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Flashback: Jamil Kasirye - the spark that ignited SC Villa-KCC FC rivalry

At the height of domestic football arch-rivalry in the 1980s, it was rare for star players to switch between giant sides.

However, Jamil Kasirye is one of the few to have played for giants SC Villa and KCC – with great success. The stopper was also part of Uganda’s fairytale run at the 1978 Nations Cup.

His intimidating frame aside, Kasirye possessed sharp reflexes, excellent judgment of crosses and the ability to pull off a miraculous save where no one expected. In his heyday, he was darling at KCC, adored by fans that showered him with gifts and money when he made heroic saves but when he broke his allegiance and crossed to Villa, it came off as a taboo and he became enemy number 1 at his former employers.

That, however, didn’t stop him from winning several titles – most importantly as skipper.

Early days

Kasirye began his football career in the late sixties at a playground around his home area in Kasubi, a Kampala suburb. After playing several positions, he concentrated in goal. In 1971, Edirisa Kiwanuka, the skipper for topflight Lint FC, spotted and took him to the club’s training ground at Wankulukuku.

But despite the 17-year-old’s promise, he failed to nail down a first team position. Robert Kiberu came to his rescue in 1974 when he threw the youngster straight into action in a league game against Prisons. Then the coach of Express FC, Kiberu also doubled as a part-time tactician for Lint FC.  
Kasirye pulled off a string of stunning saves to deny Abbey Nasur and Eddie Semwanga in the goalless draw. Since then, he became a regular. In 1976, Edirisa Nyombi, the national youth coach, gave him a couple of matches before Peter Okee, the national team tactician, selected him as the understudy to Paul Ssali and Hussein Matovu.

Kasirye's best times

Kasirye made huge strides in his career when he denied John Ntesibe’s point-blank shot in a match against Nsambya. One of the people watching that afternoon was Bidandi Ssali, the national team manager, who was also a KCC FC coach.

It was just a matter of time before he moved to his childhood side and he finally made the switch in 1977. There, he had to fight it out with the ageing George Mukasa and Hussein Matovu. At the begging of January 1978, Kasirye had relegated both Mukasa and Matovu to the bench and became the first-choice keeper.

It was a fruitful beginning for Kasirye as he helped KCC win the Cecafa Cup title –keeping a clean sheet in the final game against Tanzania’s Simba. He performed heroism, after failing to convert his own kick; he stopped two Simba penalties in the shoot-out to hand over the title to the city lads for the first and last time.

In this game, Kasirye made an extraordinary save; he ran from one side of his goal to the other and denied Abdullah Kibadeni in a one-on-one close range encounter. In March 1978, Kasirye was picked as Ssali’s substantial reserve in the Cranes side which travelled to Ghana for the Afcon tournament.

Uganda posted mixed results in the 1978 Cecafa Cup and it was Kasirye who goalkept in the third play- off where Kenya beat Cranes 0-2- in Malawi. Despite a watertight defence of Jimmy Kirunda, Tom Lwanga, Sam Musenze and Gerald Kabaireho, KCC was beaten to the league title by Simba—to deny Kasirye his first league trophy.

In 1979 everything worked in favour of Kasirye. Ssali was imprisoned, Matovu joined the paid ranks in Arab Emirates and finally Mukasa officially retired. This development left Kasirye the automatic first choice stopper for the Cranes and KCC.

Despite KCC’s failure to recapture the league title under Kasirye, the club won Uganda Cup back- to- back (1979 and 1980). At the beginning of the 1980 season, Makerere University rookie keeper Grace Galabuzi put up a stiff challenge to Kasirye and on many occasions, he was named ahead of the Cranes custodian.

In October 1980, Kasirye made his decision to give way for Galabuzi and join title thirsty SC Villa, his departure not only shocked the Lugogo faithful but opened a big rivalry between the two teams.

Friction between the two teams spilled over, with Villa the loaded side, out to weaken KCC by getting their best players. Jimmy Kirunda followed suit in 1982 and later goal grabber Davis Kamoga the season after.

KCC officially branded Villa a ‘hostile’ club and it almost turned bloody when the Jogoos unsuccessfully tried to sign KCC’s John Latigo. All because Kasirye started the trend.

Magic at Villa Park

Just a season at Villa Park, as expected Kasirye relegated aging Fred Lukwago to the bench to lead SC Villa to league runners-up for the first time. His performance was applauded by his bosses who handed him the club’s arm-band. His sustained excellence won over the fans in no time and he became the cornerstone of SC Villa back five which kept seven clean sheets and conceded just 9 goals en route to the 1982 Super League title.

However, he failed to transfer his outstanding performance to Cranes when he failed to block any of the five penalty kicks during the 1982 Cecafa Cup final against Kenya at Nakivubo Stadium.  He complained of a nagging knee injury but this didn’t convince coach Okee who replaced him with KCC rookie keeper John Tebusweke.

Paul Ssali also rejoined the fray and claimed his place a year later. This left Kasirye dropping the pecking order. His frustrations continued when he was red carded by referee Dick Nsubuga for elbowing Masaka Unions’ Mike Kiganda.

However, he cemented his place at the club and in 1983; he denied his former employers (KCC) home and away victory when he blocked a penalty and a one-on-one in the last league game, for the Jogoos to avenge the first round defeat with 2-0 victory.

Three days later, Kasirye again became the stumbling block in KCC’s quest for the first double (league and Uganda Cup) when he produced a superb show en route to the Uganda Cup title. One full-length fingertip save from Godfrey Kateregga made sure that Sula Sentamu’s goal give the Jogoos their first cup title.

Before 1984, SC Villa had recruited two promising custodians; Anestus Serwanga and Edward Nassamba as Kasirye’s understudies but the “duo” found it hard to break into the first team as Kasirye guided Villa to the second league title. He soon translated that form to the national team, helping The Cranes beat Tanzania 1-0 away just a week after a disappointing 0-3 loss to Zambia.

For Okee, however, that proved to be Kasirye’s last match for the national team and he didn’t summon him again. In 1985, Kasiryebegan showing signs of decline and his once reliable reflexes deserted him. Even his bosses at Villa Park questioned his form and subsequently coach David Otti dropped him in favour of Serwanga for “Champions of Champions” game against KCC.

Incensed, Kasirye temporary quit football. He returned next season as a surprise inclusion in the Bank of Uganda FC team in 1986. He helped the bankers survive relegation and at the end of the season, he quit the game for good and embarked on coaching, a thing he’s still doing.

Kasirye fact file

  • Born in 1954 to Sabiiti Kaggwa Kyagaba and Mariam Najjuko of Kasubi, Kampala.
  • He went to Nakyekoledde Primary School, St Henry’s College Kitovu, Namungoona SSS and Kyambogo Polytechnic and holds a certificate in Carpentry.
  • He played for Lint FC, KCC FC, SC Villa and Bank of Uganda.
  • He won two league titles with SC Villa (1982 and 1984) and Uganda Cup with KCC (1979 & 1980) and with SC Villa (1983).
  • He won the 1977 Cecafa Cup title with The Cranes and was also part of the Ugandan team at the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations.
  • He coached a couple of clubs namely; Camaru Sports Club, UTODA-Nansana, Lake Katwe,  Resistance FC (Simba), Seeta United, Umeme, Iganga TC, Masese (Jinja), Mukono Lions, Nakanyonyi, Kanoni-Mukono, Misindye and Kinyara.
  • He currently coaches Mukono United FC but he is also a commercial farmer based at Kasala.
  • He has four children; Sophie Nabasirye, Abbey, Ashraf and Yusuf.

The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.

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