Emergence of 'Arrow boys' further left the game in limbo
In this third and last part of our critical look at football league seasons back in the day, HASSAN BADRU ZZIWA asserts that the chaos at the end of the 2003 season effectively turned away spectators;
Express had won the 1993 league after forcing a draw with Villa on the last day of the season. But prior to that, The Red Eagles, in the most acrimonious of circumstances; fixed their match with KCC with the aim of amassing an unassailable goal-difference over Villa.
Fast-forward in 1994, we were back in a similar scenario. In the decisive match, Express visited Villa’s home at Masaka Recreation ground needing a win to retain the title. Villa won 1-0 to win back the title, igniting a fierce clash.
Angry Express fans led by the ‘Red Army’ – who outnumbered the home fans – won bloody battles off the pitch. In particular, Express fans were settling old ‘unfinished scores’ such as the beating they suffered during the Kakungulu Cup final in 1988 against SC Villa.
Soldiers on the orders of late Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema, also a Villa fan, beat up rowdy Express fans.
The fighting spread to Masaka town where street battles between the rivals forced businesses to close.
SC Villa officials were forced to take overnight refuge in hotels around Masaka town as Express fans bayed for their blood. Since they couldn’t match the determination and firepower of Express fans, Villa fans tactfully shifted the ‘war’ to Kampala.
They blocked and stoned the van carrying Express players at Nateete trading centre. In 1995, Villa under a new leadership of Franco Mugabe, invaded the Express camp and grabbed tactician David Otti, whom they wanted to replace unpopular Timothy Ayiekoh – despite having won the league.
The Red Army threatened to retaliate. Fearing for his own life, Otti spent only two weeks at Villa Park before fleeing to ‘exile’ in Rwanda to handle APR. This left SC Villa a weakened side because Otti’s replacement Edirisa Nyombi was not top notch. In the end, Express ran away with the title without a fuss.
The following year, Express further strengthened its team by recruiting Serbian tactician Dragon Popadic. SC Villa didn’t sleep; they grabbed Express’ dependable player Phillip Obwiny but Express blocked the transfer.
The two clubs wrangled for the player for six months but FUFA ruled that – Villa pay Express Shs 6m which The Jogoos paid and Obwiny joined the former champions. But Express went on to win the league title.
In 1997, Villa and KCC came out strongly to reassert themselves. Express was going through tumultuous transition after the retirement of longtime chairman Vincent Bbale Mugera. The power struggle within the Red Eagles undermined the team performance as populist Hajji Meddie Ssebaggala stormed Wankulukuku with a couple of youthful administrators like Godfrey Kirumira, Kavuma Kabenge, Francis Buwule, Sam Kiwanuka and Robert Ssawa.
And when Otti returned to replace Eddie Butindo at Villa, it was now total war. Weeks later, the Express-Villa league match at Wankulukuku ended prematurely. Riot Police had to shoot in the air to disperse rowdy fans on rampage. They smashed windscreens of vehicles.
Avoiding to get sucked up in the conflict, KCC seized the opportunity and won the league title. KCC also made sure that SC Villa end the season empty handed by eliminating them from the Kakungulu Cup.
Villa reacted angry by sacking 14 senior players, claiming KCC had bribed them to concede the League and Kakungulu Cup matches. And to conclude the season, Express fans forced the abandonment of their Kakungulu Cup semifinal with KCC. Leading 1-0 at half time, KCC was headed for a double and matters got better when Express defender Suleiman Tenywa was given a red card.
However, this proved to be a blessing in disguise for Express – the Red Army swung into action and threw ‘missiles’ at KCC supporters in protest against the referee’s decision. As a result, the game was abandoned. FUFA ordered a replay, which Express won before going on to beat Umeme in the final.
Between 1997-1999, the three clubs poached players from either camp. Express grabbed Sulaiman Teywa (KCC), Phillip Obwiny and Livingstone Mbabazi (SC Villa). SC Villa signed James Odoch, Geofrey Bukohore and Joseph Mutyaba all from Express and KCC too raided the Express camp and grabbed Willy Kyambadde and Kefa Kisala.
VEK is formed
When the three clubs realized they had not benefited from the intrigue, it was agreed to form VEK, (Villa, Express, KCC) a loose association for the sake of fostering unity. It was also formed to act as a powerful lobby arm for the `Big Three.’
But between 2001-2002, rivalry returned with Express grabbing SC Villa’s Hassan Mubiru and Andrew Mukasa and returned both Willy Kyambadde and Kefa Kisala from KCC. SC Villa too reciprocated by recruiting Mource Sunguti from Express, Tom Muwonge, Morley Byekwaso and Said Abedi from KCC; the city lads managed only to get Shaka Okello from Villa.
Two years into the VEK misadventure, rival fans were still stoning each other. There was an incident in 2001 during the Express – Villa match at Namboole, which degenerated into running battles. Express fans ambushed the SC Villa bus – damaging the vehicle and seriously injuring defender James Kayimba.
Owning up to reality
In an emotional breakdown after the 2001 league, Express official Julius Kavuma Kabenge confessed that Express as well as Villa and KCC bribed referees and players to win matches. KCC’s Fred Ogene concurred with Kabenge. However, Villa’s Edward Luyimbazi differed and denied the claims.
The final straw
Despite Express’ best efforts, Villa had won five straight titles from 1998. But in 2003, a combination of high degree extortion, poor refereeing and administrative wrangles dominated the season.
With the season entering the home straight, Villa led Express on goal difference. There were allegations that both teams were ‘fixing matches.’ Villa was accusing Express of bribing referees who were dubbed “Arrow Boys” and Express accused Villa of bribing opposing players to under perform.
The ugly face of the rivalry reached its nadir on the penultimate round of the season on August 27. Akol FC came onto the pitch at Namboole stadium with only nine players some of whom were unregistered. SC Villa shamelessly walloped Akol 22-1.
But the drama had started in Lira. Before the match, Express, with the help of then FUFA boss Denis Obua gave money to Akol players not to turn-up at Namboole to deny SC Villa a goal galore. SC Villa, too, through its defender Dan Obote, reportedly passed money to Akol players to turn-up for the match.
What happened thereafter was real drama.
The team traveled to Kampala but when the FUFA bus, which was carrying the players, reached Bwaise, a Kampala suburb, some players jumped out and vanished. Only nine made it to Namboole and suffered that humiliation. Later the National Football League Committee nullified the game by awarding SC Villa 3 points and two goals.
In the season ender, Villa played Kinyara in Masindi, on the same afternoon at Nakivubo stadium, Top TV coach Sam Ssimbwa led a walkout in their game against Express while they were 0-2 down even before the end of the first half.
SC Villa had beaten Kinyara 2-0, but Express blamed Villa for Top TV’s action as they would have scored at least ‘4’ goals to overhaul Villa’s goal advantage. The committee also awarded Express 3 points and two goals and banned Ssimbwa for two years and demoted Top TV to lower division (the ban was lifted later).
As a result, SC Villa still managed to win the league title on superior goal difference. But the damage had already been done. But that was just the beginning of the ugly incidents. NFLC set up a probe team where players of Akol were summoned, but in a strange twist, Akol goal keeper Peter Agong died minutes before testifying.
There were calls from the soccer fraternity to have a proper probe into the local federation; the National Council of Sports (NCS) finally answered the call. The Council named a five-man committee under former Minister of State for Defence, Mr Stephen Kavuma. The committee was asked to investigate match-fixing and other forms of corruption in Ugandan football.
The report was handed over to then Sports State minister Oryem on November 15, 2003. The committee recommended that the 2003 league be nullified. It also recommended that SC Villa supremo Ahmed Omar Mandela and Express boss Godfrey Kirumira plus Kassim Buyondo be suspended for 2-3 years.
It also recommended that referees Liburd Masembe, Ali Kalyango, Charles Nsereko and Muzafaru Ziraba be punished. The committee further ruled that FUFA and NFLC were incompetent and thus should be dissolved.
But FUFA scoffed at the findings and both NCS and Oryem shelved the Kavuma report.
In a nutshell, the 2003 episodes forced many fans to shy away from matches and thus affected the teams financially. From then on, action has reduced and so is the tension among the fans and as a result it has put the rivalry on ice!