981 and 2004.

The three clubs enjoyed an easy ride until the 2003 Villa-Akol match-fixing scandal which forced the Uganda Premier League to hit its lowest ebb.

This resulted in a complete media shutdown and the huge crowds which used to fill the stadiums deserted the games.

VEK’s demise ultimately comes down to economics and bad financial management. The problem with football is that clubs are private enterprises. And yet they are not run like normal companies. Instead of maximizing profits, they aim to maximize success on the pitch.

Unlike other ‘VEK’ members, KCCA FC cushioned from the crisis simply because it’s an institutional club with part of the club’s budget coming from the government. So, for clubs like SC Villa and Express FC whose revenue largely depended on the fans, this was the end of the road.

When a football club is financially stable, the stability automatically translates into success on the pitch. We have seen clubs such as Victors FC and SC Victoria University who splashed huge sums of cash to buy their success and indeed they almost reached there but when they went insolvent, it was the end of the road. Perhaps they over overreached.

For the past eight years, Uganda premier league success has been a KCCA-Vipers marriage. Where either KCCA wins or Vipers and this can be backed up by the financial stability of both clubs leaving the rest of the league clubs far behind. Only URA FC another government institutional club comes close.

The most financially successful Ugandan football club has always been KCCA FC and this translates to success both in the league and on the continent. The club has access to quality players, quality coaching staff, with a well-organized club board.

The club has immensely enjoyed this success having won 13 Uganda Premier League titles and 10 Uganda Cups with more still to come

Vipers SC, on the other hand, they have built their name as the ‘money team’ for splashing the cash for nothing. They have indeed bought their success throughout the last eight years winning three league titles and one Uganda Cup.

Jorge Duarte (L) and Dr. Lawrence Mulindwa (R) during the unveiling ceremony ahead of the 2017/18 season | Courtesy Photo

A club owned by former FUFA President Dr. Lawrence Mulindwa, the big man has well disbursed his money for a greater cause. Indeed success comes to those who work hard, lift heavy, and never give up.

Nevertheless, money clearly plays a role in today’s competitive sports ecosystem. While this relationship might not be a direct analogy of “money equals automatic”, it does still suggest that the two are related.

It is also useful to look at how the two clubs spend their revenues and the extent that they can buy success through buying top players. In the past seasons, Vipers SC has always had a busy transfer window where they splash huge sums on sign-on fees for players in the league and beyond the borders. The latest was Fahad Bayo who was instrumental in their 2019/2020 title-winning campaign.

KCCA FC on the other hand spends a reasonable amount each season on players’ recruitment. In 2018/19, KCCA outspent Vipers SC in terms of transfer market activity through signing players like Erisa Ssekisamu, Keziron Kizito, and Simon Sserunkuma. So arguably their success has come at a greater cost.

Keziron Kizito joined KCCA FC in September 2019 on a two-year contract | Photo by KCCA FC Media

Of course, buying top players can only get you so far. They need to play well together and there is also the role of luck when it comes to whether or not players get injured – something KCCA FC has struggled with in the concluded 2019/20 season.

Looking at it from a non-football perspective, the research I’ve carried in into sport governing bodies underlines the challenges that sports bodies face in terms of securing profitable revenue streams. I have found that there is a virtuous circle in sport where the money leads to success and the success for more money, and vice versa.

Money may not be the only key to sporting success, but it is certainly an important ingredient to it nonetheless.

Ronald Yiga
Life's most persistent and urgent question is "What are you doing for others"

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