On March 11, I was privileged to be among the thousands who thronged Kitende hill to witness the opening game at St Mary’s stadium as Vipers FC hosted Platinum Stars from South Africa in the Caf Con- federation Cup.
For starters, the turnout was so impressive that organisers had to close the gates on some fans. And for one, Lawrence Mulindwa has set a new benchmark in Ugandan football that all aspiring leaders should use as a yardstick. Inside, the ambiance was quite lively, seeing that it was a capacity crowd.
Fast forward to last Saturday, KCCA FC drew a capacity crowd as they took on Mamelodi Sundowns in the Caf Champions League match at the Phillip Omondi stadium, Lugogo.
Both matches had a lot of things in common on and off the pitch. But amidst the fanfare, coupled with the home sides’ brilliant display on the pitch, I observed a conspicuous absence of energy, especially in the VIP sections where I sat.
It is not that the ambiance were dull, but, I noticed lack of that electrifying presence that used to make such continental matches a must-see. Anyone who keenly watched continental club matches in the nineties will attest how such games used to be a who-is-who affair.
In particular, Nakivubo stadium’s pavilion was a hub of nonstop buzz from start to finish as bigwigs from government, business and corporate world made their presence felt either by rallying on their teams or by simply firing up the crowd.
On a personal note back then, I got quite a number of story tips from the loose talk these people engaged in, be it politics or football. For instance, Express matches would bring out all the high-profile fans in government such as Hajji Moses Kigongo, Moses Ali, Kafumbe Mukasa, Sam Njuba, Prince Badru Kakungulu, Canon Ezekel Mulondo and Abu Mayanja, among others.
Villa’s links with the army hierarchy was always there to see when people like Fred Rwigyema, Salim Saleh, Paul Kagame as well as Henry Balamaze Lwanga used to lead the crowd in chanting and celebrations.
It was the same with KCCA, whose most vocal supporters included then Kampala mayor Fred Semaganda, Bidandi Ssali, premier Kintu Musoke, businessman Gordon Wavamunno and Kirunda Kivejinja, who by the way holds the club’s number one fan membership card.
Then there were the ever-present football enthusiasts such as Cosmas Adyebo, Eriya Kategaya, Jehoash Mayanja Nkangi, John Sebaana Kizito, Amanya Mushega, Kaddu Kiberu, Francis Babu and even Speciosa Kazibwe.
And it didn’t stop at attending matches; these bigwigs were also central in other club activities, especially when it came to fundraisings. It is amazing how football used to attract these bigwigs yet at the same time baffling how it alienates them in these days.
Back in the day, top clubs openly boasted of their high-profile fans, who in turn also scrambled to be associated with their club of choice. This association was indeed fruitful both ways and for one, Villa boss Patrick Kawooya’s closeness to top army officers yielded huge financial benefits for the club.
It is a different case today. Even when Express, for example, recently named a board comprised of several public figures, they hardly attend any matches and I’m reliably informed many don’t even contribute to the club coffers.
So, either the politicians and top corporates no longer feel the urge to associate with football or clubs aren’t doing enough to attract them. I also understand that neither side is desperate for change but personally, I miss that galvanizing atmosphere that made such matches memorable.
The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.