Action between Nkumba and Uganda Christian University (UCU) during the 2022 Pepsi University Football League

Overview:

The University Footbal League prepares the players for fresh challenges ahead as many of these players have been poached by FUFA Big League entities (second division clubs), Uganda Premier League clubs (first division), U-23 national teams and the senior national teams. This league has also prepared referees, administrators, coaches, media personnel and others.

Umar Bulega is a football coach-cum-scout who diligently served the beautiful game and shone with the Makerere University Football team as an ultimately talented playmaker.

Bulega is among the hundreds of thousands of footballers who played university football and was extra-ordinarily outstanding.

He later featured at Uganda Police Football Club and Baza Holdings with successful professional stints in Kenya, Rwanda, and Seychelles (Anse ‘Re union) among others.

Upon retirement, he made the decision to pay back handsomely to football by identifying and grooming special football talents.

Umar Bulega was a darling at Makerere University during the University Football League back in the days

Giving back as a coach and scout to the younger generation is the best gift one can offer in the sporting business.

Biblically, the power to give is mightier than to receive (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). The giver is accorded more blessings than the recipient.

Several decades ago, the idea of the University Football League (UFL) was mooted under the then National University Sports Federation of Uganda (NUSFU) that is later now rebranded to the Association of Uganda University Sports (AUUS).

Pepsi branding in the background on pitch side banners during a University Football League duel

Over the years, sponsors have evolved from time to time from National Council of Sports (NCS), Coca-Cola, MTN Uganda, Uganda Telecom, and Airtel to now Pepsi and Nivana water.

From universities such as Makerere, Makerere University Business School (MUBS), Nkumba, Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Kyambogo, Uganda Christian University (UCU), Islamic University In Uganda (IUIU), Kampala University (KU), Kampala International University (KIU), Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi, and Ndejje, wings were spread to Bugema, Busitema, Kabale, Gulu, YMCA, Victoria University, Bishop Stuart and lately Muni in the West Nile region.

Over the years, sponsors have evolved owing to the terms and conditions via a vis the prevailing economic climate.

In the 1990s this league was supported by the individual university before telecommunication gurus MTN Uganda and Uganda Telecom took over in the 2000s.

The year 2012 witnessed the Pepsi University Football League birthed by Red Rhino in close association with the body responsible for sports in universities, the Association of Uganda University Sports (AUUS).

With the exception of the two years marred by the COVID-19 pandemic (2020 and 2021), the Pepsi University Football League has been held.

Coach Davis Nnono with talisman Titus “Tito” Ssematimba on duty at St Lawrence University

This league has done and is envisaged as a viable platform to prepare the various university teams for the main national, regional (East Africa), continental (FASU), and international university games.

In the same vein, the league prepares the players for fresh challenges ahead as many of these players have been poached by FUFA Big League entities (second division clubs), Uganda Premier League clubs (first division), U-23 national teams, and the senior national teams.

FUFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Edgar Watson once played for Makerere University

Unique talents such as William Nkemba, Edgar Watson, Timothy Batabaire, Godfrey Mugisha, goalkeeper Posnet Omony, Daniel Walusimbi, Bruno Olobo, Andrew Lubogo, and Eric Kamya, to the current generation of crops like Yasser Mugerwa, Nicholas Kabonge, Emmanuel Alex Wasswa, Ibrahim Kasule, Titus Ssematimba, Ashaba Racmac, Emmanuel Kalyowa, Martin Sseruwagi, Muzamiru Mutyaba, Joshua Letti Lubwama, Fred Gift, Solomon Walusimbi, Moses Aliro Okabo, Roch Somoka, Derrick Emmanuel Were, Hannington Ssebwalunyo and Ronald Mutebi (goalkeepers), Faisal Muwawu and others have been produced.

Midfielder Yasser Mugerwa takes on Onduparaka’s Davis Mayanja. Both are UFL products. Mugerwa was at Nkumba and Mayanja at Makerere University (Credit: KCCA FC Media)

Many have since retired and become wonderful industrious administrators as Hilary Kimbugwe (MUBS), Willy Edong (Makerere University), Juma Kato (MUBS), Chris Kimuli and Joseph Muyiira (Nkumba), Paul Yiga (Bugema), Nasur Nandala (IUIU) and others.

Other personalities have returned to pay back the game directly as coaches as Harunah Kebba, Mubarak Wamboya (both IUIU), Vincent “Titi-Camara Box to Box” Tumusiime (Kampala University), Nimrod Kintu (Bugema, Kyambogo, and MUBS), Godfrey Tamale (Kyambogo), Pius Ngabo, John Ayala Luyinda, Patrick Ntege Kaweesa (MUBS) and Geoffrey Akabwai (KIU), Umar Bulega (Makerere University), Jessy Lukoki (MUBS), Mike Mutebi, Sam Ssimbwa, Moses Lukyamuzi, Robert Kakanga, Isa Assimwe, Emmanuel Amagu (Nkumba), until infinity where the list grows.

Nasur Nandala (IUIU) is now Chief Executive Officer of Bugisu province
Nimrod Kintu Credit: George Katongole

These new emerging crop of coaches who previously served as players are definitely joining the coaches who have served in this primary role including the likes of Raymond Komakech, Charles Ayiekoh Lukula, Sulaiman Bbosa, Eric Kisuze, Nimrod Kintu, Davis Nnono Ssozi, Meddie Nyanzi, and others.

Charles Ayiekoh Lukula
Eric Kisuze, Head coach Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi. He guided them to the second title since 2017

These have been directly employed by the respective universities and earn wages plus salaries to make ends meet.

The head coaches are joined by assistants, goalkeeping coaches, trainers, statisticians, scouts, agents, media officers, and other helpers.

Thanks to the traditional (Television, Newspapers, Radios) and new media outlets (social media), the league is now very popular among the university communities and other youth interested in football.

Live coverage on Television via the Vision Group outlets has added gusto and much-called-for hype to this league on top of new media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, My Space, Whats App, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tik-Tok, and others.

UMU players and officials celebrate the 2022 victory

Individual universities have also optimally utilized the league to advertise and build their brands.

It has managed to lure sponsors on board as Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL), MTN Uganda, Nile Breweries Limited, Airtel Uganda, SSL Logistics, Pepsi, Nivana, and others.

Bar the grey patches as crowd trouble, use of illegitimate and over-aged students by some universities, and limited finances from the universities, the league will remain on course with the ability to grow further and serve the intended purposes at hand.

This league has given chance to talented footballers to get bursaries and thus a much-desired university education.

University football remains a raw deal to sports development in this country, just like the rest of the sporting disciplines.

Excited fans cheer the UMU against SLAU finale 2022 at the MTN Omondi Stadium, Lugogo

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

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