KAMPALA- “I have enjoyed my career to the fullest. It has been rewarding.”
This was how Musa Walangalira reflected on his career spanning two decades. The Bul FC defender is perhaps the oldest serving player in the StarTimes Uganda Premier League (SUPL) as he nears 40 years of age.
Walangalira has had an extraordinary career, making history as the defender of the season in 2016, and still dreams of playing at the ripe old age of 39. He is in the class of the UPL old wine that includes; Robert Ssentongo, Vincent Kayizzi, Asuman Harishe, Patrick Ochan, Hamis Kiiza and Jimmy Kulaba, among others.
At Bul, Walangalira plays alongside men who had not even been born 20 years ago when he lined up alongside former Uganda Cranes defender Isaac Isinde in the Jinja District league in 2001.
Some of the colleagues and opponents alike were in nappies when he debuted in the Super League in 2003 with Bugiri’s Old Timers.
He was inducted into the beautiful game by the late Stephen Gayige commonly known as Jesus Mulinde in 2000 while at Naggalama Islamic SS. Spotted at Mulusa Academy by Sheikh Jamil Kakeeto in Kabaka Cup games, Walangalira, a towering figure played amateur football with Budondo United and Buwenda before featuring for Old Timers in their futile Super League season of 2003.
When Old Timers were relegated, he found his way back to Buwenda before Sam Timbe gave him another topflight contract at Police in 2006.
Earning a paltry Shs130,000 in wages and a busy schedule at Makerere University Business School (Mubs) Nakawa where he later graduated with a Diploma in Local Government Finance, he started a side business to stabilise his income and ensure a steady passage through university. He ventured into poultry where he started with 100 broilers. But his contract was terminated as he did not fully offer himself.
Defender of the Year
His early achievements especially in school were distinguished, yet it was only at an age when most players have long since hung up their boots that he earned recognition.
In the 2007/8 season, he played at Iganga Municipal Council before Jinja Municipal Council Hippos came calling the next season.
For a solid eight seasons, he was the central pillar of JMC Hippos where he was named Premier League Defender of the Year – his career highlight.
Emerging the best defender of the Uganda Premier League (UPL) at the age of 36 is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing for obvious reasons. He beat Uganda Cranes pair of Joseph Ochaya and Halid Lwaliwa to the crown.
Walangalira had featured in all 34 JMC Hippos’ league games that season getting just one yellow card.
But it was a curse because when he was crowned at Serena Hotel, many pundits turned their attention to his age rather than his achievement. JMC finished 10th but their defence leaked in just 23 goals, the lowest after champions KCC (21) and runners-up Vipers (22).
“It did no matter to me at all. I did my best and I am happy my performance was rewarded that season,” he said.
Arthur Kyesimire the team coach hailed him as a uniting factor in the team.
“He (Walangalira) conducts himself professionally. He is a focused player whose character inspires the younger players,” Kyesimire said.
To Walangalira, who owns an electrical appliance shop in Jinja Market, his humble family background moulded his attitude towards a lasting career.
“The only way to get a decent life was through football and I am happy it has paid off. I had to use my talent to transform my life,” he said.
Respect is the fabric of his career. “Players have to show endurance in training. You have to listen and work hard enough. Listen to your coaches, no matter how old you are. You must respect the referee’s decisions, your opponent, your fellow teammates and fans irrespective of whether you are losing or winning,” opines Walangalira.
For the 20 years, he has not been summoned to the national team. He alleges that coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic admired his talent but considered him too old for the intensity of the national team.
“Maybe I was not lucky. But I am happy for my teammates who have been there,” he said.
Walangalira has played in all 25 first team games of Bul this season but five, pairing with either KCCA loanee Walter Ochora, Jimmy Kulaba or Willy Makulo. Born in a family where only his uncle Muhammad Walangalira, a retired referee, officiated at the highest levels he wants to play for another two seasons.
“You don’t have to come from a footballing family. Sometimes you have to make your own path. I want to play one or two more seasons and complete my retirement home in Budondo,” he concludes.