Onduparaka’s season of discernible halves and a worrying future

The 2019/2020 Uganda Premier League season was brought to an unsporting climax, but for Onduparaka they can take a sigh of relief for a campaign that has been torturous and tortuous.

The Caterpillars have had to hustle and wrench their way through a host of challenges, holding out to finish a brave eighth with 31 points.

The 2019/20 season was a milestone for the club as they celebrated their 10th year in existence. But an eighth-place finish; the club’s lowest since they gained promotion in 2016 to go with it brings about a sense of an anti-climax.

Onduparaka’s campaign has been a story of three discernible halves; a dream start, mid-season implosion followed by a coaching change, match-fixing allegations and high profile exits, before a worrying outro caused by financial struggles leaving fans worried of what is to happen next.

With traditional challengers SC Villa and Express in shambles, URA hugely unpredictable, Onduparaka has been a constant presence in and around the front runners since they gained promotion to the top flight.

They were expected to represent real danger this time round, but yet again they stopped at just that, and by the time the season was brought to a halt due to the novel coronavirus, Ondu looked to be in a free fall of sorts failing to win in six games while also winning just thrice in 15 games.

With the troubles engulfing the club off the field of play, they have been by far the luckiest side this season, twice benefitting from forfeited games against Police (the opening game of the season) and Tooro United (in the second round).

Onduparaka had a superb start, winning five of their opening six games including a four consecutive winning streak, but they soon closed shop.  

The Caterpillars won two more games in the first round against Tooro United and a record-breaking 7-1 thumping of Kyetume a game that saw Jamal Malish and Julius Malingumu each grab hat-tricks. The first hattricks scored in a game at the Greenlight Stadium.

They have suffered a mind boggling 12 league defeats this season; three of those defeats have uncharacteristically happened at the Greenlight.

True the club owners maybe expected the team to perform better, however, they should be reasonably pleased with the progress that the club has made over the season with the novelty of the financial struggles at the club.

With financial cracks visibly holding the team back, fans joined in on the hunt for steady income. They initiated a drive, holding banners and placards at home games calling on former sponsor Betway Uganda to return and save the club from its financial struggles.

With Betway clearly unmoved by the ploy, what followed was a massive exodus which included even some of the club’s long serving players.

Head coach Livingstone Mbabazi and captain Gaddafi Wahab led departures to Wakiso Giants which included defensive midfielder Faizul Ibrahim and promising right back Geriga Atendele.

Soon defender Dudu Ramadhan and Vitalis Tabu who returned to the club in January 2019 also departed for BUL Bidco.

Amidst the temptations and the licensing conundrum, Ondu bravely showed up for their game against Tooro United with only seven licensed players. They were hugely rewarded with three points and three goals as Tooro failed to raise a team thereby losing the game by forfeiture.

However, the stage had been set for an underperforming second half of the season. Onduparaka won just one more game against Busoga and lost six of their 10 matches in the second round.

The Caterpillars were hit with an episode of adversity when club chairman Benjamin Nyakuni revealed he was approached by match-fixing agents with cunning proposals of having the club sell their games in return for huge amounts of money.

With Nyakuni standing firm to his principles, offers were turned elsewhere. Onduparaka also revealed that their former captain Wahab and a couple of other players were also approached to fix matches.

According to a club statement, all the player involved reported the matter to the administration and no one at the club was involved in match fixing.

Minus the Stanbic Uganda Cup disappointment at the round of 64 where they were eliminated by Bugamba United, an eighth place finish is a solid platform for the club to build on next season if they can sort their financial struggles.

Over the years they have relied on top talent from West Nile, and if they can scout well once again, they can usher a new era of stars at the club.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about, a top-seven finish and another cup run can be a realistic target in the 2020/21 season.

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