Calvary players celebrate after being promoted to the FUFA Big League (Credit: John Batanudde)

Between 19th October to 2nd November 2020, football officially returned to the sporting face of Uganda with the FUFA League play-offs at the federation’s Technical Centre in Njeru, Buikwe District.

Action witnessed a total of 15 matches played without fans as per the directive of His Excellency, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni as a mitigation tool to tame the spread of COVID-19.

These playoffs entailed the four Big League clubs, 16 Regional League clubs, and the 2 FUFA Women Elite League sides; all intended to determine the clubs that deserved sporting promotion in the respective divisions.

All the players, officials (organizing team, referees, and media personnel) underwent the mandatory COVID-19 testing with the positive cases sadly ruled out of the confined tourney.

Kawowo Sports’ David Isabirye witnessed first-hand all these 15 games and brings to you the positives, grey areas, and possible recommendations for the good of the beautiful game’s development.

Goalkeeper Farouk Yawe is congratulated by a teammate after saving the third penalty against Buwambo United (Credit: John Batanudde)

The Good

First things first, there were smiles from the beaming faces of football die-hards across the divide for one common reason – football was eventually back on the sporting scene since 17th March 2020 when the suspension was announced.

Witnessing the zeal, determination, and enthusiasm of the players, coaches, referees, organizing committee officials and journalists all at work for the good of football was an eye-catching moment.

Right from the keenness of officials from the time they checked in through the Njeru main gate, through to being read the in-house rules and regulations, final training rehearsals, pre-match meetings, lively team talk sessions, limbering drills, the matches proper, and the mandatory pre and post-match interviews for players and coaches, you could easily depict everyone was on a mission possible at Njeru.

Asubo Gafford Ladies players take a photo selfie prior to a training session at FUFA Techincal Center, Njeru (Credit: John Batanudde)

Despite the 7 months’ absence of competitive training sessions, friendly matches, and games themselves, a couple of teams looked really prepared physically and mentally.

Players were fit as some even demanded an extra 90 minutes after a match.

Competition was high, goals rained with 27 strikes in as many as 15 matches.

In some cases, the defence lines reported at work with several games determined in post-match shoot outs after non-scoring stalemates (4) as well as 2 scoring draws.

Mark Bamukyaaye in action for Gaddafi against Admin at FUFA Technical Center, Njeru (Credit: John Batanudde)

The highly explosive Gaddafi versus Admin game of the all Eastern region affair lived to its hype and billing as the former won 4-0.

Gaddafi won 3-0 in the final against Sansiro to emerge as the best scoring side in the play-offs with 7 goals netted.

In the Sansiro match, veteran striker Patrick “Crespo” Asiku retired officially from football after more than a decade of active service.

Gaddafi players accorded Patrick “Crespo” Asiku a guard of honour (Credit: John Batanudde)

All the matches were streamed live courtesy of Satellite media group with a live feed on the official Facebook page of the Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA).

The closed door arrangement thus gave rise to leverage on the live stream of matches.

The level of refereeing from the FIFA Referees on duty was classic, outstanding and will be remembered for the rest of football history in Uganda.

There were minimal complaints from teams and virtually most games ended in a tranquil mood with players and officials of either side hugging one another to justify the fair play spirit of football as “the beautiful game”.

The FIFA Referees also utilized their presence at Njeru to conduct the mandatory medical and physical fitness tests, a key prerequisite for retaining the treasured FIFA Badge coming to 2021.

Some of the male FIFA Referees during the physical fitness tests at Njeru (Credit: John Batanudde)
Goalkeeper Steven Makumba stretches during the last training session at Njeru (Credit: John Batanudde)

FUFA provided the FIFA Referees, feed all the teams (players and officials), and provided the accommodation as well.

Security at Njeru was top notch with uniformed and non-uniformed officials, armed and non-armed officers at work 24 hours every day.

Community policing was also indirectly preached. Each team presented a 20 man contingent who became fervent residents until their matches were done and dusted.

Kitara striker George Senkaaba (Left) with winger Vincent Kaasoki Ssenkaaba has since joined Express (Credit: John Batanudde)

Therefore, one could easily notice an outsider who had just sneaked in by any means of chance or luck.

The epitome of the play-offs was the sporting promotion for 6 clubs. Kitara qualified to the StarTimes Uganda Premier League after defeating Kiboga Young 1-0 in the final well contested.

Four clubs; Luwero United, Gaddafi, Terrazo and Tiles as well as Calvary made it to the StarTimes FUFA Big League.

Fort portal’s Tooro Queens qualified to the FUFA Women Super League at the expense of Asubo Gafford Ladies, winning 4-2 in post-match penalties after a goal-less draw.

Tooro Queens players and officials celebrate their success (Credit: John Batanudde)
Shakira Mutibwa of Asubo Gafford Ladies shields the ball away from Jamillah Nabulime (Credit: John Batanudde)

The Bad

The return of football was a big move itself but without the ambiance of fans.

Fans are part and parcel of football competitions for they bring life and colour to the games.

Games without fans are often dull as the players and coaches most times are envisaged as cheerers to the actors in the theatre.

Therefore, without the cheerers whose endless support, whistles, drumming, chanting songs and boos, the actors are less limited.

Some fans sought to catch live the matches on the hilly slopes surrounding the Njeru centre.

The other suspect element was the harshness of the weather with extremes of hotness and chilly conditions in the rains.

Cameraman Hakim Matovu on stand-by with an umbrella to shelter from rains and the sun (Credit: John Batanudde)

At times, it could be too hot and most times the rains would disrupt the operations.

Football being a game of gentlemen, tempers at times flared up and the referees calmed the culprits with cautions (yellow cards) and the bad boys were sent off.

The 15 matches witnessed 2 red cards to Sadat Mukembo (Luwero United) against CATDA and Kigezi’s Peter Magimbi against Terrazo & Tiles.

FIFA Referee Mashood Ssali sends off Kigezi’s Peter Magimbi in the 35th minute against their match with Terrazo and Tiles (Credit: John Batanudde)

Ugly Scenes

The insistence of some fans to break the isolation rules and come into the Njeru centre to watch the games by force was one of the grey points at the championship.

A vivid case in point was when some Gaddafi fans forcefully entered to watch their match against Admin.

Consequently, the organizers fined the management of the army side and the reprimand worked miracles as none appeared in their final game against Sansiro.

A couple of players and team officials returned COVID-19 positive results.

Positive cases were reported in Buwambo United, Luwero United, CATDA, Young Elephant, Hot Springs (all players), and Asubo Gafford Ladies (for 2 officials).

The worst COVID-19 positive cases were reported by Gulubased  Young Elephant and Nebbi’s Hot Springs who had a combined total of 16 cases.

They were, therefore, stopped to travel by the FUFA Executive Committee and granted byes to Northern Gateway (Lira) and Yumbe’s Calvary.

This led to bitter protests from Young Elephant and Hot Springs were deemed the ruling as unfair in favour of their respective opponents.

Nonetheless, the final was successfully held as Calvary scored two goals in either half to qualify for the FUFA Big League.

By and large, football was the biggest beneficiary and victor for its return.

These play-offs will surely be used as a bench mark for holding football and other sporting competitions in the near and far future times.

FUFA Big League Play-off Results:

  • Ndejje University 1-3 Kiboga Young
  • Kataka 0 (6) – 0 (7) Kitara

Final: Kitara 1-0 Kiboga Young

Regional League Play-offs:

Buganda Region:

  • Buwambo United 0 (4) – 0 (2) Luweero United
  • Edgars 0-2 Catda

Final: Luweero United 1-0 Catda

Eastern: Gaddafi 4-0 Admin

North East: Sansiro 0 (5) -0 (4) Team Church

Final: Gaddafi 3-0 Sansiro

Kitara Region: Asingye 1-3 Booma

Western Region: Terrazzo & Tiles 2 (4) – 2 (3)  Kigezi

Final: Booma 1 (3) – 1 (4) Terrazzo & Tiles

West Nile & Northern Regions:

Final: Northern Gateway 0-2 Calvary

FUFA Women Elite League Play-offs:

Final: Asubo Gafford Ladies 0 (2)- 0 (4) Tooro Queens

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

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