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UPL@50 | Simba ‘steals’ players, goes on to clinch 1971 title unbeaten

By Football256 Team

Currently they might be playing lower division football but Simba SC will always be remembered as the first Ugandan club to win the league unbeaten, writes Robert Mugagga.

Previously Prisons FC won the first ever league in 1968 having lost just one match and later defended the title in 1969 losing two matches, 1970 champions Coffee were also defeated just once.

Teams that competed in the 1971 season were just eight compared to the 11 that made up the previous season. These included; Simba, Coffee, Express, Police, Jinja, Masaka and Kilembe.

Eventual champions Simba played 14 matches winning 12 and drew two. At the time they were coached by a sports officer Wilson Ogwal who hailed from Lira. The club’s right winger Dibya took over as coach player later.

Former Simba SC player Emmanuel Ssempiira poses for a photo in his younger days | File Photo

How did Simba because strong?

Two high ranking army officers, Col. Francis Nyangweso (at the time) and General Idi Amin (both deceased) who was army commander in 1970 played an integral role in making Simba strong for the season. That was helped by their past history as, excellent national team boxers and without a doubt loved sports.

Before 1968, the army side looked very weak but a few years later both Amin and Nywangweso could no longer stand it for they felt ashamed of having such a weak side representing what they referred to as a mighty Ugandan armed force. So, they hatched a grand plan of recruiting good players from other clubs notably Coffee which had just won the 1970 league.

At the time, Simba was featuring in the third division of Kampala district football league (KDFL), they played and won friendlies against much stronger teams in Express, Coffee and UEB. The game’s governing body FUFA was impressed and decided to promote the club straight away to the premier division.

Once in the top league, Simba plotted to ‘steal’ star players from Coffee and these were Dibya, Polly Ouma, Swalleh Wasswa, Henry Buyego, Stephen Wadda and Emmanuel Ssempiira among others. Ssempiira currently in his seventies and the chairman LC I of Wakaliga village in Lubaga division narrates.

“I still remember well, it was a Monday late in the afternoon when this happened. We had already been contacted by some army officers,” Ssempiira narrated to before adding. “We were about to end that day’s training session at Coffee FC’s training grounds at Bugoloobi when Dibya went around telling the wanted players that the long awaited time had come.”

“The army vehicle Nyangweso had sent to pick us arrived and on board was sergeant Sseruwagi who had been entrusted with a role of accomplishing the whole exercise.” The spotted players thought they would be given a chance to go back home and say buy to the families, but they were wrong.

“They were instead driven all the way to Jinja Army Training School from where they would train on daily basis and only transported to Kampala to honour league games.

Francis Nyangweso (RIP) was one of one of those who orchestrated the poaching of players from other clubs and enrolled them into Simba SC | Daily Monitor Photo

“Sergeant Sseruwagi looked so tough and in a loud voice spoke in Swahili saying something like, ‘Mupande opesi gari’ (Quickly enter the car). From Bugoloobi the players never got a chance of going back home to inform family members of the new development.”

This was later found to be very expensive and time wasting and the team administration decided to that the players switch to a new base in Kampala. From Jinja, Simba players were deployed at then famous Malire Army Barracks, the present day Kabaka’s Lubiri palace in Mengo.

“Players were being treated more or less like spoilt kids, the army would buy us everything from shoes, shoe polish, mattresses, bed sheets, night wears, towels, stocks and many other items.”

“Simba players used to be given special meals where fish and beef were served in plenty, besides, there was this well stocked Army shop in Mengo (Kakeeka) where they would buy beers, wines, cigarettes and other commodities at far cheaper prices than elsewhere in Kampala,” he said.

In addition, the players were given fat allowances and lavish parties thrown in their honour whenever they won difficult matches. During such parties even the topmost army commanders like Amin (before becoming president and afterwards) would join in the frenzy and freely seen dancing with players.

Ssempiira however says that practice of giving Simba players free things later affected them in life as they always knew they would get whatever they wanted in life without working hard to get it. About the rapid success of Simba FC of the time, Ssempiira is quick to acknowledge the inter-barracks soccer competitions that helped in spotting good players from remote areas of the country.

Ouma (3rd left) poses with the Cranes team in the early 1970s | Daily Monitor File Photo

Great Simba players

The Simba team that won the 1971 National Football League had great players like goalkeeper Patrick Nathan, Abdu Kiggundu, Joseph Onziga, Ahmed Doka, Ayubu Mohammed, Francis Kulabigwo, Dibya, Ouma and Wasswa.

Doka, one of the best defenders Uganda has ever produced, he was very swift with the ball despite his heavy body size, and he was very good at stopping aerial balls. He used to be referred to as “Mr. Gentleman” simply for playing clean football without fouls unlike most defenders of the time.

Kulabigwo was a wonder midfielder who at the time was considered by many as the best of his generation. Up-front Simba had Dibya at the right wing while the country’s undisputed number nine Ouma led the line for them. Ouma was named coach in the 1972 season after Dibya went for a coaching course abroad.

If Ouma was the undisputed number nine, Wasswa’s role as a number ten left many gasping for more breathe, Wasswa, Philip Omondi and Jimmy “Omulogo” Ssewava made were real gems of the game.

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