He oft wore a shy look on the face. But once you gave him the ball, all you had to do was sit back and take in the delight.
The former Express and Uganda Cranes mathematician, or cameraman or Makanga as his enthusiasts called him thanks to the dummies he fed to whoever was unfortunate to keep watch of him; Fred Tamale was as deadly as they come in the penalty area.
Now working with Orange Uganda in their transport department, the 43-year-old played football with such grace and sublime technique he left opponent’s blood twisted.
“He was just like Nwankwo Kanu,” says John Vianney Nsimbe, a journalist who followed Tamale closely, likening his technique to that of the Nigerian and Arsenal legend. “A slow genius,” adds Mark Ssali, a master of his own in the media industry.
The Kajoba meet
One rather hilarious story involving Tamale and the man he shares a Christian name with - Kajoba, pops up after we sit at Lugogo ground, where he played his football with Bell before moving to his boyhood dream club Express in 1993. This was a game between Express and Simba at Wankulukuku, the Reds’ home ground, mid ‘90s. “Ha ha ha… the goal was very good,” says Tamale, shyly.
“Okay, I got the ball – I was very good at dodging (dribbling), I beat two defenders, then reached Kajoba and he thought I was going to shoot, then he went down, to the right. I didn’t. He came back up, I now faked him to the left, he also went… at that time, the other two guys I had beaten had gone back to the goal to defend… but I shot the ball between them. We beat Simba in that game.”
Kajoba’s mates still tease him about the goal today.
The former Ugandan international and Simba custodian Kajoba is the current Cranes goalkeeping coach. That was one of the several ‘releases’ Tamale subjected whoever came Express’ way to. The midfielder’s wizardry helped the Red Eagles to three of their six league titles in 1993, 1995 and 1996 and as many Uganda Cups in 1994, 1995 and 1997.
He was also vital as Express made that memorable run in the 1995 Caf Champions League until they were eliminated in the semifinals by South Africa’s Orlando Pirates.
The lethal right-footer was, however, gravely missed in the two legs against Orlando Pirates, missing the 1-0 loss in SA and only managing the first half in the 1-1 return leg thanks to an injury.
“I played in Zimbabwe (Dynamos) in the quarterfinals and they beat us (1-0) here and we beat them in Harare (2-1),” shares Tamale.
“But when we came back, I injured my ankle in training with one week to the game against Orlando Pirates. Then I didn’t manage to play in South Africa.
“The doctors tried their best to make me ready for the return leg here but I (could) only play first half.”
Express scored first through Andrew Arinaitwe but Pirates equalised late for a 2-1 aggregate, denying the Ugandans a final’s feat achieved by SC Villa in 1991 and Simba in 1972.
Change of fortunes
KCCA and Sports Club Victoria University (SCVU), Uganda’s continental representatives this year, are in the running for the Caf Champions League and Confederations Cup respectively.
While debutantes SCVU lost their first away leg 3-0 to DR Congo’s Don Bosco, KCCA will seal their place today if they manage to defend their 2-0 first leg result against El Merreikh.
But over the years, Ugandan clubs have been a shaggy dog story on the continent, the league’s poor standards also not helping the national team, who last made Afcon in 1978, as well.
Tamale puts it down to lost love on the game, and partly to administrators of the game.
“First, I don’t know if they (today’s generation) love the game,” he wonders, “You have to love what you do before you think of anything else. Money comes after. “Looking at our boys today and our leagues, the passion is not there.
For me, it was the passion; the love for football that drove me on. “For us when we started, it was our own mission. There was no professional football. We were fighting to get onto the national team. Everybody was fighting to get to the national team.”
The national team
The Express legend also believes there are many stages being skilled, which is killing talent. “But these days you pass the national team and go professional. But I don’t know because these boys play two seasons and they want to go professional.”
Tamale tries to contextualize his point. “They called me to the national team when I was playing youth (then at Bell FC) around 1991,” he narrates.
“The national team was camped in Jinja. So I went to Jinja but I found Jackson Mayanja, Magid Musisi and William Nkemba. When I saw them I took off. I ran (laughs). I said I can’t play here. I knew straight away there was no chance for me. These were all greats and had been through all stages. “But the next year they called me again and I started playing for Cranes. But these days they can call somebody from the school and straight to the national team, and from there, professional. “As a kid you can be demoralised when you go to the national team very fast but you find yourself out if you are not yet ready.
“You see some good boys have gone to the national team and played one match or two, been dropped and have not recovered. We must follow all the stages.”
On Express divisions
• “I feel pain. One time we asked one of our officials why we can’t work together; he told us ‘you, you don’t have money to bring to the club. The only contribution you can give is in technical.’ When you don’t work together, the home can’t stay together.”
• “We also need to use the right people. For example, I can also come and say I want to coach Express, just because I played for Express… but can I?”
On trials in England
• “We were playing Cecafa in Kenya and this guy saw us. He said he would come and meet the club and then take us (him, Ibrahim Buwembo and Philip Obwiny) to England.
• But our officials insisted that we first play a league game against Villa (which ended 1-1). By the time I reached London, Portsmouth (who wanted him) had gone to Scotland for some games. My agent didn’t have money for me to stay in London for two weeks, so I came back.
On first goal at Namboole (beating Villa 1-0 at official opening in 1997)
• “It was a special moment. Up to today I remember that afternoon.”
• “Stephen Bogere (SC Villa). I loved his game, I loved him. The first game I watched of him was between Villa vs KCC. I will never forget. I love his technique and how he keeps the ball. I never told him he is my role model but I told the media.
•Strangely, Tamale never replicated his Express form to the national team. “I don’t know but I enjoyed my time. But there were really good players like Mayanja, Musisi and Bogere.” He was involved in Nations Cup qualification campaigns between ’94 and ‘98.
• “I can’t leave football. I love football. I plan to get my coaching licence this year.”
1989: Afro Motors
League titles: 3 (1993, 1995, 1996)
Uganda Cup: 3
Cranes: Seven years