In 1985, Cannon Films released the 4th and final part of their popular Ninja series “Nine Deaths Of The Ninja”, a title yours truly and a bevy of my peers, labored in vain to connect with the plot where Brent Huff, Emilia Crow Lesniak, and Sho Kosugi were hired to try and save Palestinian hostages from a terrorist duo who wanted the US to release one of their own.
Vintage Hollywood, right?!
Intriguing as it is/was, one aspect of this movie mirrors so much in the chronology of the Ugandan football “giant” now known as UPDF. Japanese ninjitsu star Kosugi had a punchline. “The Ninja master, Ninja Warrior, Ninja Terror, and now The Ninja Avenger” is how the trailer tagged him.
You wouldn’t be wrong if you borrowed this in the process of profiling Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces Football Club especially in the wake of their outspoken return to the top flight league for the 2020/’21 season.
Before the inception of the now Uganda Premier League in 1968, the team (UPDF FC) was known as Army FC and actually was so until CAF rules barred military names, symbols, and logos in football. Having won the 1971 league title unbeaten and hence qualified to represent the country on the continent, they had to oblige and adopt the name Simba FC.
Their winning coach Captain Wilson Ogwal even sought assistance from the then Cranes coach Burkhard Pape in the 1972 CAF club championships where they lost 4-7 to Guinea’s Hafia Conakry in the final (making them the 1st Ugandan side to reach such a milestone).
The fact that they used Express duo Stanely Mubiru “tanker” and Wilson Nsobya plus Police dangerman Dennis Obua in their squad will be a story for another day though.
Simba grew in stature by massively recruiting talented players and deploying them in the force while keeping on playing in CAF owing to the fact that the league campaigns of 1972 and ’73 were affected by insecurity (leaving Simba as reigning champion and CAF representative) until 1974 when Express FC lifted their maiden title. The Red Eagles retained it in 1975 before KCC FC dethroned them in 1976 and 1977.
With so much facilitation and a plethora of great players in their squad, Simba – who were by then having Polly Ouma as player/coach – lured David Otti into their ranks. Some of the key players over those years include keepers Patrick Nathan, Fred Nkolwa, Paul Ssali, and Ramathan Sebbi together with outfield players like Joseph Onziga, Ahmed Doka, John Ddibya, Swalley Wasswa, Meddie Lubega, Godfrey Kisitu, Abbey Nasur, Francis Kulabigwo, Fred Isabirye, Edward Ssenyondo, John Watua, George Sukuma, Erieza Kiggundu, Andrew Olanya, and Ouma himself.
A league winner with Coffee in 1970 and part of the 1974 and ’76 Cranes’ AFCON coaching staff, Otti helped the side that had won the 1977 Uganda Cup with a walkover against NYTIL to wrestle back the league title in 1978.
The war that ousted the Idd Amin government not only led to a halt in the team’s top-flight status but also meant that their biggest influencers Governor Nasur Abdallah and then FUFA president Capt. Mohammed Sseruwagi left football altogether.
The remnants of the team regrouped as Wazalendo in 1979, became New Simba in 1983 before regaining their league place in 1984 (only to be relegated a year later) in the midst of the NRA/M liberation war.
After NRM took over in January 1986, the team rebranded as Resistance FC and introduced fresh talents like George Otto, George Nsimbe, Moses Musisi a.k.a. “Nkola wa” among others.
They eventually got promoted in 1989 but, again, faced the guillotine in 1990. The Simba name resurfaced in the early ’90s and, after a couple of failed promotional campaigns, retired SC Villa legend Paul Hasule (RIP) delivered them back into the Super League after a memorable player-coach performance in the Super mini-league played in Bukalasa.
The controversial story of that final will probably also be one for another day, just like the failed direct promotion campaign by Resistance (with Police FC agonizingly edging them in the Zone 9 1st division).
Surprisingly, Hasule never got a full-time coaching job and went to handle State House FC. After becoming Asuman Lubowa’s assistant in the Cranes, and sitting 3 places above them on the 1996 final table standing, Simba eventually gave him the job in 1997.
HPV8, as he was known during his playing days, built a strong side, blending young and senior players with army officers to have a fluid machine that finished 6th in the league. They had players like Andrew Nalukoola, Francis Ssebaggala, Andrew Jjombwe, Matthias Ndaula, Godfrey Tamale, David Lukwago “Nile”, Abubakr Tabula, David Kalungi, Mohammed Ssebugwawo, Ibrahim Buwembo, Matthias Kaweesa, Ibrahim Kirya, Sula Walusimbi, Fred Kajoba, Mohamood Kateregga, Andrew Kabuga, Jackson Ssenabulya.
They finished a respectable 3rd in the Nile Special Serie A and lost 0-2 to Hasule’s double-winning side in that year’s Uganda Cup final (a feat that earned them a return to CAF club football).
Their 1999 CAF Cup Winners Cup run ended in the 2nd round with a 0-3 aggregate loss to eventual winners Africa Sports of Ivory Coast. They had however edged Tanzanian Stars 3-1 on aggregate in the 1st round, and that momentum earned them 76 points in the league to finish 3rd again behind Express and champions SC Villa.
That success however didn’t seem to rub so well with some insiders in the force and the result was evident when another army side named UPDF gained promotion in 2000. Fortunately or unfortunately, the team never survived the relegation monster like the trend was with 90% of UPL promoted sides.
A quick re-think was effected to harmonize the forces of discontent within the Sports department and slowly by slowly, the tendency of having players join the force came back to life.
It obviously didn’t go down well with several players, and indeed most of them left the club.
The project’s base moved to Bombo barracks and had a series of coaches i.e. Lieutenant Vincent Lukyamuzi, Francis Ssebaggala, John Kayanja, Sam Ssimbwa, Richard Kansole, and Fred Kajoba, to mention but a few.
The current Vipers coach (Kajoba) ushered many players into the force, led the team to many Africa and World Military Games triumphs, kept the team firmly in mid-table, and eventually won them the 2011 Uganda Cup after edging URA 2-1 in a pulsating final that denied the tax collectors a dream double.
Having produced national teams players over the years like goal machine Robert Ssentongo, Sam Ssenoga, Musa Mudde, Godfrey Wakaza, Khalid Aucho, Robert Omunuk, Bruno Olobo, Jimmy Kakembo, and Benjamin Ekusai among others, Kajoba got disoriented when Simba painfully pulled out of the CAF campaign the following season which actually led to his eventual move to Bright Stars.
The 2016 relegation seemed like the last straw but surprisingly, a merger (should we say, buy out?) of The Red Pepper sponsored Saints FC ensured they remained in the Top-flight for the 2016/’17 season and 2017/’18 before eventually succumbing to relegation sportingly.
Playing as UPDF in the FUFA Big League, and buoyed by the support of current CDF, David Rubakuba Muhoozi, the army side wrestled back into the UPL after COVID 19 found them atop the Rwenzori group with 23 points in 11 matches.
Stephen Bogere and CEO Edmund Kintu must have celebrated the FUFA decision to have them and MYDA get automatic promotion to the 2020/’21 season.
The joy of Promotion was short-lived for the duo alongside players like Fred Kalanzi, Sydney Ssenyonga, Junior Akena, Moses Kamya, Enock Omakira, Abdu Karim Kasule, Titus Lubega, Godwin Kawagga, Abaas Kiberu, Davis Kamista, Emmanuel Egau, Rogers Ahumuza, and Jose Maria Lubega – they all lost their status in changes that brought in Ashraf Miiro as the new CEO and Kefa Kisala as the coach among the several new entrants.
UPDF survived a spirited Ndejje fight to redress the rule and stayed promoted. Team manager, Capt. Nkugwa has overseen more changes into the “ssisi kwa ssisi” ranks with Sakka Mpiima and Pius Ngabo getting assistant coaching roles to Kisala plus a rather massive recruitment of new playing staff.
Together with new CEO Miiro, they have replaced the axed players plus Police-bound youngster Arnold Ssembuya with goalkeepers Tonny Kyamera and Yusuf Wasswa plus outfield players Simon Mbaziira, Ronnie Kisekka, Jesse Kajuba, Fred Okot, Seif Batte, James Begisa, Gadafi Gadhinho, Charles Ssebutinde, Dickens Okwir, Martin Sseruwagi, Abdunoor Lukwata, Ibrahim Wammanah, Rashid Agau, Issa Mubiru, Duncan Ssemakula, Sam “Tiyo” Kintu, and Joseph Bright Vuni who was promoted from Young Simba.
The new signings will beef up the remnants that include custodian Douglas Kisembo as well as Ronald Owinyi, Nasib Kasule Tusaba, Chris Kawuga, Andrew Waiswa, Nakyenalire Robert, Ezekiel Katende, and team captain Dennis Ssekitoleko. It is this squad, albeit any extra additions, which is expected to insulate UPDF from another death of the Ugandan football Ninja in relation to the blockbuster written and directed by the celebrated duo of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.
The writer is a sports analyst with Sanyuka TV and the presenter of #Ataakulaba on 102.1 FUFA FM every Sunday 6 pm – 8 pm.