The harrowing tales of flawed school football

No shame at all. A player of Bugangari SS who was accused for being overage. With a pot-belly, he looked older yet his coaches claimed he was in lower secondary level. PHOTO / GEORGE KATONGOLE

What you need to know:

  • So many ugly sides. From schools that did not qualify being invited because their owners are connected to the system to overage players, it was all thick in Arua.

Why do you fix what is not broken? Over the years, the national post-primary championship had earned a reputation for being one of the most organised and adored youth football competitions in the country. Yet when the ‘new rules’ were applied this year, the Uganda secondary Schools Sports Association (USSSA) Boys Football Championship in Arua, struggled to match its past glory.

Its sporting attributes were hailed as competitive and integrity was a core value. Players dreamed of playing at what came to be known as the Schools World Cup.

Schools, especially private institutions, built a name around the reputation of the competition.

Yet after almost three decades when USSSA took over the championship after the reported expiry of the Coca-Cola contract, it appeared like they had not learnt anything!

Format

There has always been an element of surprise in past championships as teams were never seeded.

According to Kennedy Mutenyo, the former Coca-Cola promotions manager, who was in charge of the tournament management, that was meant to give teams an equal footing.

“All teams were ranked equal which would give what people called small teams a chance against the big name schools,” Mutenyo said.

This time, the draws were pre-meditated and seeding was returned, dropping the Champions League format of randomly picking your next opponent until the quarterfinals.

By allowing teams to know their qualifying path, many suspected dodgy games.

Royal Giants director Benon Ntambi blames his team’s round of 16 loss to Mukono Kings on external influence. He blames it on the would-be opponents Kitende.

“But look at what has happened to our golden generation which has been blocked unfairly,” Ntambi cryptically said.

Some team officials of Royal Giants protested basing on those claims to vent their frustration.

What does not hold is the fact that Mukono Kings were one man down from the seventh minute and Royal Giants missed two of their spot kicks.

Overage players

By allowing repeaters and lifting the age limit from 19 years to 21, the tournament was very tough for younger players. There were obvious cases of overage players, most of who claimed to be in Senior Two or Three.

Chaos meets relaxation. An official of Royal Giants is restrained from attacking officials of Kitende after Royal Giants lost 1-0 to Mukono Kings in the knockouts. Below, Justus Mugisha, the USSSA treasurer who was in charge of overall organisation in Arua, cuts a very relaxed and satisfied pose. PHOTOS / GEORGE KATONGOLE

One games teacher intimated to this reporter that with lower secondary it is easier to get a recommendation from Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb). He explained that a recommendation does not need to have the candidate’s age. This was the main reason many schools used Uneb verification letters.

The disciplinary committee had the easiest job in Arua as only one case was heard conclusively and others died a natural death.

In one case, Umar Ddumba, a coach with Dynamic SS, had petitioned St Mary’s Kitende alleging that star player Charles Lwanga was overage. He provided evidence from his parent club KCCA showing Lwanga was actually 22.

But he ended up protesting and even going ahead to ask for his refund as the only acceptable evidence was the school identity card and student pass slip, all of which gave Lwanga the benefit of the doubt.

But Lwanga’s was just a tip of the iceberg. Thrice this reporter was confronted by team officials that did not want the pictures of their players to be taken. The most hostile was Buremba, whose technical team verbally confronted this reporter before they lost 1-0 to Kitende.

What made the bad situation worse was the window allowing an accused school to pay a Shs2m fine. No school is ever going to serve a ban. This is partly the reason Dynamic SS, a school owned by USSSA executive committee member Richard Muhumuza played this year despite serving a Mukono District ban.

Narrow gap

This tournament will go down in history as one of the most evenly matched. Cricket scores were not registered at this tournament.

Kitende coach Edward Golola actually said it was hard to beat any team 10 goals as it used to be. Actually, the highest scores stood at 7-0.

“The teams are very competitive. All players are matching and the difference is very narrow. Only coaching brings in the difference,” Godfrey Kireewa Maato, the coach of Gombe High School, said.

A highly rated school such as Jinja SS had to struggle at this championship. The team had just three experienced players – goalkeeper Delton Oyo (Busoga United), captain James Mubeezi (Mbale Heroes) and Joel Tumwesigye (Busoga United reserves). This gave older players an edge over them in terms of physicality.

One of the positives was in the area of improved coaching as coaches talked tactics even though there was an insane clueless few that blamed their woes on referees. The Fufa coaching training seems to be paying off.

Bashir Mutyaba, the Fufa youth football development manager, individually met coaches stressing the importance of coach training.

“When the coaches stop blaming referees and concentrate on their teams, we can see even greater improvement,” Mutyaba said.

Among the standout coaches was Gaddafi Wahab of Nile High School. Although he is an active player with Arua Hills, he demonstrated technical nous matching the likes of Kitende.

One area that must be dealt with urgently is the wildcard invitations. Teams ought to qualify sportingly. You can agree with the fact that organisers were desperate for money to manage the tournament and had to invite as many schools as possible to bridge the funding gap. By having 66 schools, more than Shs230m was raked in by the association.

Sadly, most invited schools were for members of the executive or their associates. One of them was Dynamic, which did not qualify from Mukono District although they made the round of 16 in Arua.

Understandably, Amus College were admitted for hostilities towards the team in their regional qualifiers.

Sixty-six teams meant more games and crowded fixtures. Some teams played as many as three games in 24 hours and players were bruised and hurting. Others played their last group games on Tuesday morning and the knockout games in the afternoon.

That is partly why the infamous decision for classification games was a non-starter.

St Pontiano Ngondwe, for instance, did not honour their game blaming injuries and obvious lack of motivation.

The organisers had suggested this was meant to help rank schools’ performance and keep the students in camp for all the 12 days.

Yet Mutyaba, who was in charge of technical issues observed after teams snubbed the decision that it is possible to rank teams even without playing.

You only wonder why a school director would send fuel for an eliminated team to play in a distant venue. Muni NTC, for instance, was a 24km round trip while Pokea Seminary ground was an hour’s drive.

As a matter of fact, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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