Ashe Mukasa was famed for his smartness and expressive style of play; attributes that endeared him to the Express faithful and teammates alike.
But his impact on the Uganda Cranes side of the 1970s stretched beyond those gifts. In fact, so talented was Mukasa that he was the only Ugandan selected in the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations team of the tournament.
He was naturally gifted with vision, pace and the ability to glide past opponents at will. Interestingly, he detested physical training; to him it belonged to less talented players. On the other hand, Mukasa was an emotional player who could shed tears when his team conceded a soft goal.
Mukasa’s ability was evident the moment he joined Nakivubo Boys in 1968 from local club Nateete Young Stars. However, his ambition was to play for a top club. So, in 1969, the 17-year-old student at Old Kampala SS joined Coffee FC. The side used to conduct its training sessions at the school’s playground.
But because Coffee was a star-studded side, the youngster got a handful of opportunities to impress. In 1970, he crossed to Division Two side NIC FC, where vocational job opportunities were readily available.
There, he teamed up with the country’s top prospects like Stanley “Tank” Mubiru, Timothy Ayiekoh, Billy Kizito, Mike Kiganda, Patrick Kibwika, and Shaban Mwinda, among others. It was while at NIC that he was selected to the National Youth team, which he captained to win the 1972 regional championship.
Later that year, he joined Express FC, where he flourished until February 1977 when the club was banned. He came to Express as a replacement for Ismael Kirungi, who had crossed to Coffee. Under the tutelage of coach Robert Kiberu, Mukasa grew in stature each passing season as the Red Eagles ended the domestic dominance of Simba and Coffee.
By the end of 1972, he was widely recognised as the country’s best left winger and it was just a matter of time before Cranes coach Burkhard Pape summoned him to the senior squad. He quickly adapted to the new environment and impressed alongside strike partner Polly Ouma during a Nations Cup qualifier against Somalia, netting a brace in a 5-0 win.
In the next round, he scored from the spot to give Uganda a 2-1 win over Kenya as The Cranes qualified for the last round against Algeria. He featured at left back for the first time and made numerous overlaps before opening the scores in the 2-1 win that ensured Uganda’s qualification to the 1974 Nations Cup held in Egypt.
However, Uganda posted poor results but Cranes’ German coach Westhoff Otto kept faith in Mukasa. Back at Express, he played a key role as the club won the 1974 and 1975 league titles. He went on to shine with the club in the Africa Club Championship, playing his heart out against Cameroon’s Caiman FC and Enugu Rangers of Nigeria.
At that time, Mukasa became a household name and several upcoming players called themselves “Ashe.” Indeed, this is how Issa Kawooya, the former Lint and SC Villa player came to be known as ‘Ashe,’ a tag he still moves with to-date.
Best in Africa, Express banned
Mukasa’s performance at the 1976 Nations Cup in Ethiopia caught the eye of the entire continent and was the only Ugandan selected in the team of the tournament.
Later that year, he was part of the victorious Cranes side that won the Cecafa Cup. By then, Mukasa was at the peak of his powers.
He followed up his top form in the 1977 season, netting a sublime curler for Express in the 4-0 win at Lira before supplying both assists in a 2-0 win over Coffee FC.
Express seemed primed for honours. However, Col Nasur Abdullah, the powerful Central Province governor, banned Express in February 1977 after a chaotic league match against army side Simba.
Afterwards, his teammates moved on to other clubs but Mukasa refused to join any other team. But because of his star power, he continued to featured for the national team and also in the 1977 Cecafa Cup, which Uganda won in Somalia. But when Uganda qualified for the 1978 Nations Cup, he was advised to get a club or riskbeing dropped.
KCC FC quickly snapped up the star hours before the January 1978 Cecafa Club Championship and played a vital role as they won the title. Later, he travelled with The Cranes to the Nations Cup in Ghana as the undisputed left back. However, he controversially lost his place to Sam Musenze. His undoing was the remarks he made during the opening game between Morocco and Tunisia.
Incidentally, Uganda was in the same group with both teams. The impressive show by both sides prompted Mukasa to wonder whether the Cranes presence was a waste; “Why did we come?,” he wondered, in full view of coach Peter Okee, who swiftly dropped him from the starting eleven.
He only appeared in only one game, a late substitute in the 3-0 win over Morocco. Uganda went on to finish runners-up but upon return, Mukasa briefly quit football only to resurface when Express was “resurrected” in April 1979.
He played as coach/player and finally quit the team at the end of that season. Later, he served in various capacities at the club from committee member to team manager. One memorable highlight of his love for the club came in 1997, when he openly wept when club chairman Vincent Bbaale Mugera announced his retirement. He feared the demise of his beloved club.
Ashe Mukasa fact file
- He was born in April 1952 to Daudi Mukasa and Maria of Lungujja.
- He went to Mengo Primary School, Old Kampala SS and finally Nakawa College of Commerce (later renamed MUBS), where he attained a diploma in Business Studies.
- He is a businessman.
- He won two league titles with Express (1974 and 1975) and was part of the team that Col Nasur Abdullah banned in 1977. He won the Cecafa Club Championship with KCC (1978).
- He won three Cecafa titles with The Cranes (1973, 1976 and 1977) and also served as Cranes assistant team manager, a period in which Uganda won the 1989, 1990 and 1992 Cecafa titles.
- He played in three Nations Cups (1974, 1976 and 1978) and was selected in the 1976 tournament Best XI.
- He played for six clubs (Nateete Young Stars, Nakivubo Boys, Coffee FC, NIC, Express FC and KCC FC).
- His father was a midfielder-cum-left winger and played for Prisons and PWD.
- His favourite jersey was shirt No 13
- He is married to Josephine and the couple has three children.
The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.