Douglas Smith looks at one of the balls locally manufactured in Ibanda

The Holy Bible has quite a number of rich assertions and famous quotations.

One of the common verses is John 1:46 when one of Jesus’ followers, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee posed a question “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”.

In this verse, Nathanael boldly voiced a criticism about Jesus’ humble origins since many members of the Judean elite, in particular, were unimpressed with Jesus’ allegedly rural Galilean origins.

The assertion above can drive one to a similar question in modern day; “Can anything good come from Rwenkobwa in Ibanda district?”

The answer is well spelt out on the wall; “Yes”.

Douglas Smith, 26, a born and bred son of the soil from Rwenkobwa Trading Center in Ibanda District is manufacturing footballs locally, also tagged Ekihago by the locals.

He could virtually be the first Ugandan to have successfully come out with the science of making a ball, but because of lack of materials, his project is still at infant stage.

There is no record of a soccer balls manufacturing company in Uganda before, and not many are known in Africa.

“I use leather (polyurethane), polyester, and the bladder (usually butyl). There are four steps undertaken to through to make a complete ball,” Smith testifies, adhering to the ball’s spherical shape, as well as its size, weight, and material composition, are specified by Law 2 of the laws of the game maintained by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

This football made in Ibanda, which many have termed as Ekihago a rural slogan in the Western Uganda youth circles to mean a leather ball, is the first to be made in Uganda.

“The outer layer is a synthetic surface that gives enhanced water resistance and lesser wear and tear and usually leather (Polyethylene). Then the inner lining where leather is laminated with polyester. A layer of polyester is applied in the same shape as leather using glue. We make our polyester from recycled plastic. Plastic is crashed into pellets, then melted, extruded spurn into polyester. It is left to dry for hours under natural sunlight,” he speaks of the second stage.

Smith is a medical student at Chemequip Medical School and he is director of Sportrise Football Academy in Ibanda.

Douglas Smith holds one of the locally manufactured balls

After retiring from football prematurely to concentrate on the medical studies and academy’s tasks, Smith reasoned one way of supplementing the demand for balls was to make them himself.

“The third stage is about cutting and printing. The ball panels are then cut into hexagons and pentagons. Once all hexagons and pentagons are cut, they are moved to be printed with customer design specifications along with printing instruction. This is followed by the grueling stitching by hand to put the panels together and install the bladder,” Smith adds.

According to Smith, a complete size 5 ball has 720 stitches although.

“Handsewn beams have tighter and stronger seams. When the ball is complete, the measurements (circumference) and weight are executed to make sure it suits the standard needed by FIFA,” Smith remarks.

On average, one or two balls are manufactured per day depending on the availability of materials and labour (currently he employs six workers).

Local leather is purchased from the capital city, Kampala.

Given chance he receives the needed assistance, Smith is looking at securing a license from FIFA, through FUFA, to start making soccer balls on a large scale.

Smith looks to follow the path of the modern 32-panel ball design was developed in 1962 by Eigil Nielsen.

Presently, the technological research continues today to develop footballs with improved performance.

The 32-panel ball design was soon overcome by 24-panel balls as well as 42-panel balls, both of which improved performance compared to before, in 2007

Ekihago calls for full private sector backing, support from Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA), the National Council of Sports (NCS) and yes, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s government.

With this manifestation and brave project, indeed, something great has come from Rwenkobwa in Ibanda, Western Uganda.

Tit Bits About Smith:

  • Full Name: Smith Douglas
  • Parents: Major Stephen Barya & Beatrice Kirunga
  • Date of Birth: 14th April 1994
  • Place of Birth: Rwenkobwa Town Council, Ibanda District
  • Education: Ibanda Town School (PLE), Kitagwenda High School (2009-2012UCE), Valley College HS (2013-2014 UACE), Third year Medical Student at Chemequip Medical School
  • Attributes: Grandparents Late Steven Mbundira and Ruth Mbundira
  • Football Career: Primary, secondary, Ibanda Municipal, Ibanda Warriors (Attacking midfield, Wide-man)
  • Management: Director, Sportrise Football Academy

David Isabirye is a senior staff writer for Kawowo Sports where he covers most of the major events.

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