Defenders that ruled Ugandan soccer for ages

Sunday June 7 2020

Captain Fantastic. Sekagya on the prowl and

Captain Fantastic. Sekagya on the prowl and inset above is Dafala who once trained with Man United. FILE PHOTO 

By Robert Mugagga


Kirunda’s emergence on Ugandan football scene was unexpected and came like a bolt from the blue. It all started in 1963, a year after Uganda gained independence from Britain. He was only 13 and attending primary school at Mengo Junior when his Ngeye clan included him in their team that participated in the annual Buganda clan football tournament. Kirunda’s immense talent was first discovered by former Cranes manager Wasaka Musoke who advised that it wasn’t wise for the youngster to participate in big soccer.. However another soccer administrator, Mbowa disagreed, reasoning that the kid’s talent would only improve by at least letting him play in the Buganda clans tournament. When Kirunda joined St. Joseph Naggalama and later Old Kampala SS, the latter was one school everyone wanted to avoid in the annual post-primary football competition. Former Prisons and Cranes striker Charles Ebalu, who was at the same time schooling at St Mary’s College Kisubi sometime back recalled the day in the 60s when Kisubi made headlines by defeating Old Kampala in Nakivubo. The students celebrated this win for almost a week with everyone wondering how they had beaten Kirunda’s team.
Kirunda, like any other talented young footballers of the time, went through the then established school structures of age brackets of Under 13, 15 and 17. He was just 18 at Old Kampala school when he was picked to join the Uganda youth team. He graduated to the senior Cranes team the following year. At Club level Kirunda first featured for Lint Marketing Board in 1969 before crossing over to Express for a stint. In 1973, together with Ibrahim Magala. he crossed over to KCCA which then played in the lower division.
Around the same time, others like Tom Lwanga, Philip Omondi and Moses Nsereko joined them.. Playing the role of formidable central defender, Kirunda inspired KCCA to its promotion to the top league in 1974 with the team surprising many by narrowly failing to win the league having lost to Express by just a point. The same year, he scored a great equaliser in a match against giants Express leading to the death of one Express fan in the stands.

Born Leader. Jimmy Kirunda represented Uganda
Born Leader. Jimmy Kirunda represented Uganda Cranes for 14 years and wore the Captain’s Armband for 10 of them. PHOTO/FILE

In 1976, KCCA needed just a draw in one of the last matches against rivals Simba to clinch its maiden title. Simba led for almost 87 minutes with Express supporters rejoicing because KCCA’s defeat would hand the Red Eagles a third consecutive league title.
“Never say die” was Kirunda’s motto. In stoppage time, the towering defender charged forward and scored a thriller past Paul Ssali. He again played a major role in KCCA winning league titles in 1977 and 1981 without forgetting the 1978 Cecafa club title. In 1978, Kirunda demonstrated his all-round prowess by playing upfront and emerging the league’s top scorer with 32 goals.
In one match against Tororo Rock Stars, Kirunda scored six goals -- a single match goal haul record that stands to-date -- in KCCAs 10-0 win. Besides shining at KCCÁ, Kirunda later crossed over to Villa leading them to their first unbeaten league title of 1982 with USPA voting him player of the year. In the national team, he captained the Cranes for 10 years featuring in three AFCONS of 1974, 1976 and 1978 when Crane lost in the finals . In the Cranes side, Kirunda consistently played in 10 CECAFA tournaments between 1973 and 1982 winning three times.
During his career, Kirunda received only one booking during a 1978 Afcon match against Morocco in Kumasi, Ghana.
When Africa staged its first World Cup in 2010, Caf came up with a list of what they considered to be the greatest footballers the continent had ever produced which had only two Ugandans: Jimmy Kirunda and Denis Obua.

* Played for Uganda Cranes for 14 years, 10 of them as captain
* Captained Cranes in three consecutive Afcons of 1974, 1976 and 1978
* Won Cecafa Cups with the Cranes in 1976 and 1977 as a player and in 1989 and 1990 as manager. He is the longest serving Cranes manager
* Won the league with KCC FC in 1976, 1977 and 1981 plus the Cecafa title in 1978.
*Won the league unbeaten with SC Villa in 1982 and Ugandan Cup in 1983.
* He was Uganda’s league top scorer with 32 goals n 1978.
* Voted Uganda’s footballer of the year in 1982.
* In 2010, Uspa awarded him the Lifetime Football Legendary Award.
* In 2010, the continental body Caf included him on the list of Africa’s football legends.

Many consider him the most disciplined Ugandan footballer ever. Just like Jimmy Kirunda, Dafala was a central defender whose footballing career lasted for over 15 years.
Born in Manyango, Entebbe, the now 85-year-old first played central defence for schools he attended like Entebbe Muslim , Chadwik Memorial, Ndejje SS and Kibuli SS.


On completing school, Dafala featured for Sudanes, a team mainly comprising fellow Nubians, before switching to Young Saluby that used to compete in Kampala’s lower division. Dafala’s outstanding defensive tactics in 1960 captured the attention of then veteran politician, journalist and coach Jolly Joe Kiwanuka, who recruited him into Express. Dafala played the central defence with such class that in 1965 he was named Express captain, steering the club through rough waters for the next nine years. Under his guidance, Express checked on the dominance of then giant clubs like Prisons, Coffee and Simba to win the 1974 and 1975 titles.

At national level he played for the Cranes for eight good years between 1962 and 1970 and he was Cranes captain for five years before handing over the mantle to Alex Oundo in the late sixties. He played a prominent role in the Cranes Gossage cup victories of 1968, 1969 and 1970 retiring after that 4-1 victory over Tanzania in Zanzibar.
In 1968, Dafala was included in the Cranes side that participated in the Afcon tournament hosted by Ethiopia where the Cranes put up a miserable show, finishing last in the tournament without even scoring a goal. Dafala boasts of a rare record of never receiving any booking during his playing career, let alone ever being substituted or starting a match from the bench. He was an educated man who played for both Express and Cranes while working at Radio Uganda as an electrical engineer.

At one time, Dafala had a training stint at the BBC in London and while in the UK, he is said to have trained with a Manchester United junior team, among others. They say, “When go to Rome, do whatthe Romans do.” Attesting to the adage, Dafala returned from London a changed man. He started putting on suits and speaking fluent English to the amazement of onlookers. This earned him the nickname ‘British’.
Dafala was the Cranes central defender when the team toured West Germany in the 70s.

*Captained the Cranes in 1968 Afcon tournament in Ethiopia.
*Played for Cranes for eight years, five of them as captain.
* Played for Express for 15 years, captaining it to the 1974 and 1975 league titles
* He never received any yellow or red card during his entire playing career.
* He was never substituted or started a match from the bench during his career
* He once trained with a number of English teams including Manchester United when in United Kingdom.

File photo shows Dafala standing (4th from
File photo shows Dafala standing (4th from left)

Uganda’s highest forex earner as a soccer export played professional soccer on all continents apart from Asia and Australia. This central defender was born just six days to the Christmas of 1980.
Sekagya’s early childhood football was not a walk in the park. He grew up playing football at the village mud surface pitch popularly known as “Kataka” in the Kampala suburbs of Kawempe. Despite playing barefooted, his immense talent, good ball control and dribbling were noticeable even to the blind. A nearby village coach noticed Sekagya and took him to a local Equatorial club. From there, his next call was State House that then featured in Kampala’s first division league.
This is where KCCA spotted and signed in 1997. He played for them until 2001 when Argentine club Athletico de Rafael signed him where he registered 38 appearances, scoring two goals.

After just a season there, Sekagya moved to Ferro Carril Qeste, also in Argentina, where he spent for three seasons playing 96 matches and netting four goals. Sekagya talent kept on improving with him playing the central defence like a well-oiled machine. Little wonder that a more serious Argentine club came calling. At Arsenal de Serandi, the Ugandan played 62 matches until2007 when a better deal came knocking.
This was when Austrian Bundesliga club, Red Bull Salzburg, who bought him for one million euros (Shs2.2b), making him one of the most expensive Ugandan footballers in history. Sekagya spent six seasons with Salzburg before moving to a sister club, New York Red Bulls, in the US in 2013. In the one-and-a-half season he spent at the New York club, he reportedly earned a cool Shs1.2b, making him the seventh best paid player at the club with Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill leading the pack.

Back home in Uganda, Sekagya played for the Cranes for 12 years. He was first called to the Kobs team that participated in the 1999 All Africa Games in South Africa. He made over 35 appearances for the Cranes, scoring vital goals. Take an example of the 2006 World Cup qualifier in Namboole where he netted the solitary goal against DR Congo and it was at the same venue during the qualifiers of 2010 World Cup that he scored the winner against Niger.
Sekagya retired from football in 2015 accepting a lucrative backroom coaching deal for the Red Bull junior side . Sekagya was in 2019 named in Red Bull Salzburg’s best ever top 11 alongside Liverpool duo of Sadio Mane and Naby Keita.