What you need to know:
- An ambitious budget of Shs121m was drawn with Shs50m to cater for air tickets for a team of 25 people. The distance between Lugogo and Blantyre is about 2,487.6km and as soon as the club established that it could be done by road at less than 20 percent of their budget, “the decision on travel became easy to make” according to club chairman Albert Kimumwe.
On November 19, Kampala Hockey Club (KHC) men returned to the Africa Cup of Club Champions (ACCC) during the competition’s 35th edition in Blantyre, Malawi.
The competition is for top clubs in leagues from various African nations.
The last time KHC competed was in 2014, when the competition’s 26th edition was hosted in Kampala.
The performance was abysmal but the ambition to return to this stage started and the chance presented itself at the end of the 2022 season with a second placed finish in the National Hockey League (NHL).
“We need to change our mentality and our motivation for playing this game,” KHC midfielder Samuel Wakhisi Webo, said back then when urging his teammates to focus on preparations for the tournament.
KHC’s preparations started in April 2023 when the National Hockey Association of Malawi confirmed they would host the showpiece.
An ambitious budget of Shs121m was drawn with Shs50m to cater for air tickets for a team of 25 people. The distance between Lugogo and Blantyre is about 2,487.6km and as soon as the club established that it could be done by road at less than 20 percent of their budget, “the decision on travel became easy to make” according to club chairman Albert Kimumwe.
There was hope to secure at least Shs14m through sources close to the club leaders to cater for transport.
Decent buses can be hired at Shs500,000-650,000 per day if one takes care of the fuel and any expenses on the road. Fuel was projected at Shs5m.
With this, a modest Shs600,000 contribution was asked of everyone that wished to travel but it turned out to be heavy on some of the players, especially those in school.
This contribution would cater for accommodation and meals while the club ran fundraising initiatives for participation fees. But as the days drew closer, the chances to secure sponsorship waned. Cancellation of the road trip looked like the only way out.
Club president Dr. Emmanuel Ewochu and his friend Timothy Booker rescued the situation with Shs3m while the contributions from the contingent stood at Shs5.2m.
“We did not want to disappoint players, who were emotionally invested, and well wishers by cancelling our participation,” one of the club coaches Bernard Bwire, said.
KHC also got a huge boost when Malawi Hockey’s general secretary Geoffrey Biya secured them accommodation at the National Council of Sports (NCS) hostels, which are near the pitch in Blantyre.
This allowed KHC to eliminate in-land transport costs. All they paid was $2 or 5000 Malawi Kwacha (about Shs7,500) per head per day for amenities.
KHC’s management team had met Biya a fortnight earlier in Pretoria, South Africa during the national team’s participation at the Africa Hockey Olympic Qualifiers where he was part of the Zambia technical team.
With Shs8m at hand, it looked very possible that the club could make deposits for the bus, NCS Malawi and buy fuel to Blantyre. A fundraising campaign for those remaining at home started too.
But with about four hours to travel, the bus company pressed for more money. KHC ladies’ goalkeeper Melissa Namuleme worked to secure another coaster through one Willy Kigongo.
When I later narrated this to Kigongo’s driver Robert Kivumbi, I learned that KHC’s search for a bus to Malawi had gone viral in the public transport community and there were background efforts from various competitors to hijack it from each other.
Wednesday, November 15
A little after 10pm, KHC – aboard a coaster UBH 625Y – left Lugogo for Mutukula Border Post.
With one driver on board, 13 players, this reporter, team medic Carol Aguti, team manager Paula Kibwika and umpire Winnie Alaro – all three players in the KHC ladies’ team – the coaster arrived in Mutukula towards 7am on November 16.
There were still naysayers from the wider hockey fraternity that even at this point still mocked KHC’s attempt but the travelling contingent started a social media campaign, under the hashtag #boooo, to catcall any form of ridicule.
Thursday, November 16
The wait at Mutukula was long as immigration officials only turned up at 9am and made the costs grow.
The Port Health officials informed them that Cholera and Typhoid vaccines were paramount for people travelling to Malawi.
This was the first test of character in the KHC camp as the players were asked by Stanley Tamale, a player who was also chef de mission as he is general secretary Uganda Hockey Association (UHA), to meet the costs for vaccine exemption stamps individually.
Then the car expenses started to hit home. The contingent had left Lugogo knowing they only had to pay Shs150,000 for the Comesa travel insurance cover.
It then dawned on the contingent that Kivumbi had been ‘hijacked’ from his trip home from Masaka and therefore had no time to process a permit that would allow him drive across borders. The club met the Shs80,000 cost and later road use fees. The charge to drive from Mutukula to the border of Tanzania and Malawi was €100 (about Shs400,000).
After crossing the border at 1pm, there were various police checks along the way but Webo’s Kiswahili came in handy and helped us negotiate most of them with almost no noticeable delays.
The next main stop came in Bukoba when we were consulting the locals about the route to Mbeya.
One of the track drivers we stopped is called Juma. He was a local coming from Juba and Malawi-bound but needed to see his family in Dodoma.
He drove ahead until we parted ways at dusk in Biharamulo, after over 250km. He advised us to drive through Tabora to Mpanda, Sumbawanga, down to Tunduma then to Kyela, where we would enter Malawi through the Kasumulu border.
With phones running out of battery and the driver pestering for a few hours of sleep, boredom started to take over. Some players went out to the nearby shops to charge their gadgets among other things.
Friday, November 17
The journey resumed at around 11pm and we reached Tabora at dawn on Friday. This was when the road trip started to get exciting.
Webo offered to drive from Tabora to Sumbawanga. The desperation had also set in as we bid to reach the border before dusk.
The team also had a match scheduled with Nigeria’s Kada Stars the next day and both the hosts in Malawi and the people back in Kampala were frequently asking if the team could make it for the match. In fact players feared they would lose by forfeiture.
When we reached Katavi National Park in Mpanda, we were warned that the stretch would be over 200km and we needed to refuel before driving through the Park. If anyone had any doubts of the risk of not doing so, the elephant that crossed the road just about 150m ahead of us highlighted the dangers that lay ahead.
We had left the fuel pump about 20km behind. The coaster had to turn back but before we could even cross the small bridge that cuts the Park off the rest of the Mpanda, we saw hippos in the water. Some of the players claim to have seen a crocodile or two at this point.
When we returned, Webo drove through the murram Park at a frightening pace. And soon as he got out of it, he handed the steering wheel to yet another player in Brian Ssekitoleko, who delivered us to Tunduma at around 10pm. In Tunduma, the locals told us about a new border at Isongole that saved us another hour to Kasumulu.
Unfortunately, it was closed and we could not be cleared. Kivumbi also complained about the bearings in his front tyres and wanted them repaired.
At this point, I had established that Kada had pulled out of the competition. But the organizers were yet to decide on whether the competition would remain group-based or change format to a round-robin.
Saturday, November 18
Eventually, the tournament switched to a round-robin format but KHC had still been given a game against Police Machine, also from Nigeria, that evening.
As the coaster repairs went on, the players cleared with immigration on both ends, played Omweso and refreshed. They had established that Machine were yet to land in Blantyre.
The car was cleared at almost 1pm but without any foreign exchange points in Ilomba, payments had to be made in Chitipa – a 30 minutes’ drive away. We paid $20 (about Shs76,000) and 35,500 MwK (also about Shs76,000) for the road use fees. In fact the officials at Ilomba advised that we use the Songwe border on return.
But despite clearing within an hour, KHC did not leave Chitipa until 6pm (7pm in Uganda) as players sought to eat and find sim-cards that would ease their 10-day stay in Malawi.
The drive from Chitipa to Karonga was smooth. There was a satisfaction of finally being in Malawi.
Kivumbi negotiated the winding roads that welcome you to Karonga with expertise. After that relatively short distance of winding in the rain, the road to Mzunzu was almost straight and flat but it was very hot and locals could be seen walking shirtless.
After getting to Mzunzu, the winding roads up in the mountains and on the way to Lilongwe are almost dizzying but after like two hours of driving, the road to the capital started to straighten.
Sunday, November 19
We got to Lilongwe in the wee-hours of Sunday morning with a match scheduled for 3pm. Shall we make it or not, everyone pondered – some quietly, others loudly. We arrived in Blantyre at midday.
With fatigue and hunger, the Stallions still made it to the pitch where they beat Scorpions of Malawi 3-1 with goals from Bayuule, James Mugisha and Dulf Musoke.
The players hoped for a heavy dinner but the restaurant at NCS gave portions of rice and posho that would only satisfy a baby learning how to eat solid food. The decision to bring in food from a local vendor for the next few days was quickly made.
Monday, November 20
For breakfast, the contingent decided to buy a percolator to boil water. The tea escorts would range from bread to biscuits and mandazi.
Ennie, a lady of small build but always jovial, provided the lunch and dinner but only after one gentleman called Divine had disappointed with his portions too on Monday night.
Earlier on pitch, KHC had heavily lost 5-0 to Kenyan counterparts Western Jaguars. Jaguars were not using Allan Malit, a Kenyan midfielder that had represented KHC between 2017 and 2019.
His coach Mike Malungu had mentored some KHC players including Webo, Bwire and Bramwell Lijoodi at Musingu High School. Asking him to let Malit beef up the KHC squad was an easy conversation.
Tuesday, November 21
This was probably the hardest day. Stallions had a 5am training but rest days are long as there is always little to look forward to.
At this point the budget also allowed for one heavy meal a day but an anonymous donor bailed the team out with Shs1m that helped sort meals.
Wednesday, November 22
An acid test against the would-be champions Egypt Sharkia turned out as expected. A 6-0 hiding but with some chances created thanks to Malit’s inclusion.
Thursday, November 23
Braces from Jordan Mpiima and Malit set up an 8-0 win for KHC against Parachute Battalions, the whipping boys of the tournament from Malawi. Alfred Agaba, Webo, Tamale and Richard Ssemwogerere scored the others as the tournament prepared for a day off on Friday.
But there was panic in the KHC camp as Alfred Agaba fell ill. He was diagnosed with Malaria and could not train on the free day.
Saturday, November 25
The spirits were high on the day but Agaba was still ill and Mugisha was also going down with sickness. It was clear that KHC would be competing for bronze medals on Sunday. But on this Saturday, they had a chance to play against Genetrix of Malawi in the final round-robin game. Genetrix would be their opponents on Sunday too and this was a chance to learn a lot about each other but without the two players giving away much about their sickness.
Tamale and Malit scored as KHC won 2-1.
Sunday, November 26
Record setting Stallions
KHC came from 1-0 down to beat Genetrix 3-1 thanks to a brace from Bayuule and a goal from Malit.
KHC’s wild celebrations at the final whistle and awarding ceremony took many by surprise but this was the first time a Ugandan team was getting to the ACCC podium.
At 10pm, the journey home started and on it, KHC were about to realize that their opponents and tests were mainly off the field of play than on it.
Monday, November 27
The struggle for funds to cater for fuel and the final settlement of the coaster hire loomed large but there was hope because the contributions from home had kept on coming.
KHC arrived in Lilongwe at day break but were stopped by Malawian traffic officers who deemed the fire extinguisher in the car not to be up to task. The players who were casually dressed changed to their blue kit and took to the street in protest. The officers, perhaps worried about the bad publicity, let the coaster leave.
On the way to Mzunzu, another traffic officer spotted an error on the Comesa insurance card issued in Tanzania and blamed it on the KHC contingent. The last digit of the number plate had been written as 3 and not 5.
The players refused to relent to demands of paying a fine insisting it was a genuine mistake by authorities. Calls to Biya and other members of Malawi Hockey saved the situation.
From there the ride to the border was smooth. But along the way, the contingent visited Lake Malawi and turned to mangoes there to beat hunger.
They arrived in Songwe at 7.15pm after the border had been closed. At this point everyone knew what to expect and although the immigration side stamped our passports that evening, Malawi Revenue Authority were not in office to clear the coaster.
Tuesday, November 28
The car was cleared at 9am on the Malawi side but while the passports were also smoothly stamped on the Tanzania side (Kasumulu), the car needed another Tzsh257,000 (also about Shs400,000). The players collected it from their personal balances while Kibwika’s friends from home also chipped in.
However, the transaction took long to reflect on the Tanzania Revenue Authority system and it was not until 1pm that the contingent left Kasumulu.
After braving more winding roads in Mbeya, KHC got another test of their nerves when Kivumbi announced at 8pm – just after reaching Lupa Tingatinga – that the hind springs of his car had broken down and needed to be repaired.
The mechanics were found fast but by 10pm, they had had enough and decided they would not do any more work until day break. A second consecutive night of no movement but sleeping in the coaster ensued.
Wednesday, November 29
At 2pm the next day, they deemed the car fit to move again. The stretch between Tingatinga and Rungwa is 138km of murram but Kivumbi, claiming not to want to return to the garage, drove less than half of it to Ilungu in six hours. The frustration on the rest of us was clear and we let him know.
Thursday, November 30
At Rungwa, he handed the car to Ssekitoleko to drive to Ipole, a distance of 176km. But the coaster ran out of fuel at around 4am on a rainy Thursday morning with about 30km left of the stretch.
As fate would have it, there was no signal on our mobile phones – including for those that had Tanzanian lines. The next car only came towards us from Rungwa at 7am. Webo talked to them and they allowed to drive him to the next fuel station, where he would buy fuel in jerry cans and return with them.
By 9am, there was no sign he was about to return and anxiety was growing. Some suggested we walk ahead and seek solutions. Others insisted we wait till midday.
At about 9.30am, a bus came towards us from Ipole and fortunately, the driver had a signal on his phone. We called Webo and he confirmed he had the fuel but no means to return. Nerves were calmed as we all agreed to give him more time. The contingent turned to other pass times like playing cards, games on phone and lighthearted conversations.
Only Gerald Kairu, a student at Makerere University Business School and had examinations coming up during the weekend, remained tense throughout the ordeal.
Towards mid-day, another smaller car stopped by to offer help. The occupants Halif of Tabora and his friend Mangi, told us they were farmers and that we were stuck in Mabangwe Forest.
They offered tea, coffee, bread and let us buy their remaining 10 litres of diesel at 40,000TzShs (about Shs64,000). But just as they were loading them so we could go ahead and find Webo, the man sent on a mission appeared aboard HBS Express bus (T122 AEK) with 40 litres of fuel.
Shortly after, Webo shared that the truck that had taken him in the morning got stuck on the muddy road, where they were constructing a bridge – just a few kilometres from where we were. He had to take another taxi and found the fuel 70km from Mabangwe.
We indeed found the truck stuck. But since we were chasing time and were desperate to get to tarmac, we did not return the favour.
Everyone cheered when we found tarmac but it was not for long. The 92km stretch from Ipole to Tabora was done in a flashlight and we were back on murram to get to Kahama.
On reaching Kahama, Kivumbi was at it again claiming the springs had fallen off again. A local mechanic tied them with a rope.
Friday, December 1
From Kahama, the next stop was in the morning in Kagera to refuel but the driver was still insistent on fixing the car. We disagreed arguing it could be done at the border where he would have time as people cleared and had breakfast.
When he left to find a mechanic, we asked Webo to start the car and when the driver realized we were seriously headed to Mutukula, he agreed to move forward.
Clearing at Mutukula was swift – going by standards at other borders. By 11am, the contingent was headed for Lugogo and only stops in Buvuma for fuel and Lukaaya for the roadside delicacies were done.
As the team approached Bukoto via the Northern Bypass, the celebrations to show off their achievements to whoever cared to give them attention on the road started.
The song “Muna Kampala” by Ykee Benda is popular in the club and is treated as an anthem. It greets every KHC occasion but on this evening – all through to Sunday when the larger KHC community met with the medal winners for a homecoming ceremony, it was probably sung more times than Ykee has had to sing it since he released it in 2017.
It was worth it
When one looks back, KHC’s happiest moments in the two weeks were probably lived in those six hours on pitch. They celebrated their wins and suffered in some games but they took huge hockey lessons that helped them bring bronze medals home. The challenges also galvanized the club.
Travelling squad: Richard Kaijuka (GK), Paul Ponsiano Kayanga (captain), Brian Ssekitoleko, Richard Ssemwogerere, James Mugisha, Jordan Mpiima, Alfred Agaba, Samuel Wakhisi Webo, Brian Gilbert Bayuule, Jesse Byakagaba, Dulf Musoke, Stanley Tamale, Gerald Kairu
*Allan Malit joined the squad in Blantyre after travelling with Kenya’s Western Jaguars
Team manager: Paula Kibwika
Team medic: Carol Aguti
The financial impact
Tournament Fees - 1,702,619
Transport - 8,254,255
Fuel - 5,125,838
Accommodation - 1,354,909
Meals - 1,362,436
Photography - 200,000
Miscellaneous - 950,355
Total Expenditure - 18,950,411