Ugandans in Denmark form soccer team to battle loneliness, end up top of major league

Uganda Danish Cranes celebrate winning the African cup a record three times

What you need to know:

  • According to the chairman of the team Deo Musiige, the Uganda Cranes team has been around since the 70s. The first immigrants then started growing and agreed to meet at a park every Sunday.
  • Musiige says in the history of Ugandan football in the Nordics, never have they ever been blessed with a talented crop as the current one that features former professionals like Nduga and Fred Okello, a former Express and Uganda Cranes striker.

There is little most Ugandans do when they travel abroad, apart from studying or doing odd jobs. This is not the case for a group of Ugandans in Denmark, who are arguably the closest and most unified group in the Diaspora.

Also probably the most organised, the Ugandans in Denmark ventured in more than just work and study by forming a soccer team to battle in the lower Danish National League Level One and what a choice of name- The Uganda Danish Cranes.

Giving birth to the idea
According to the chairman of the team Deo Musiige, the Uganda Cranes team has been around since the 70s. The first immigrants then started growing and agreed to meet at a park every Sunday. In one of the respective meetings they thought of how best they would be more united and a football idea developed.

The African cup is now permanently based at the Ugandan embassy.

“In that regard, they started arranging football matches between the teams basing on ethnicity. Ugandans, were, however participating on ‘on and off’ basis until 10 years ago. Since then, we won the African Cup trophy four consecutive times,” Musiige, who has been in Denmark for 19 years, says.

The team started dreaming big thereafter.
“The captain, Alex Nduga, and the welfare manager, Nasser Kalungi asked me to register the team in the Danish National League Level One,” he says. Nduga is a former Police, State House and Villa player.
They must be promoted four times to play in the Danish SuperLeague.

Joining the league

Danish team Brandshoj, under go pre-match drills in preparation for a clash with the Uganda Danish Cranes.

At the beginning 2016, the Ugandan community in Denmark raised about Shs10m.

“The amount guarantees you a home ground, where you can train from and host other teams,” Musiige says. “All Ugandans were excited, they started coming in big numbers to support us. Before we knew it, ambassador Zaake Kibedi joined us. This motivated us and strengthened our spirit.”
Players pay for their own transport to the matches and training.

Getting the players

Uganda Danish Cranes players pray shortly before kick-off. The members claim the team has given them more than football.

Musiige says in the history of Ugandan football in the Nordics, never have they ever been blessed with a talented crop as the current one that features former professionals like Nduga and Fred Okello, a former Express and Uganda Cranes striker.

“Most of our players however, are between 20 and the late 30s. We have a combination of casual workers, students and elite professionals. Whoever has the ability and passion for football has been welcomed,” he says, adding that the driving force is the motivation speeches they get before any match, since they do very little in terms of training.

“Nobody is paid. We are all doing this on voluntary basis. Our vision is basically to make a platform where African players are solely judged on their performances without prejudice and discrimination.”

Time to train and play

The Uganda Danish Cranes in action against Brandshoj.

It is hard for the Ugandans to train like their counterparts, who play football as a career mainly because most of them come from far flung areas. However, the chairman says when the team cannot afford to train, they only go for matches and make use of drills before the match.

“Our players stay at least an hour away from the training centre, some work longer hours than others so we usually train only when we can. In incidences where we cannot train, we simply train a little before the game then play. Fortunately we have not been affected,” Musiige adds.

Who pays the costs?

Uganda's ambassador to the Nordics, Kibedi Zaake and embassy staff members on many occasions join the team to train and play. The embassy also supports the team financially.

It is very unlikely that running a team comes at no cost. Where will the jerseys come from and who will buy the team glucose at half time? Who buys the footballs when they get deflated? And who pays the fines if any?

The Uganda team, however, is self-sponsored. Each member of the management team is required to pay a fee according to how they earn. While others may be required to contribute around $30 (approximately Shs99,000) other may have to part with $100 (about Shs330,000) per month which is banked on the club’s account.

Musiige notes that the team has benefited time to time from bail outs from a few well to do Ugandans in Denmark.

L-R: Uganda Danish Cranes coach and former Uganda Cranes player Fred Okello, the club chairman Deo Musiige enjoy a light moment with one of the players after a game.

“In future we expect that we could get sponsorship, this will be very good for us to concentrate more on football,” Musiige says.

So far, the team lies in second position with 27 points, one behind Norrebro FF. However, the team has recorded superb wins including a 9-1 thrashing of Rikken and a 5-1 walloping to fourth place Nanoq.

Other remarkable wins include; 5-3 triumph over Berati, 5-2 mauling of Norrebro BK, a 1-0 vistory against Shipping Union and a 5-1 win against Zahle Zebras. But winning the league remains a secondary goal for the team which is playing for leisure and unity.

“The main aim of the team is to build the capacity of our Ugandan and African youth. Soccer is secondary goal. When we are with the players, we mentor them to succeed in their respective careers in case football does not work out.”

Musiige says this is the only time they come together as brothers and sisters and they use the time to talk about their different issues and seek advice from each other. Those having trouble at their work places can also use the opportunity to air out their troubles as help is saught.
“It is not only football, this is far more than kicking the ball, we talk, cry and celebrate together,” he says.

Achievements since joining the league
This arrangement has helped the distressed Ugandans. For example, Musiige says they have fought loneliness through soccer. “We have made a small Uganda on the pitch, in the dressing room and amongst ourselves,” he says.

“Our players are getting the exposure they need although we are not yet in the Super League. So this is a big advantage for the players and team in general. I wish our sons can play in this team,” he says.


Some of the women on the team prepare refreshments for their colleagues. Although the women are not directly involved, they are encouraged to participate in other ways possible.

The team in most cases must work three or four times more to be at the same level with the Danish teams. Musiige also hints that the other teams have privileges that do not stretch to the Ugandans.

“Sometimes we have to play while being fouled, the other sides are favored and openly moreover, but we strive on motivation and knowing who we are, so we have to work 200% more.”

He also adds that the team cannot maintain itself only through self-sponsorship, because certain expenses are far beyond them.

“A player who is a casual laborer broke his hand in one of the games, the health insurance is too high that we could not help yet by nature of his job, he had to use the hand. Had we more means on how to help, such situations would be easy to handle.”

“I would like to extend a vote of thanks to the entire management (current and previous) and the players for their sacrifices. And all the well-wishers and sponsors as Dee sounds, Red zone, Chris Kamoga, Prax Gardens, Ugandan Mission and the Ugandan churches that have and still give us a hand in one way the other.”

Tit Bits
Team- Uganda Danish Cranes
League- Danish national league lower division
Home Ground- Valby IP
Team record- Played 8, won 6, lost 2.
Kit: White Uganda Cranes (national) fans T-shirts, black/ Red shorts, white/ Red socks.

Notable names on the team

Alex Nduga
Former professional and played in the super league in Uganda. He moved to Denmark in 2008 and currently works as a chef.

Nasser Kalungi
He moved to Denmark around 2005, he is commonly known as Jaja because of his generous heart. He is in charge of welfare of players and officials of the team

Deo Musiige
A PHD holder in telecommunications, He is Software Development Engineer at Sennheiser Communications – Copenhagen; he has been in Denmark for 19 years and is the team chairman.

Fred Okello
Okello’s record can be traced back in 2004 during the Africa Nations Cup Qualifiers, September 7, 2004 – Mandela National stadium, Namboole in which Ugandan beat the West Africans 1-0.

Then SC Villa Coach Paul Hasule (RIP) was in charge of the national team and through Fred Okello goal in the 52nd minute, the Cranes triumphed over a side that had among others Sammy Kuffour, Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah among others.

What other people say.

Tom Crane Mulinda, Ugandan student

Tom Mulinda Crane went to Denmark as a student of international relations, he bumped into fellow Ugandans who recruited him to the team.

I came to Denmark in January 2015; it was a lonely time at first until I started meeting a few Ugandans who later took me to the “community.” While in the community, we can play football together, go for parties, and fundraise for our friends intending to get married among others.

So slowly I get closer to the Danish Cranes and I join them, I decided to volunteer my communication skills, so I offered to do publicity. I run the club’s social media accounts and take pictures of our every game.

The Danish Cranes to me and everyone else here is not just a football club; we share a lot in common. It is here that we teach our brothers to save, advise them on how to survive in this country; we have a very strong sense of togetherness that we solve each other’s problems, whether financial or moral- We develop each other.

I have met very many people here; this is my most immediate family, I feel so at home and all that comes through this club.

Our biggest problem however is funding, we hope at one time a company can sponsor us, because the boys and girls have a passion, they spend from their pockets just to keep this dream alive.

Ugandan Ambassador to Nordics

Mr Kibedi Zaake (blue jacket with trophy) joins the Uganda Danish Cranes in celebration after they were crowned champions in the African cup.

The Uganda Danish Cranes is another component of the Nordics diaspora that is giving us pride by flying the Uganda flag. They started by playing to get together as Ugandans leaving in Denmark that have interest in football. It progressed well and started playing friendly matches.
When I took up station in 2013, I joined them as football is one of my hobbies. It boosted up their moral and more members joined. In that very year, 2013, the team competed in the Danish African cup of nations and won the trophy. It has consecutively won the trophy three times and now it was given to us permanently. The trophy is kept at the Embassy in the diaspora achievements corner. This inspired the team to join the Danish national league level one of which they are leading the table. Am also a player in the team and I normally come in as a dangerous substitute, whenever my schedule allows, and play for utmost 20 minutes. I used to be a good footballer at school and was always in the first eleven in primary and secondary. Primary I was at Narambhai primary school in Jinja and ordinary secondary was at Bugema Adventist School for both of which I was in the school teams.

What about the Women

A team photo shows some of the women that are part of the team.

In the event of trying to create a home away from home for men, it is highly likely that women may remain forgotten even away from home. However, Mr Kibebi Zaake and Deo Musiige reiterate that women are the core of this project.

“Women are club members but not players. They (Danish Cranes) haven't set up a women's team. But about 40% of the club members are women,” Mr Kibedi says.

“Two years ago when we went to play in Holland, women were quite a number, they are deeply involved. We have a number of them on the management team for instance, Natasha Bayita, Agnes Namubiru, Hasifah Nakiganda, Priscilla L. In fact we are going to embark on the ladies’ team in 1-2 years,” Mr Musiige notes

Ugandans elsewhere

Ugandans elsewhere are also trying different means to keep themselves in touch with each other and roots. Ugandans in United Arab Emirates- Dubai are also engaging in a number of activities. Geofrey Ssemukette, who has been in UAE for the last 4 years, says that they (Ugandans) were previously involved in an informal league, a competition among different races in the country.

He however says that since most of them have long working hours and keep shifting from one city to another depending on the contractors, it is hard to achieve consistency with the project.

“What the Ugandans in Denmark are doing must be very fun, we used to play against other African teams in Abu Dhabi too, but at my new work place (Al Dhaid), I have spent a year without seeing any Ugandan,” he says.

On further inquiry on how exactly his other colleagues in the cities where Ugandans can easily be spotted spend time, Ssemukette quickly interrupts; “Parties, and you just bump into each other.”

Ugandans in Boston, USA have also decided to make their own Uganda. The group has managed to set up a radio station called Radio Uganda- A strictly online radio however.

The radio has among other presenters; Aisha Namiiro Makumbi of Ekyombokyombo Kyomukwano who is formally a journalist at Dembe FM in Uganda, Beatrice Musisi who presents the Kids and swings program, Charles Lubwama Muna Masaka among others.

The Ugandans in US or in North America as they prefer being called also have an annual convention that brings them together. Another section called the UNAA Causes take the conventions further by organising sessions in which they launch campaigns to benefit Ugandans.

This year, the UNAA Causes launched a clean water benefit campaign aimed at giving clean water access to fellow citizens back home.
Meanwhile their counterparts in the United Kingdom are also involved in conventions as their main means of linking up.

However for James Tumwesiigye, who stays in Pennsylvania, the closest he can get to Uganda is a colleague who stays three hours away. He says the only way he gets in touch with the people back home is through social media.

“The Kenyans have a restaurant not so far away from where I stay, they are really close to home, but I have to drive three hours to meet a Ugandan friend,” he says. “I spend my time playing volleyball, going to church and I have friends here- Americans.”

Sources: Video by Dee Sounds, cup photo by Uganda Embassy to Nordic states.