Tom Lwanga: Continental success of clubs was down to formidable league

The Ugandan football legend says the fallen standards today have sunk so low just about anyone can now walk into the national team today.

Saturday February 8 2014

Lwanga (circled) in a picture with the famous Uganda Cranes team

Lwanga (circled) in a picture with the famous Uganda Cranes team that reached the finals of the 1978 African Cup of Nations in Ghana. The former KCC defender was an elegant defender with a unique style that endeared him to fans in his heyday. Courtesy photo 

By Andrew Mwanguhya

If your reverie is to one day meet a footballer that is neat both on the outer self and upstairs, you might want a date with former KCC and Uganda Cranes defender Tom Lwanga to enthuse about the good old footballing days.
He is so particular that if you used the same untidy road to the same destination, his rather conservative BMW saloon car will still be cleaner than yours.

Trust Lwanga to be at KCCA Stadium, Lugogo just in time for our 3pm chat, clad in a blue and white stripped polo shirt, a pair of tidy blue jeans and a clean brace of blue canvas shoes.

“Growing up we were taught that time is everything,” he tells me as we stroll to the stands of his beloved KCC, “And it comes with discipline.” When he starts talking KCC, Uganda Cranes and football, it is hard to stop him.

From their days in the 70s when Uganda were a fixture at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), through the 80s when his club never troubled making the quarterfinals in the Caf Champions League to today when Cranes cannot buy an appearance on the continent and our clubs can only make preliminaries, let alone the first round.

Here we discuss KCC (now KCCA FC after rebranding from the Authority) as the Yellow brigade prepare to take on Sudanese champions El Merrick in the Caf Champions League this month, the same time Sports Club Victoria University (SCVU) will be facing DRC’s Don Bosco in the Confederations Cup.

Lwanga, who was at the heart of defence alongside Jimmy Kirunda as Uganda’s 1978 fairytale saw Cranes lose the final 2-0 to hosts Ghana in the Nations Cup, was also part of the KCC team that made the quarterfinals of the Caf Champions League the same year, and four years later.

The 56-year-old also helped KCC to the last eight of the Caf Confederations Cup – then called the Caf Cup Winners Cup - in 1985, before leading the club to the same cup’s semifinals as a coach in 1997.

But that is about the last time they really had a good outing in the CL, with their next appearance in the competition ending in the first round a year later, although they did make the round of 16 in the Confederations Cup under the tutelage of coach George Nsimbe in 2009.

However, our clubs have flattered to deceive on the continent since the ‘90s, preliminaries and first rounds the more regular races. Did KCC, and SC Villa that made the Caf Cup quarters (1984), finals (1994), Champions League finals (1991), quarters (1983 & 1993); Express that made the semifinals of the CL in 1995 and Simba – CL finalists in 1972 (both are a shadow of their former selves) prepare any different from today?

Or did Uganda have a magic wand they held onto when they qualified five times for Nations Cup between independence and 1978?

“Not really,” explains Lwanga, “Because…, even when people talk of ’78 when we went all the way to the finals, we didn’t really prepare any differently. But because of the toughness of the league then, the competition to get into the national team, that gave us the edge.

“Secondly, those days, during our training you would think that it was a real match. Because there were so many people watching, when we were training it would be very, very serious. “The talk in town would be ‘Ekiri E Lugogo’” meaning ‘you have to be at Lugogo to see for yourself. But what has changed, really? Today you may not fill a stadium for a club game even if you paid people to enter.

The Amin factor
“First of all I would say now we have two Ugandas,” says Lwanga, “The first Uganda then - that is the time of Amin (Idi, the former President), is quite different from the Uganda today. Although make no mistake, Amin loved sports so much.

“Those days there was no politicking in football. The only politics was football. And of course, politics not in the sense of opposing government, or pro government, but politics in the sense that football became a party.

“At KCC, the club was our party… the die-hard Yellow. Then you go to Express, the Reds… they used to call themselves the Red Devils (as England’s Manchester United), then of course there was the Coffees, then of course the Villas came in.”

Lwanga added: “Then we had Nsambya. Nsambya was mainly based on religion – Catholicism, and we had these company teams – Tobacco, Lint… you know… so that was the politics then.

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