The year started with huge doubts over if Kawempe Muslim could retain their Fufa Women Elite League title in the 2016/17 season.
The side led Elizabeth Group with an unblemished record by the turn of the year but the league had seen so many disruptions that it was hard for the Warriors to state their case early enough.
Then reigning league Most Valuable Player (MVP) and newly crowned Fufa Female Footballer of the Year (2016) Hasifah Nassuna shouldered most of the burden.
She had just returned from Njeru where she finished top scorer in the Cecafa Women’s Cup. But even her six goals were not enough to convince her detractors that she could lead Kawempe to glory after her striking partner Sandra Nabweteme’s move to USA in mid 2016.
Nassuna and her teammates pushed on but faced even tougher criticism when they were knocked out of the Fufa Women Cup by Muteesa Royal University in a 1-0 defeat in Lubaga.
Elsewhere, Uganda Christian University (UCU) Lady Cardinals were looking the part despite home and away defeats to Kawempe in Elizabeth Group. Olila and Uganda Martyrs High School (UHMS), Lubaga had become forces to reckon with thanks to the form of their forwards Fazilah Ikwaput and Lillian Mutuzo respectively.
Eventually Kawempe won the league after defeating Olila 2-0 in the semis held at Star Times Stadium, Lugogo and UCU 4-0 in the finals at Wankulukuku.
Juliet Nalukenge was the star of the finals scoring the opening two goals. Nassuna, in the end, had scored 26 goals and proved to everyone that she was capable of stepping out of Nabweteme’s shadow. It was, however, deemed not enough as she lost her MVP crown to Ikwaput – her striking partner at Cecafa.
Ikwaput went to be top scorer as Olila moved from relegation candidates in 2016 to winning Cup in Busia in July.
It was a concerted effort as her teammate Ritah Nabbosa was named MVP while goalkeeper Vanessa Karungi was heroic as Olila won the semifinal and final penalty shootouts against UCU and Gafford respectively.
Karungi’s reputation came to the fore in May when she saved three penalties twice - in the semis against Gadaffi Integrated School and finals against Kawempe Muslim as Mukono High won their maiden National Post Primaries (NPP) football title in Kabale.
Karungi completed that schools’ tournament without conceding a goal from open play in all eight matches and was rightly named best goalkeeper of the tournament.
The 18-year old was at it again in the third place playoff of the Fufa Women Elite League. She save d three penalties but was only let down by her teammates after as they lost 3-2 to UUHMS.
The dramatic end to the 2016/17 season was not enough for the year. The new season started with the sides that should have been relegated; Gafford in Victoria plus both Western United and London Stallions in Elizabeth given a lifeline to continue in the elite league as the regional leagues were inactive.
Wakiso Hill also returned after their players suffered an accident, on their way to play Eastern Heroes in Soroti, which prematurely put paid to their 2016/17 season.
Only Isra Academy was promoted to take Buikwe She Red Stars’ who disintegrated and reneged on Fufa after they were dumped out of last season Elizabeth Group for failing to honour three consecutive fixtures.
However, the shocker was the unexpected transfer of Nassuna and her teammates Ruth Aturo and Yudaya Nakayenze to UCU. No one saw that coming but UCU struggled to find rhythm despite signing Kawempe’s backbone of the last three seasons. Defeats to Olila, Kampala Queens and a draw at UHMS proved there was still work to be done for coach Tony Membe.
However, UCU’s attacking line has finally found some life with 11 goals against minnows Isra Academy and Wakiso Hills. But the real tests will come in the second round when they have to face Olila and UHMS again.
Kawempe and Olila on the other end have been firing on all cylinders and currently top the Victoria and Elizabeth groups respectively.
Kawempe have turned to Nalukenge to lift the team. That brace in last season’s finals and the 33 she scored to set a record for the most goals scored by a female player in a single edition of NPP have lifted her spirit. Nabweteme had held the record scoring 32 in 2014.
However, as far as individual accolades go, Ikwaput had the last laugh as she was controversially crowned Airtel Fufa Female Player of the Year at dinner held in Munyonyo on December 1.
Her award continues to divide opinion because she missed some first round games in the league scoring only five goals. Her team also lost the third place playoff to UHMS on the day she was crowned league MVP.
More interestingly, Fufa felt Nabbosa was the better player in the Cup while Kalungi was exquisite in the penalty shootouts.
FWEL Champions: Kawempe Muslim
Fufa Women Cup winners: Olila High School