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Flashback: Godfrey Kisitu, the aerial ball expert

For someone who netted twice for Uganda at the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations, it’s baffling why Godfrey Kisitu remains an unsung hero.

The player, who spent seven fruitful years at Simba, was a powerful attacker with great aerial prowess. His favoured position was the right of the midfield, from where he frequently cut inside for goal scoring opportunities.

Kisitu featured in several positions at club level and the national team. Kisitu, like many great players from the seventies, was a product of Nakivubo Boys, a non-league team that indirectly acted as a feeder side to the country’s giant sides—particularly Express FC.

It came as no surprise when, as a 19-year-old in 1969, he signed for Express. First to appreciate his incredible talent was national youth coach Robert Kiberu, who fielded the lanky player in a regional youth tournament in Zanzibar.

In 1970, he joined big spenders Bell FC alongside Bbaale Francis, another budding star who would later make his name as a news anchor with Uganda Television (now UBC).

Journey to stardom

In 1971, he signed for army side Simba but after two months on the fringes, he became regular, providing an efficient link between defence and attack. Being aerial threat, Kisitu found himself on the striking line at times; replacing ageing Swalleh Wasswa and scored a few important goals. That season, he netted four goals as Simba finished runners-up in the 1972 Africa Club Championships.

In 1973, Kisitu finally got national recognition when Cranes coach David Otti selected him for the national side that visited Brazil in 1974. He was also part of the Cecafa Cup squad later that year but remained in the shadow of strikers Phillip Omondi, Polly Ouma and Leo Adraa.

At the club level, Kisitu continued his outstanding performance and was a regular for the next six years.  His superb form coincided with the waning of Simba’s striking line of John Dibya, Wasswa and Ouma, who were aged. It was Kisitu whom the club looked at for a facelift and soon took over the penalty taking role at the club.

Kisitu’s highlight was the stunning header against Express, which handed KCC FC its first league title in 1976. Simba just played the spoiler role.
In November 1976, Kisitu came off the bench to score the two goals that sunk Malawi in the Cecafa Cup semifinal before Uganda reclaimed the trophy with a win over Zambia in the final.

On a personal level, Kisitu was a temperamental player but at times played the role of peacemaker. One memorable incident happened in February 1977 when Simba players beat up their Express counterparts in an ill-tempered match at Nakivubo. Kisitu chose not to engage in the “war” but instead shielded his brothers Sekasi and Nsobya, much to the amusement of his teammates.

Omondi’s return in The Cranes setup after a long injury layoff reinvigorated Kisitu’s career. Omondi was the perfect foil for his prolific partner, occupying opponents and picking out Kisitu’s intelligent runs with inch-perfect passes. The “duo” exhibited this classic display in the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana, where Kisitu came on as a substitute to head home Uganda’s third goal in the 3-1 win over Congo-Brazzaville.

He followed it up with another powerful header against Morocco in the 3-0 win and played a pivotal role as Uganda finished tournament runners-up. At Simba, Kisitu topped the club’s score charts in two seasons (1977 & 1978) and spearheaded the formidable strike partnership with Moses Musisi Nkolwa and Fred Isabirye, which scored a whopping 62 goals in the 1978 season. Not surprisingly, Simba won the league title.

Interestingly, Nsambya FC hired Kisitu’s services in Uganda Cup and scored the winner over UCB in the 1978 Uganda Cup final. It so happened that Simba didn’t register for the event, which meant that Kisitu was eligible to play for Nsambya.

A few months later in January 1979, Kisitu, by then promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant in the army, headed the equalizer against Kenya’s Gor Mahia in the Africa Cup Winners Cup but it wasn’t enough as Nsambya bowed out on away goals rule.

From Luzira to Villa Park

Following the fall of Idi Amin’s government in 1979, the majority of sportsmen attached to Uganda forces were arrested and locked up at Luzira prison. Kisitu too was imprisoned, only to be released in 1981. Thereafter, he signed for SC Villa in 1982 and scored on his debut against Tobacco. He eventually took over the playmaking duties from Moses Ndaula.

SC Villa went on to win the league title unbeaten. Kisitu was strong in the tackle and imperious in the air and his versatility helped coach George Mukasa rotate players at will. When skipper Jimmy Kirunda walked out of Villa Park in September 1983, Kisitu partnered Paul Hasule in the heart of the defence and the club had the meanest defence in the country.

SC Villa became dominant, winning two more major titles in a row with Kisitu scoring seven goals. Kisitu’s performance attracted Cranes coach Peter Okee, who returned him to the team after a six-year absence. He featured in Uganda’s World Cup and Nations Cup campaigns against Zambia and Tanzania respectively but was dropped for the 1984 Cecafa Cup.

He was sidelined most of the 1986 season and after four seasons at Villa Park, it was clear that Kisutu was slowing down. Despite the little activity, he was part of the team which lifted the historic league and Cup double. In 1987, Kisitu moved to Coffee but it was clear he was over the hill and to make matters worse, he started engaging in excessive drinking. Coffee dropped him in 1988.

He had a brief stint at Uganda Electricity Board (UEB FC), but still offered little and he retired in 1991. However, he remained working for the club’s parent company.
Post-football stress and addiction to drinking took their toll on Kisitu in 1993 and he became too frail to move out of his Lubaga road residence until he passed away on March 11, 1993.

Kisitu fact file

  • Kisitu was born in 1951 to Erunayo Ssebaggala of Kawempe and Teddy Nayiga of Mengo-Kisenyi.
  • His father played for Cranes, Old Mengo, Railways and BAT in the 1950s.
  • He went to Nakivubo Settlement Primary School and St. Peter’s Nsambya SS.
  • He won four league titles with Simba FC (1978), SC Villa (1982, 1984 & 1986) and four Uganda Cups with Nsambya (1978) and SC Villa (1983 & 1986).
  • He was part of the Simba side that reached the 1972 Africa Club Championships final.
  • He won the 1976 Cecafa Cup with The Cranes and featured in the 1978 Nations Cup team, scoring two goals.
  • His memorable goals were headers; 1972 (Hearts of Oak); 1976 (Express); 1976 (A brace against Malawi); 1978; (Cranes Vs Morocco); 1978 (UCB) and 1979 (Gor Mahia).
  • His football siblings were; Wilson Nsobya (Cranes, Express, Police & SC Villa), Fred Sekasi (Nakivubo Boys, Express and Cranes), John Musazi (Nakivubo Boys) and Betty Nanozi (Netballer with Bank of Uganda & She Cranes and mother to Cranes’ Hassan Wasswa).
  • He left behind eleven children of which three are footballers. They are Brian Kisitu (Jogoo Young & Gor Mahia), Godfrey Ntege (UTODA) and Hillary Sempala (Puma).

The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.
bzziwa@observer.ug

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