Watershed moments that brewed Vipers maiden double

Coach Isabirye shows the trophies he delivered at Vipers this past season. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

What you need to know:

After winning winning the sixth league title on goal difference on the last day, much to the chagrin of second-placed KCCA, Vipers pipped Police 1-0 six days later in Lira to lift the Uganda Cup trophy.

Alex Isabirye's Vipers class of 2023 became the  fourth team to win the Uganda Cup and be crowned  the StarTimes Uganda Premier League kings of Uganda in the same season.

The others on the coveted list are SC Villa (1986,1988,1989, 1998, 2000 and 2002), Express (1995) and KCCA (2017).

After winning winning the sixth league title on goal difference on the last day, much to the chagrin of second-placed KCCA, Vipers pipped Police 1-0 six days later in Lira to lift the Uganda Cup trophy.

Worth noting is that this was the least impressive, organised or even intimidating Vipers side when juxtaposed to the commanding teams of yesteryears.

Yet beneath the inside  story of the league and double making campaign are untold facts that a casual eye might miss.

Score herein investigates the movers and shakers, the untold truths and myths that bred the double dream on the third time of asking.

Isabirye gamble

Vipers weren't ready for Roberto Oliveira aka Robertinho's abrupt departure to Simba (Tanzania) in late December.

The panic got them in regrettable and ill-advised marriage with Brazilian-Spanish journeyman coach  Beto Bianchi who left after eight matches without a goal.

By the time Vipers lured Isabirye from Bul on March 12, the Caf Champions League campaign was up in smoke.

The Venoms were limping in the Uganda Cup and were only kept in the league race by their challengers' sloppiness and the many games at hand.

Isabirye is an old bloom in Ugandan football and knew all the corners and which buttons to press and those to avoid.

Soon he had psyched up the dressing room, restored a healthy battle for slots, instilled his long-ball approach and earned Vipers some respect from all the various  stakeholders.

Lady Luck stuck with him even when he blew hot and cold  in the two months and guess what, he delivered ultimate success.

That said, the jury is still out on whether he can stay past next season.

Lawal/Anukani revival

If any Vipers' player manifested Isabirye's infectious man management style, it had to be Nigerian  forward Abubakar Lawal.

Deemed an outcast and absolute flop since his August move from AS Kigali (Rwanda), the awkwardly thin striker was on the door steps out of Vipers in March when Isabirye extended him an olive branch.

In fact, he changed him into an attacking midfielder who dropped in tiny pockets of space and made him the fulcrum of the team's attacks.

Lawal responded with crucial strikes like the winner against a stubborn Arua Hill in Arua and the equaliser against Raja Casablanca at Kitende.

At the moment, Lawal is a prized asset at the St Mary's Stadium in Kitende just like his midfield colleague Bright Anukani with whom they formed a telepathic  combo to drag Vipers over the tape when it mattered most.

Fruitful May harvest

There were telling and notable triumphs for the Venoms in in the month of May with the finishing line in sight.

Apart from losing to Soltilo Bright Stars 1-0 in the league at Kavumba on May 9, Vipers registered vital wins over KCCA (1-0), Gaddafi (2-0), Express (5-2) and Busoga United (5-0). 

The only mishap was the 0-0 draw with relegated Onduparaka in Arua but by and large May remains their breakthrough month in the league title.

For the Uganda Cup, they did much of the work in the 4-0 semifinal flattening of Bright Stars in the first leg at Kitende on May 20 and had the luxury of resting their star players in the 1-0 defeat in the second leg ten days later at Kavumba.

Mulindwa dressing room hairdryer 

At the start of the second round, Vipers were in a state of quagmire and lost at the sea. 

Club president Lawrence Mulindwa was a laughing stock for a questionable  transfer market adventure especially with the botched Congolese legion desperate attempt.

He reportedly invaded the dressing room one afternoon and offered the misfiring players a frightening hairdryer - akin to the trademark Sir Alex Ferguson outbursts.

He reportedly rebuked expensive recruits  like Abdul Lumala, Olivier Osomba, Lawal, Fabien Mutombora and other foreign players threatening to axe them if they didn't wake up from their slumber.

Mulindwa also castigated their destructive lifestyles at the expense of the club's decline.

After that rendezvous, there was a noticeable upward  improvement from majority players especially after Isabirye's arrival.

Triple spot-kicks magic

Luck and fate played gigantic roles in Vipers' double quest. 

First, the Venoms  required spot-kicks to get past Kitara regional minnows  Bujumbura after a barren draw at the round of 64.

Then at Bugembe Stadium, Fufa Big League side Jinja North put them to the sword and they escaped by the skin of the teeth via shootouts at the round of 32.

That was all under Bianchi. Isabirye's first game for the Venoms saw him fight from a goal down against hard-fighting Wakiso Giants at Wakisha to scamper through after a spot-kick session at the round of 16. 

Third time lucky and Vipers didn't mess again against Calvary, Bright Stars and Police in subsequent ties.

KCCA/ Villa internal meltdown

Truth be told, on most occasions Vipers didn't have matters in their hands to decide the league  trophy destiny.

For instance, SC Villa that should have been champions had they beaten URA on May 27 at Wankulukuku.

The Jogoos will also ruefully  look back  at the damaging losses KCCA at Lugogo and  Maroons at Luzira.

In between those detrimental losses, they endured a reported in-house technical and administration  commotion that they never recorded from.

That was just after Morley Byekwaso threw in the towel at KCCA amidst dramatic scenes after the 1-0 Uganda Cup loss to Bright Stars at Kavumba .

The coaching dilemma worsened under interim coaches Badru Kaddu and Jackson Mayanja which literally handed over the title to the Entebbe Road side.

Million bonuses

Mulindwa's seemingly bottomless pockets also played a commendable  part.

As the title chase headed to the wire, he loosened the purse more hence getting  players extra motivated.

One particular match was the must win encounter against KCCA at Kitende.

Mulindwa reportedly heightened the match winning  bonus to Shs1m for  starters and down to Shs500,000 for bench players.

Those present at Kitende as Milton Karisa's solo strike earned the hosts victory will remember Vipers players playing with their hearts on the sleeves and ready to die for a noble cause.

Not yet done, Mulindwa reportedly promised the coaching staff Shs10m each should they win the league title.

And you guessed right, he put a reported Shs100m bounty at stake for the players to dismantle Busoga United in the last match - and they duly obliged.

Kyobe/Claire, the unsung heroes

The name Harunah Kyobe has been synonymous with Vipers since they climbed to the top flight as Bunamwaya in 2006.

He has served as their secretary, fan, co-shareholder name it. 

After last season, his influence at Kitende somewhat fizzled out due to unknown reasons.

Sources at Kitende intimated that when everything was going haywire, Mulindwa sought him out to return and offer the club direction.

They add that apart from mooting Isabirye's name as a possible candidate, pulling the proverbial strings in the league 'politics', Kyobe passed as the defacto CEO as Vipers returned to winning ways.

The grapevine also has it that Claire Mulindwa, the St Mary's SS Kitende proprietor's daughter and deputy, played a starring albeit  informal role.

Claire is said to have offered an ear to most players' personal struggle and timely counselling to  an extent of bailing out Lawal financially when he was discarded by the club.

Once rehabilitated by Claire's generosity, the Nigerian rediscovered his groove to become Vipers' change maker.

Fortress Kitende 

Even during the tumultuous times of Bianchi or when Robertinho's powers started waning, Vipers kept their invincibility at the St Mary's Stadium intact.  
The club's five league losses ; against Busoga United, Bright Stars, SC Villa, KCCA and Gaddafi came away from home.

The vociferous home fans, spurred futher by the advent of night matches turned Kitende into a dreaded arena.

Indeed this has been an action-laded and unpredictable  campaign that will forever be etched in Vipers history.