It has taken Ugandan hockey 14 years to emerge from its own self distraction. Only Thomas Opio, from those that played in 2007 is still around as a player. Kenneth Tamale, one of the others is an umpire. Their coach William Mukasa has long passed on.
In 2007, the Cranes had taken to City Park - Nairobi with ambition: to show what we are made of and compete for the first time since the Africa Cup in Zimbabwe in 2003 or better still, to revive their pride as the only team sport to have represented Uganda at the Olympics. But they were instead whitewashed 5-0 by Kenya and 16-0 or 21-0 by Egypt (depending on whom you talk to) in those Olympic qualifiers.
Uganda is coming back. Yet the real reflection came when Opio scored that equaliser on Thursday and wheeled away to his ecstatic teammates with fingers pointed to the sky.
What a gift, from God, for an everlasting career! How many of his colleagues in the past looked back and wished they had held on?
“I am really grateful for having a second chance,” is all Opio could say about his moment. The stadium was devoid of fans, owing to Covid-19 regulations, but the celebrations from the bench and Uganda’s ladies’ team did enough to keep the Kenyans quiet.
For most members of the current squad, it is a moment of pride.
Goalkeeper and captain Bosco Ochan, whose kept the Uganda in the game with vital saves - especially at the start of each quarter and the death of the game - called it “an opportunity to always show your best”. He did just exactly that on the day.
Jordan Mpiima said he always felt confident every time he jumped on while second assistant captain and the youngest player on the team Stuart Kavuma believes “this is a journey and I am looking forward to building on it.”
Show of trust
For coach Vincent Kasasa, it was a moment of “feeling appreciated and trusted to lead this process.”
He can, for now, bask in the light glory of having produced the best result for the national team. You get the feeling there will be many more better wins to celebrate. When you sit among hockey veterans, some recall players faking sickness after the Kenya game to avoid playing Egypt.
After that, the national team was largely forgotten as most minders sold themselves to the thought that Uganda was never ready for the big times. In fact the ladies side was never even in consideration.
Attempts to revive the men’s team ended in a 2011 disbandment while tournaments in 2014, 2018, 2019 and 2020 never happened.
Generations of players wasted away for lack of motivation and something to work towards. Without national team exposure, the opportunities to advance the game and players careers were also few and far between.
Before their 1-1 draw with Kenya at the FIH (Federation of International Hockey) Series that climaxes today in Nairobi, Stanley Tamale - an umpire at this tournament and one that could have played for Uganda in those years that wasted away tweeted that; “That moment when the first Hockey Cranes player steps out will be a moment to rub away years of despair, hopelessness, dejection, but that, too, will usher in a new dawn for hockey in Uganda. That’ll be teary.”
FIH BI-NATION TEST SERIES
Today’s Fixtures - Day Three
W: Kenya vs. Uganda, 2.30pm
M: Kenya vs. Uganda, 4.30pm