As the Uganda Premier League celebrates 50 years this season, www.football-256.com wants to take you down memory lane. Robert Mugagga writes.
Before 1968, there existed football clubs all over the Uganda, especially in urban areas of the country notably Kampala, Jinja, Mbale, Masaka and Mbarara.
At the time, Kampala and other major towns had their own football leagues in which football clubs especially those from government institutions participated. During the colonial era, the colonialists emphasized the promotion of sports in most government institutions was paramount.
This explains why during the post-colonial period, government institutions like the Army (Simba), Prisons, Police, Lint Marketing Board, Coffee Marketing Board and others led the way in sports like football, boxing, athletics et cetera.
Kampala District Football League (KDFL) was the one running the Kampala league, Kampala had prominent clubs like Mengo Old boys, Mutungo, PWD, Nsambya, Aggrey, KTS, Railways, United Budonian, Express among others.
At that time, the national football team the Cranes already existed and used to participate in regional competitions like Gossage Cup which was competed for by Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar. This annual tournament began in 1926, in the early seventies it was expanded to include countries from central Africa and was re-named CECAFA (Confederation of East and Central African football Association).
Why the league was formed
In 1964 and 1968 the Cranes participated in the continental tournament we now know as the Total Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). On both occasions, it was disaster for the Cranes that came out last without winning a single match. At the 1968 edition, the Cranes were in group A with teams like Ethiopia, Algeria and Ivory Coast.
Ethiopia and Algeria beat Uganda 2-1 and 4-0 respectively, Ivory Coast didn’t spare the Cranes with a 2-1 as they emerged last in the group without a point having scored only two goals and conceded eight. Cranes’ only two goals were scored by Polly Ouma in the Ethiopian defeat while Denis Obua (RIP) grabbed the other in the last group match against Ivory Coast.
When the team returned home some sports lovers like Henry Balamaze Lwanga, Rev. Polycarp Kakooza and Jolly Joe Kiwanuka found it difficult to stomach the shame. Thoughts of starting a national football league emerged, a league that would involve clubs from different parts of the country.
The brains behind the idea thought this would help in spotting good and talented footballers from all over the country and not depend on only those in Kampala. Once spotted, they argued that best footballers from across Uganda would help strengthen the Cranes team.
Balamaze Lwanga, Rev. Polycarp Kakaooza and Jolly Joe Kiwanuka had at one time studied in Britain. While there they noticed strong football leagues and saw how these helped in strengthening the English, Scottish and Irish national teams.
At the beginning of 1968, clubs like Prisons, Army, Coffee, Express, Jinja, Masaka, Mbarara and Mbale were invited to kick start the national football league. The invited upcountry teams were ordered to merge in order to form formidable teams to represent their towns. Jinja United was one example.
The first league was won by Prisons (whose name changed to Maroons in 1976). The Prisons team at the time had skillful players like Parry Oketch, Stephen Baraza, Peter Wanyonyi, Patrick Egwang, Ben Ezaga, Ssejjungo, Kawunde and Ssekiziyivu.
Prisons were coached by Peter Okee who was a coach player, he later became Cranes coach. At Prisons, Peter Okee used to be advised by Bill Kirkham, a British and administrator at Uganda Prisons Services. Prisons accumulated 24 points from 14 matches. After winning 11 matches, drawing two and losing only once. At 51 goals, Prisons scored the highest number of goals while conceding only 16.
The first ever league goal was scored by John Kitanda of Coffee FC in the first ever league match that saw Coffee wallop Mbarara United 7-1. Express legend Ibrahim Dafala scored the first ever League own goal as the Red Eagles defeated Masaka 4-3.