Current goings-on at Express FC are as mindboggling as they are disturbing. With two club factions playing in different leagues, the situation surely leaves a sour taste for the club faithful.
Yet, back in the day, a similar scenario nearly occurred. A coup, mistrust and egotism led to the creation of a splinter club. In May 1979 shortly after the toppling of Idi Amin’s government, Express FC’s diehards resurrected the club following a three-year limbo imposed by then Central Province governor Nasur Abdullah.
Kezekiah Segwanga Musisi, one of the club’s life members, used his position as National Council of Sports chairman to return the club to topflight football instead of starting from the lower divisions as would have been the case. At the time, club chairman Turker Mubiru Lwanga had fled to exile.
So, budding politician Sam Kalega Njuba was appointed to head the team duputerised by Jimmy Mugambe Kiwanuka. Hajji Abdul Kasujja was Team Manager while the secretary was Bablo Ali with Ashe Mukasa acting as coach/player. That season, Express only featured in the Uganda Cup because the league had already started.
Njuba, who was also the Uganda Law Society president, had a tough time balancing politics and club affairs and spent the next few months in and out of state detention due to his political activism. And when he was released after a second detention in 1981, he fled into exile without handing over. Thereafter, the team was run by an interim executive.
Express started the 1981 season with poor results but when they lost 2-3 to minnows Wandegeya, fans became impatient with the leadership. On April 21, 1981 angry fans led by Livingstone Muwanga (RIP) a.k.a Sgt. Doe and late Sam Mponga `Kumara’ stormed the club’s training ground at Wembley (where Mukwano Mall sits today) and staged a ‘coup,’ which handed power to Jimmy Mugambe Kiwanuka, the son of Express founder late Joseph ‘Jolly Joe’ Kiwanuka.
In the elections held in December 1981, Mugambe retained the chairmanship and named Patrick Kiwanuka vice chairman, Ernest Kabugo (secretary), Hajji Kassim Mpanga (treasurer) and Hajji Abdul Mawejje (team manager) while Henry Buyego took over as coach. The club then went on a recruiting spree, signing some of the country’s top players like Issa Sekatawa, Fred Mukasa, Dan Lutalo, Moses Ndaula, Jimmy Muguwa, Patrick Kigongo, George Serunjogi, Joseph Kiwanuka, Jack Ntale, among others.
Battle of the Kiwanukas
George Mukasa replaced Buyego but still, the club failed to win any major titles. The powerful fans movement called for a change in the leadership and demanded an elective general assembly. However, Mugambe shrugged off the appeals but later cowed after realizing the unpopularity of his stance. Mugambe was principled, plain speaking but a section of the club faithful found him to be extremely arrogant.
Still, he was sure of retaining his chairmanship on February 3, 1985. Come D-day, Express supporters trooped in their hundreds to Wembley and there was no sign that anything extraordinary was in the offing. Mugambe and his entire executive, including the vice, Patrick Kiwanuka, were there in apparent harmony. But, close confidants tipped off Mugambe that there was a secret plan to vote him out of office.
That’s when the situation turned sour and he abruptly called off the meeting which he had convened. Calling it ‘unconstitutional,’ Mugambe staged a dramatic one-man walkout. This, however, only facilitated the easy transition of power and Patrick Kiwanuka took over after polling 385 votes compared to Mugambe’s meagre 18. Mugambe cried foul, accusing his predecessor of using non-club members to take the top seat but Kiwanuka went on to name his executive which had; Vincent Bbale Mugera (vice chairman); Kassim Mpanga (treasurer), Ernest Kabugo (secretary), Peter Mbeera (welfare officer), Sam Senyondo (organising secretary), Muzungu Kanga (publicity secretary) and George Byaruhanga (assistant treasurer).
Committee members included Fred Iga, Hajji Abdul Kasujja, Hajji Kaddu Serunkuma, Katabalwa Miiro, Edward Mugerwa, Sempande Semakula, Vincent Mulindwa and Hajji Magid Bbosa. The technical committee had Ibrahim Dafala, Henry Matte and Peter Kiwanuka. Though Mugambe refused to recognise his namesake, fans and players were behind Kiwanuka’s executive.
The new executive was boosted by the 1985 Uganda Cup triumph, which was Express’ first major title in eight years.
New splinter group
Though the club appointed Mugambe to the board, voices of discontent emerged from Kiwanuka’s executive with Hajji Kasujja accusing him of being a ‘dictator.’ Kasujja claimed the executive changed the club’s constitution without members’ mandate and also alleged that the elections which ushered in Kiwanuka were rigged through false membership cards.
Kasujja also decried the failure of the leadership to stick to the club’s original principles of developing football. However, Kiwanuka remained unmoved, much to the disappointment of Kasujja, who was one of the club’s major funders. This prompted the influential Kasujja to pull off what he termed as a ‘masterstroke’ to disapprove Kiwanuka’s style of running the club.
In April 1986, Kasujja resigned from Express and formed KK Cosmos with the hope of wooing the majority of the club faithful. Bablo Ali and former players like Mathias Bbale, Dan Lutalo and Jack Ntale quickly joined him but the rest kept their allegiance to Express. This turned out to be a misjudged move by Kasujja and he struggled to guide his team to topflight football.
In 1988, Kiwanuka was re-elected and his return was boosted when Mugambe openly rallied behind his executive. However, the club went into trying moment following the untimely death of Kiwanuka and team manager Edward Mugerwa, who perished in a motor accident at Zzana on June 9, 1989. Bbale Mugera took over the mantle and as a consolation, Kasujja whose KBT Cosmos had been dissolved, returned to Express.
But the club misery continued with the death of coach Robert Kiberu on March 5, 1990. It was soon followed by the November 21, 1991 death of Mugambe, who died in a motor accident at Naluvule along Hoima Road.
But Bbale steered Express well, becoming the most successful Express chairman, having guided the club to three league titles (1993, 1995 & 1996) and four Uganda Cup titles (1991, 1992, 1994 & 1995).
Club elders need to intervene to quell the crisis
Like I showed in my piece regarding SC Villa, Express FC is on course for a major split with one faction led by veteran football administrator Vincent Bbale Mugera and longtime club secretary Julius Kavuma Kabenge on the other. I appeal to both parties to do everything possible to avoid a split in Express as instability in a top club like Express will inevitably trickle down in other clubs on top of reflecting negatively on the sport in general.
My hope is that club elders like Prince Kassim Nakibinge Kakungulu, Kezekiah Segwanga Musisi, Hajji Moses Kigongo, Hajji Moses Kaddu Serunkuma, John Bagambe, Godffrey Kirumira, Katabalwa Miiro, Meddie Ssebaggala, Habib Kagimu, Ashe Mukasa, Sam Kiwanuka among others, will use their good positions to intervene and avert the impending catastrophe.
The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.