Simba will have read coverage of Villa’s run to the African Cup of Champions Clubs final – now Caf Champions League – on this page a fortnight ago and wondered when SCORE would flip its history pages for the real trend-setters.
The armyside, now called UPDF, and Villa are actually the only East African clubs to ever go the full distance in Africa’s prime club competition; Simba in 1972 and the Jogoos in 1991 and 1992 (Caf Cup).
Simba’s enduring journey to the ultimate that saw them get a walkover on their Tanzanian namesake, thrash St George of Ethiopia, dismiss Al Ahli Tripoli, and edge Ghana’s highly fancied Hearts of Oak, culminated in a 7-4 final aggregate defeat to Hafia Conakry of Guinea.
Obua becomes Wandera
Formed as Army FC four years after Independence in 1962, the club – exploiting their close links with President Idi Amin’s government – recruited the best talent in the country, going on to become almost an instant hit.
They won their first of two national league titles unbeaten in 1971, drawing only twice in 14 matches. But for them to feature on the continent, they had to change their tags as Caf did not allow military names – thus Simba SC.
In fact, it was not just the club name that changed. Something more peculiar happened as the army side sought commando means of beefing up their squad for the continental onslaught.
Hassan Badru Zziwa is one of Uganda’s most respected journalists and boasts of untold history about the country’s sport, especially football, having covered it extensively over the decades.
“By 1972,” Zziwa wrote in The Observer in 2009, “Player licences had not yet been introduced and Simba exploited the loophole in Caf rules by borrowing the services of Police’s duo of Dennis Obua and Wilson Nsobya, plus Stanley “Tanker” Mubiru from Express.
“However, due to Obua’s popularity and outstanding play on the continent, Simba officials feared he could easily be identified through his passport, so he was given ‘Wandera’ as his new name.”
Legendary Cranes and Simba striker Polly Ouma, 78, captained the club to that final 48 years ago.
“Using mercenaries at the time was the order of the day and many teams in other countries used to play almost the entire national teams,” Ouma recalled.
Simba also secured the services of Uganda Cranes coach Buckhard Pape to help Lt Wilson Ogwal as the soldiers loaded more ammunition.
The continental journey
Players such as goalkeepers Patrick Nathan, Fred Nkolwa and Ramadhan Sebbi, outfield stars like Joseph Onziga, Ahmed Doka and Edward Senyendo were instrumental in the club’s early years.
Others are Erieza Kiggundu, Joseph Kayiza, Stanslus Okaje, Andrew Olanya and John Watua.
But, according to Zziwa, the heartbeat of the team lay in the deadly forward foursome of evergreen Ouma, John Dibya, Swalleh Wasswa and Francis Kulabigwo. And their class told as they ripped the opponents apart on the continent.
Simba were iconically drawn to play their Tanzanian namesake in the first round of the club champion-ship, but because of the political tension between the two countries, the neighbours pulled out, clearing way for the Ugandans to date St George of Ethiopia in the second round.
Simba dispatched the Ethiopians 4-0 at Nakivubo and drew 1-1 away to book a quarterfinal date with Libya’s Al Ahli Tripoli, who they equally put to the sword 4-1 on aggregate.
The semifinals brought the highly fancied Hearts of Oak, yet Simba still roared as the Ghanaians fell 2-1 on aggregate for the Ugandans to secure a final date with Guinea’s Hafia Conakry.
The big one
Captain Ouma and his boys were literally in touching distance of Africa’s biggest club competition trophy.
“At that time, we were not afraid of any team,” Ouma told Zziwa, “because we had whatever it takes to upset any opponent.”
The Guineans won the first leg 4-2 in Conakry, setting quite some task to negotiate in Kampala, yet at the familiar and intimidating Nakivubo, the army lions still believed.
Ouma tells of how Simba officials used to park several jeeps and army vehicles inside the stadium during local matches to scare opponents but upon arrival in Kampala, Caf representatives threatened to disqualify the club if such a move was pulled off in the final.
Amin attends D-Day
The match is said to have been watched by fans from all round East Africa and was relayed on radio across the continent, with gates open as early as 10am and Nakivubo filling to capacity by 2pm.
“Hafia, more or less the Guinea national team, had stars like Camara, Traore and Manga,” said Ouma.
Simba were missing striker John Ddibya through a knee injury, with another lethal forward Swalleh Wasswa starting on the bench.
A 2-0 win would have handed Simba the trophy but by halftime, Hafia were leading by the same scoreline before adding the third early in the second half. The multitudes at Nakivubo were dead silence.
Simba called the changes and in came Wasswa for George Sukuma. Wasswa scored two quick-fire goals. But that was all as Hafia clinched their title 7-4 on aggregate.
“We were casual and we played without purpose; you know by then there was nothing at stake like today,” explained Ouma, “And secondly, the early goals also disorganised us, plus the absence of Dibya.”
Amin reluctantly handed over the trophy to the Guineans and hailed Simba players. He later treated them to a party where each player was rewarded with Shs20,000.
“At the time that was enough to buy a plot of land,” narrated Ouma.
Despite heavy recruitment, Simba did not impress on the continent after that, only recapturing the domestic league five years later in 1978, with the Uganda Cup having come a year before.
The team would later disintegrate after the 1979 war in which Amin was overthrown, with several Simba players dying during the war or afterwards and others arrested and imprisoned.
A few lucky ones like Ouma fled to exile. The club were revived as Wazalendo in 1979 and became New Simba in 1983. It was renamed Resistance in 1986 before returning to Simba in 1991, and currently UPDF, promoted to StarTimes Uganda Premier League for the next season.
THE ROAD TO FINAL
Simba vs Simba (Tanzania)
Walkover for the Ugandans
1st leg: Simba SC 4-0 St George (Ethiopia)
2nd leg: St George 1-1 Simba SC
Simba progress 5-1 on aggregate
1st leg: Al Ahli Tripoli (Libya) 1-1 Simba SC
2nd leg: Simba SC 3-0 Al Ahli Tripoli
Simba progress 4-1 on aggregate
1st leg: Hearts of Oak (Ghana) 1-1 Simba
2nd leg: Simba 1-0 Hearts of Oak
Simba advance to the finals 2-1 on aggregate
1st leg: Hafia (Guinea) 4-2 Simba
2nd leg: Simba 2-3 Hafia
Hafia lifted the title 7-4 on aggregate