Fifteen years ago, Police FC did the unthinkable. You know the old football adage – ‘the league table never lies’. Well sometimes it does. Or at least it does not always give a real reflection of teams’ actual quality when it triumphs against all odds.
Analysing a longer period of time, can sometimes reveal some pretty interesting and damning facts and stats. Police’s Uganda Super League title win in 2005 was certainly one of those as they shocked SC Villa 3-1 on penalties after a goalless draw under Namboole floodlights.
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Police FC’s 2006 Kagame Inter-Club Cup triumph had been the last time a Ugandan side won the championship until KCCA lifted it in 2019. Villa are the most successful Ugandan side with three titles.
Asuman Lubowa’s team produced a scintillating attack of Martin Muwanga and Geoffrey Massa commonly known as Mu-Ma, who combined to score 15 goals in that abridged campaign. Only Geoffrey Sserunkuma of KCC (eight goals) and Express’ Tony Odur (six) could come close.
It may have been a consequence of their deep-lying defensive strategy. Their reliable defensive duo of David Iga and Siraje Sevvume was only second to Villa. Police’s defence conceded just twice in the regular season to qualify as Group B leaders with 18 points, three better than second-place Victors and four better than third best qualifier, KCC.
The 2005 super league changed the format to a knockout tournament with three groups of five teams after a delayed start following the withdrawal of Top Radio as sponsors. Teams competed in a Champions League format and Police went all the way unbeaten.
What cannot be disputed is that SC Villa was the the best defensive team in the division as they only let in one goal [in the 2-1 win over Masaka] and had amassed the highest number of points, 20, in Group A. They had even eliminated KCCA 4-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals. But this is only just half the story. Police had a healthy balance between defence and attack marshalled by Hannington Kalyesubula, who had just crossed from SC Villa to seek more playing time.
Whereas Massa, who had played in Uganda’s top flight for just six months, and Muwanga were deadly, Nanik Muzamiru and Dan ‘Mujapan’ Mubiru ensured the Cops were not exposed at the other end.
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“A knockout tournament can bring a lot of surprises. There are always no second chances. I can say Police’s win is similar to Proline winning the Uganda Cup last season. Police were just lucky,” sports analyst Harunah Kyobe said in an interview.
But Charles Ayiekoh, who was the deputy to Lubowa, differs. Ayiekoh had been with the team as Paul Hasule’s deputy since 2002. The late Hasule had left SC Villa while Ayiekoh was joining from the defunct Horizon.
Our first target was to get out of the group,” Ayiekoh recalls. “But we had built the team for a long time and they had matured.Charles Ayiekoh
In the playoffs, Police FC were largely lucky. Massa scored an early goal at Namboole but Police bounced back to win 4-2 in the quarterfinals. They took a 1-1 advantage against Express in the semis and Ibrahim Buwembo gave the Red Eagles an early lead in the return leg but Police rallied back to win 2-1.
But Hasule had died on April 25, 2004 to leave an unfulfilled dream.
“This was Hasule’s championship for sure. We dedicated it to him because we enjoyed his fruits,” Ayiekoh says.
When Hasule passed on, there was a power vacuum. Team chairman Emmanuel Opio and Afande Assan Kasingye opted for Lubowa, who was then the a FUFA technical boss ahead of Moses Basena and Frank Anyau.
The making of champions
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With Lubowa busy at the national team, he entrusted Ayiekoh to recruit. That saw the arrival of Massa from Mbale Heroes while Lawrence Segawa, Rogers Kyeyune, the late Alex Katete and goalkeeper Sowedi Salim were recruited from Standard High Zzana to beef up the squad. The big signing of Alex Isabirye from SC Villa never materialised as he opted out at the eleventh hour.
Ayiekoh says Police used a strategy of being economical, scoring early and defending in numbers.
“Our slogan was ‘football made easy’, Ayiekoh says.
But everything rotated around captain fantastic Iga and Sevvume, who complemented each other so well with a telepathic understanding. Both relied on the other’s attributes to compensate for their shortcomings. Iga was an intelligent player with Sevvume combative. Only leftback Segawa was tall among the defenders. “We were hardworking and we made sure everyone covered his teammate,” Ayiekoh notes.
But the presence of Kalyesubula in goal was key. Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic had considered him surplus to requirements at Villa Park and he was at Police FC to prove a point.
Massa took opposing defenders by surprise as little was known of him. His speed and aggressiveness compensated for Muwanga’s low pace. But Ayiekoh notes that the then team supremo Gen Katumba Wamala offered extra motivation.
“Gen Katumba attended most of our training sessions,” he says.
Villa’s Silent night
Prior to the game, SC Villa were overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy. But Police relied on belief.
Obviously they had nothing to lose. Respected journalist Fred Kawesa recalls Muwanga telling him that, “We want to change history. This Villa talk will have to end.”
Police had beaten KCCA twice and eliminated Express in the knockouts. Massa said, “For most of us, it was the game of our lives. It was massive but we knew all the pressure was on Villa”.
A bullish SC Villa had won the previous seven league doubles and three doubles in 1998, 2000 and 2002.
Were the Jogoos complacent? Obviously not but this was never going to be their day.
After a goalless draw, the Jogoos, lost 3-1 on penalties to send shockwaves in Uganda’s football. It was a rainy cold evening at Namboole as Police, dressed in white, broke a 56-year jinx without a major trophy to be crowned league champions. Determination had defeated the mighty Jogoos.
Police had tenaciously prepared for the do-or-die game with a one-week secluded camp at Hotel Triangle in Jinja. Yet Villa had trained at Namboole for the whole week to acclimatise to the floodlights.
Yet Police’s camp in Jinja was facilitated by Jinja Police as the main headquarters did not have a budget.
Worse still, the players were demanding six-month arrears. “We had failed to get home upkeep for the players until Gen Katumba ordered that all players are paid salary of one month,” Ayiekoh recalls.
After the triumph, the mood was mixed until Gen Katumba who was returning from Germany met them at midnight handing them a Ush5M purse to share.
The following day, he ordered for all team salaries to be paid before hosting them to a modest bull roasting party at Police Officers’ Mess on Jinja Road.
It was a complete contrast with the Kagame Cup winning squad in 2006 which IGP Kale Kayihura took to State House for a presidential dinner and Ush5M handshake on top of rank promotions for all players.
The team had qualified to represent Uganda in the CECAFA Clubs Cup and the CAF Champions League. At the first time of asking, they won the regional Cup in Tanzania yet after a goalless draw in Kampala, Al-Hilal Omdurman eliminated them in the Champions League qualifiers during the return leg in Khartoum with a 3-0 loss. The 2003 experience in the African Cup Winners’ Cup had not helped.
Yet they were lucky again in the Kagame Inter-Club Cup groups in Tanzania as they only qualified to the knockouts as best losers before eliminating Yanga in the quarterfinals paving a smooth run against Ulinzi in the semis and Moro United in the final.
Basking in glory
National team selectors started looking at Police for players which paved the way for Massa who was summoned alongside Muwanga to the team that travelled to Egypt for the LG Invitational tournament under Muhammad Abbas.
After selling Massa to Egyptian side Al-Masry for a reported $12,000, the squad beefed up with the likes of Peter ‘Crouch’ Ssenyonjo, Mike Sserumaga, Simeon Massa, Tony Mawejje and Dan Walusimbi. Muwanga left for Rwanda’s Atraco while another midfield hero, Robert Kimuli secured a Ush6M move to Bunnamwaya to become the most expensive player at Kitende at the time.
Things fall apart
The old ghosts came to haunt them immediately. After the league triumph, the team had a poor start to the 2006 season which led to the departure of Lubowa and Ayiekoh. Lubowa exchanged jobs with Sam Timbe at SC Villa while Ayiekoh joined Bunnamwaya (now Vipers).
The Cops finished second to new champions URA in the 2006 a place they maintained until 2008 before becoming a middling club finishing sixth in 2009 and 2010. In 2017, they were only one point from relegation until Abdallah Mubiru breathed a new lease of life. A source intimated that the clubs’ troubles arise from lack of adequate financing which results in delayed salaries.
But the retirement of key players like Dan Mubiru and Timbe’s questionable tactics put them in harm’s way. Angelo Lonyesi attempted to balance the boat but fell short. Today, the flaws are written all over the team.
What a coincidence!
Yet there is more to Police’s win. Their triumph put a full stop to SC Villa’s dominance which has now entered into hibernation. Villa has not won a league title since losing that final, their closest attempts coming in 2007, 2008, 2015, 2017 finishing second on all occasions while fighting relegation for most of last season.
Villa’s problems were compounded by an à la carte of challenges. Under Franco Mugabe, every good player desired to play for the Jogoos. Although Patrick Kawooya had run a one-man show, he had trained Mugabe such that when he relinquished the power in 1993, there was continuity. Mugabe’s departure left a vacuum with the late Edward Luyimbaazi’s feeble means exposed. Although preventing Immanuel Ben Misagga from becoming the presidency in 2005 ripped apart the club, Fred Muwema’s challenges with FUFA which led to a parallel team, left the Jogoos on their knees.
Kyobe argues that Police’s triumph preceded the dark times of Uganda’s football. “Police could not attract any fans into the stadium playing even CAF games in an empty stadium,” he says.
This was followed by URA FC, who won in 2006 and 2007 without fans to count on before Bunnamwaya also took the 2010 trophy.
“Surprisingly, Uganda’s football has never recovered from that shock. The fear factor was no more and imagine Bunnamwaya failed to go to the continent,” Kyobe says.
Apart from the 2012 title that Express FC stole from Bunnamwaya, after Fire Masters withdrew from the league, Police caused the biggest upset in Uganda’s football and history will remember them as history makers not just lucky lads.
Notable Police players
Hannington Kaleyesubula, Simeon Masaba, Lawrence Segawa, Siraje Sevvume, David Yiga, Dan Mubiru, Umar Kasule, Muzamir Nanik, Dan Walusimbi, Peter Ssenyonjo, Tony Mawejje, Juma Lubega.
June 10: Police 1-1 Victors
June 19: Gulu United 0-1 Police
June 25: KCC 0-1 Police
June 29: Police 1-0 Mityana Utoda
July 1: Victor 1-1 Police
July 6: Police 2-0 KCC
July 10: Mityana Utoda 0-0 Police
July 12: Police 5-0 Gulu United
July 26: Police 4-2 Masaka
July 29: Masaka 0-0 Police
Aug 3: Express 1-1 Police
August 8: Police 2-1 Express
August 8: Villa 0-0 Police (Pens. 1-3)
Ugandan Premier League: 1 (2005)
Cecafa Clubs Cup: 1 (2006)
PERFORMANCE IN CAF COMPETITIONS
CAF Champions League: 2006 – Preliminary Round
CAF Cup Winners’ Cup: 2003 – First Round