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StarTimes UPL 2020/21: can Mbarara City better their 2018/19 finish?

StarTimes UPL Mbarara City - The Touchline Sports

Some people say “life is as good as it gets…” while others say, “life is like a strange gift parcel, you never know what you are going to open”.

I say, “Life is simply about how we handle ourselves in the heat of each moment of smiles and cries as they inevitably will filter in”.

I say inevitable because it is true, for every wave of good fortune, expect a bad omen somewhere. For every hill climbed, expect a downward slope at the apex. And, it is exactly on this notion that many people prefer stability or isostasy to abnormal climbs, they are always mindful of the effect of a fall.

When Mbarara City finished fifth in the StarTimes Uganda Premier League season of 2018/’19, it was not only their highest placing ever but also, the highest by a team from Western Uganda since the inception of the top-flight league in 1968/’69.

Amongst the pioneer 8 teams, Mbarara was 7th and got dropped as the teams were increased to 10 with the promotion of Police FC, Soroti and Kilembe Mines in 1969.

Kilembe, also a Western side, was 7th that season and 6th the following season (1970)before being the basement side in every other season i.e. 1971, 1974 and 1975 albeit with no relegation till 1976 when teams again increased to 12 with the promotion of UCB and Lira.

»Related: Bashir Mutanda: striker finally finds new club

StarTimes UPL Mbarara City - The Touchline Sports

Mbarara City FC finished 5th in the 2018/19 UPL season, the highest of any team from the western region | Courtesy photo

That season, they finished 10th, then 7th in 1977 and 10th again in 1978 (a position lower than newly returned Mbarara, who couldn’t complete the league owing to the effect of the civil strife in the country at the time).

Like eventual champions Simba, Mbarara was excused until 1980 when they got relegated upon technical return to the league. Another promotion in 1983 again ended in instant relegation just like Hodari in the 1984 season.

With Kilembe also not surviving the 1979 season, there was no Western Uganda side in the UPL until Bushenyi United (1996), Tooro and Roraima (1998) plus Rwampara in 1999 but none survived to float more than a season.

That wave of tears seemed to have disappeared with the promotion of Mbarara United in 2000 because, while all their fellow new entrants i.e. UTODA, Arua MC, Kakira Sugar and UPDF faced an immediate drop at the end of the season, Mbarara was 7th in the 17-team league and went on to finish 6th in 2001 as another Western debutante Kabale Horizon got relegated at 1st asking.

They were 10th in 2002 while Kasese Town Council came up and drowned again before finally also getting relegated in 2003 (this time leaving Kinyara Sugar Works floating after their 1st season).

The reason for Mbarara’s eventual drop was the failure to hang on to the bevvy of stars their immaculate run introduced.

Somehow, they had managed to secure expatriate talent from DRC, thanks to efforts from fellow player Abdul Senga who helped the club secure the services of Mirambo Kimoto, Baabe Mbirika, Raul Lukusa and Jushi Temembe among others.

However, the lure of the Kampala club’s money never spared them because each star that emerged was being tapped and taken for example the magnificent Bana Zidane and the stout Toto Songe, plus Bebe Matiyabo Ekuchu Kasongo and later Assan Bajope who disappeared Kampala before even playing a game

Can you imagine even DRC legend Shaban Nonda played for them at some point?

Bad blood ensued in the town especially with ropes being pulled between the individual funders and the council on whose shoulders club boss Abdul Kyambadde had wisely placed the responsibilities like stadium management, player remuneration and accommodation.

The Congolese empire crumbled and so did the team leaving the region to return to the old sea-saw affair with the likes of Ruhinda (2004), Mbarara United itself in 2005 and 2009, Masindi Town Council (2007), Biharwe (2008) and Hoima (2010) not breaking the maiden season jinx.

Even attempts to join forces, urbanise or sugar coat their western identity like in the case of Hoima-Busia in 2011/’12 and KJT- Rwenshama in 2014/’15 could not hoodwink the relegation monster! Need I also mention the futile attempt by an Ali Ssekatawa and Eng. Ben Misagga bankrolled Nyamityobora side in 2019?! I don’t think so.

The real Western reprieve came in 2017/’18 when Mbarara City gained promotion through the efforts of Western Youth MP Hon. Mwine Mpaka and his trusted lieutenant Brian Ssenyondo.

Despite not being certified to handle a top-flight side, the 25-year-old had ably assembled a strong base of youthful players the “high profile” coaches spiced with a few experienced ones to break the jinx.

The promotion may have been another famous Richard Makumbi mojo but the greatest component of the team’s newfound stability and competitive desire was the telepathy between the team funder, a soft-spoken honourable son of Hon. Minister Bright Rwamirama and his rookie tactician from Synergy FC.

Aside from the normal, there was an inner sense of self-belief in their youth project, emotions that eventually led to the bad blood and subsequent head coach instability for the Ankole Lions.

Out went Makumbi and in came his understudy Vialli Bainomugisha but he was also not spared as the club quickly signed fired URA coach Ibrahim Kirya (only to sack him after just 5 games).

From 11th position, however, their 2018/’19 form propelled them to 5th, thanks to the revolutionary methods of Livingstone Mbabazi. An immensely questionable blunder by keeper Ali Kimera during the infamous 1-2 loss to SC Villa forced the honourable to wield the axe upon the keeper and his trainer Yusuf Ssenyonjo, leaving sour grapes in Mbabazi’s mouth.

»Related: Mbarara City: The top four strikers who could replace contract rebel Brian Aheebwa

Brian Ssenyondo - Mbarara City

Brian Ssenyondo managed Mbarara City twice before the end of the 2020/21 season | Photo by John Batanaudde

Very few people were surprised when he made a U-turn to Onduparaka, leaving Mbarara to seek solace with an interim moment of Ssenyondo before courting Paul Nkata and Hamza Kalanzi, a marriage that collapsed quicker than most Western clubs’ proverbial top-flight lifespan and of course creating an “enviable” record of over 8 coaching reshuffles in 2 calendar years.

As we talk now, the mantle is with prodigal son Brian Ssenyondo assisted by Sadiq Ssempigi and the task at hand is to keep Mbarara City in the 1st half of the table despite losing their poster boy Paul Mucurezi, talismanic goalscorer Brian Aheebwa (to KCCA), winger Ibrahim Orit (to Vipers) plus Stephen Kabuye, former KCCA loanee goalkeeper Tom Ikara (to Police FC) and want-away players Gadaffi Gadinho (UPDF) and young defender Bashir Muweesi.

Their new signings list has little known Godfrey Kalungi, Ronald Edwok and Ramathan Karim, and the big boy signing Bashir Mutanda. It is not clear when another unveiling will happen because the team boss is still engrossed in elective politics (having recently prevailed his party primaries).

How much the pressure of the polls has affected Hon. Mwine Mpaka will be witnessed in how swiftly the team shall cruise the impending rough waters of the post-COVID season, and this is where the dimes from sponsors Top Bet will come in handy (need I also mention the possible addition of 9 Barrels to the list? Not until an official unveiling).

For the technical staff though, they have to hang their hopes on the still available arsenal of keeper Mohammed Ssekeba, defenders Stephen Othieno, Zaidi Byekwaso, Jesper Aheebwa, Ibrahim Magandazi, Bamba, captain Hilary Mukundane, midfield general Pistis Barenge, Ssegujja Swalik “Bebe”, Ivan Eyam, Solomon Olwalinga plus forwards Makweth Wol and Jude Ssemugabi. Others include Siraje Musindo, John Adriko, Ronald Otti, Dennis Omwony, Huud Salim and Onyai Raymond (other factors remaining constant).

At the moment, with Mbarara choosing the clandestine nature of approaching business, we can only keep our fingers crossed and hope to see more smiling than gloomy faces come season kick-off.

Come on you Ankole Lions!

Tendo Musoke

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