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FOOTBALL IN UGANDA

Bobby Williamson

I have been in Uganda for over two years now. The country is beautiful, the people are the friendliest I have met in Africa, and of course, the weather is excellent.

Football in Uganda is very popular especially the English premiership. I have been told that local football was well supported in the 70’s and 80’s, but a lot of Ugandans became disillusioned following allegations of match fixing and other corrupt practices within the league. The national team has always enjoyed local support even though they have not been terribly successful. It is my aim to give Ugandan’s a team to be proud of by being successful. That means qualifying for the Cup of Nations and the World Cup. The Uganda Cranes have started well in the Cup of Nations qualifiers, beating Angola in Uganda and drawing with Kenya in Nairobi. But there is still a long way to go.

In the last couple of years, the Uganda Cranes have steadily improved, reaching its highest FIFA ranking of 66, though this ranking has fluctuated. The Cranes won the regional football tournament, the CECAFA trophy in 2008 and retained it in 2009. In 2010, the Cranes finished third, loosing out in a penalty shoot out to eventual winners Tanzania, in the semi-finals. The Cranes also qualified for their first continental tournament in 34 years, the CHAN. In January this year, the Cranes made it to the final of the first regional friendly tournament, the Nile Basin tournament where they lost to the hosts, Egypt. This level of success has exposed the local players to other football playing nations, who have then head hunted the best local talent. At least fifteen Uganda Cranes players have turned professional and left the country since I have been here. This is every footballers dream in Uganda, and also helps Ugandan football in the long run. Having a good pool of professional footballers has a spill over effect on local players, who aspire to become professional. This inevitably increases the quality of football at national level.

The loss of talent to professional football creates new opportunities for players in tournaments like the CHAN, which is only open to local players. Sustaining success in these situations, though, is difficult. Nine of the players who helped Uganda qualify for the CHAN left prior to start of the tournament.

Uganda subsequently lost all three games in the CHAN and dropped out of the tournament at the group stages. It was always going to be a big challenge for the players coming in, and I looked upon this tournament as an opportunity to assess the level of football that the players are playing at. Obviously results suggest that the players have a long way to go before they can successfully compete against the top countries in this continent. There were, however, some positives. Five young talented players from the under 20’s team made their continental debut at the CHAN. It would have been easy for me to pick more experienced players, but I saw this as an opportunity to expose these young players to continental level football. This experience will be invaluable to them in the future.

The Uganda Super League is trying to encourage local football fans to come back and support the teams that their families have traditionally supported. This is difficult as a lot of the fans have been lost to the English premiership, and would rather watch football on TV than watch local live football. This is sad, as I believe that watching live football is far more entertaining than watching football on TV. It would be great if more Ugandan’s could rediscover the joys of live football. More people attending Super League football will encourage the players to do better, as more people watching lifts the atmosphere of football matches and players want to do their best in front of as many people as possible. This would be a benefit to the national team as these players would then have experienced playing in front of bigger crowds, and would not be over awed or intimidated when they make their national debuts.

If you live in Uganda, or are just passing through, do make a Super League match one of your “must see’s” in Uganda. I do believe these players are very talented, and you will be entertained.

The Author: Bobby Williamson is the Head Coach of the Uganda Cranes