Former Cranes stars Tom Lwanga, Abbey Nasur and John Ntesibe all agree that former midfielders at position six namely Francis Kulabigwo, Mike Kiganda and Angelo Dotte had one thing in common. They all had a lot of stamina and were very hardworking linkmen such that if they played today, anti-doping agencies would be forced to check their testosterone levels.
FRANCIS ‘GRABOWSKI’ KULABIGWO
Kulabigwo was nicknamed “Grabowski after Jurgen Grabowski, the 1970 and 1974 German World Cup star striker. Uganda’s version first played as a striker before switching to midfield where he was one of the most respected and feared in East and Central Africa.
Paul Ssali, his teammate at Simba and in the Cranes, recalls an incident during the 70s when Zambians rejoiced on discovering that Kulabigwo was not in the Cranes team ahead of their clash at Nakivubo stadium.
“Kulabigwo used to give a lot of headache to the Zambians whenever two nations met in regional and continental engagements,” Ssali says.
“In this case, Kulabigwo was sidelined due to injury and the Zambian players easily noticed his absence when players entered the pitch. They communicated the good news to one another.”
According to veteran sports journalist Douglas Nsubuga, Kulabigwo was one utility player coaches used to assign the role of policing dangerous players and would completely mark them out of the game.
“He would accomplish the task so well in a clean way without fouling them,” Nsubuga remembers.
The only player Nsubuga remembers beating Kulabigwo hands down was KCCA’s Phillip Omondi who once teased and tossed him around with his ball acrobatics amid cheers.
Former KCCA and Cranes defender Tom Lwanga rates Kulabigwo among Uganda’s best midfielders of all time.
“He was a very industrious midfielder who would look in a different direction and yet managed to pass the ball in the opposite direction so accurately,”Lwanga explains.
He inspired so many upcoming players like Mike Kiganda and Angelo Dotte who learned a lot by copying from him that they ended taking over when he retired. The cradle of Kulabigwo is as interesting as his abilities. Around 1967, Coffee, under the guidance of the late Roger Mukasa, Balamaze Lwanga and Jimmy Bakyayita Ssemugabi, went for a buildup tour in the Masindi region. They played several friendlies while there. One of them was Masindi Dynamos which had a sharp striker in Francis Kulabigwo. Kulabigwo also operated a barber shop in Masindi town and only played football during his free time.
He had never gone beyond Masindi and when at the end of the match, Coffee administrators convinced him to travel in their team bus to Kampala and get an opportunity of glancing at the city he was just hearing about. He never hesitated.
This was every villager’s dream and Kulabigwo had to accept the offer with both hands. His main reason to travel to Kampala was just to see the city everyone was talking about and not to play football.
Kulabigwo joined Coffee at the time the club boasted of talented players like Denis Obua, David Otti, Polly Ouma, Hassan Mutaasa, Emmanuel Ssempiira, and George Bukenya among others.
In 1968, he was part of the Cranes squad named for the 1968 AFCON tournament in Ethiopia which had others like Joseph Masajjage, Peter Okee, and Ouma.
Kulabigwo was too good that in 1969, Police grabbed him from Coffee after promising to provide him with a job but the army side Simba took advantage of the 1971 coup that ousted Milton Obote to sign him.
At Simba, he partnered with Ouma who had defected from Coffee and other gifted players in Ahmed Doka, Joseph Onziga,, Swalleh Wasswa, John Dibya to mention a few.
In 1972 Kulabigwo was part of the Simba side that made history by becoming the first Ugandan club to reach the final of an African championship.
In the finals first leg away match to Hafia Conakry of Guinea, Kulabigwo equalised for Simba before the home team scored two dying minutes goals to win 4-2. Simba.
During the return leg in Kampala Simba lost 3-2 for Hafia to lift the cup. In the national team. Kulabigwo’s name proved difficult for Germany-born coach Burkhard Pape to pronounce and preferred to simply refer to him as “Kulie”. He won the CECAFA titles of 1969, 1970, 1973, 1976, and 1977. Kulabigwo represented the country in three AFCON tournaments of 1968, 1974 and 1976.
KULABIGWO FACT FILE
- Played for Coffee, Police, Simba and Nytil.
- Part of the Simba team that won the league in 1972 and 1978.
- Part of Simba team that won Uganda Cup in 1976.
- Was in the Simba FC side that in 1972 reached the finals of Caf Champions League.
- In the 1972 Caf Champions League final, he scored for Simba in Conakry.
- Won the Cecafa with the Cranes in 1969, 1970, 1973, 1977 and 1977.
- Participated in Afcons of 1968, 1974 and 1976.
- During the 2017 Fifa General Assembly, he was given a plaque recognising him as one of Uganda great soccer players.
- He coached Nytil FC of Jinja for six years from 1985.
MIKE ‘COMPUTER’ KIGANDA
For his brilliant way of controlling the ball, manning the midfield land being seen everywhere on the pitch he earned him the nickname of “Computer” while Congolese music lovers of the time gave him the name “Moname” for his dribbling style compared to certain Congolese dancing strokes.
Those who played with Kiganda include his 1978 Afocn teammate Lwanga. According to Lwanga, Kiganda will go down in Uganda’s football history as one player that defied his size to tame opponents that were twice or thrice his size.
“In the 1978 Afcon hosted by Ghana, Kiganda played throughout the tournament and was described as a player that possessed two hearts. Kiganda would be seen in the Cranes defence preventing a goal and within the twinkle of an eye he would be in the opponents’ goal area trying to score,”Lwanga reminisces.
Lwanga compares Kiganda to the piston rings of a car engine that determines its strength and longevity.
“He was very small in size and yet ruled the midfield with ease and having no respect for giant players of the time.” One thing that made Kiganda stand out and this was being able to use both legs effectively.
Abbey Nasur, Kiganda’s 1978 Afcon teammate too heaps praise on the late midfielder. “He was such a hardworking midfielder whose presence would be felt in the team. The way Kiganda managed to dodge past bigger opponents used to amaze us all and at times changed the flow of the game in Cranes favour,” Nasur describes his former contemporary.
At Express, one of Kiganda’s closest friends and teammates happened to be John Ntensibe, who in 1976 emerged the league’s top scorer with 14 goals.
Ntensibe told Sunday Monitor that Kiganda is one of the most hardworking midfielders he has played with. “Both in the Cranes and at Express, Kiganda used to do all the donkey work like intercepting and bringing it forward for us strikers in the box. There, we would wait like hungry hyenas to easily score and instead earn praises from spectators with no one noticing Kiganda’s role,” Ntesibe says with tinge of laughter. “He possessed speed that was faster than the ball.”
Ntensibe will never forget the day he together with Kiganda were on February 8, 1977 thrown in jail at Makindye military barracks for playing a major role in Express’s 2-0 league win against army side Simba a day earlier.
“During the match, Express played like real warriors and managed to gun down the army side by a 2-0 margin with me and Kiganda scoring for Express.To the surprise of everyone, nothing much happened at the end of the match. Only that one senior army officer was heard seriously complaining, ‘who are these people to defeat and shame a football club belonging to the army of the Republic of Uganda?’
The following day, some Express players went to Nakivubo stadium to watch a football match involving other clubs.
As Kiganda and Ntensibe entered from the pavilion side, a group of Express fans spotted and cheered them, apparently in appreciation for a good job done the previous day.
Some approached and gave themsome money which filled both their pockets. Meanwhile, a group of army officers was watching everything from the pavilion and seemed unamused.
Major Nasur Abdallah who also doubled as the league’s disciplinary committee chairman immediately ordered that all Nakivubo stadium gates be closed.
Kiganda and Ntensibe were arrested and taken to the pavilion where all their money was taken away by the army officers who questioned the intention. Arrested too was Express ‘’best known cheer lady Rebecca Namyalo Kazibwe, fondly known as ‘Maama Baker’.
Major Nasur later addressed journalists saying that the money given to Ntensibe and Kiganda by Express fans was actually meant to fund Tanzanian- based exiled Ugandan rebels that were trying to overthrow the government of President Idi Amin, something he said was “a very serious treason offence.”
Kiganda and Ntensibe spent several weeks in Makindye and were only saved by some army officers who loved football like Col. Gabriel, Major Madudu and Lt. Ssebi who felt pity knowing these were mere footballers who simply were being victimised for playing a role in Simba’s earlier defeat.
Fortunately for Kiganda and Ntesibe, Lt. Ssebi was attached to Makindye barracks and he always made sure that they were not tortured much or even killed. On arrival at Makindye, Kiganda and Ntensibe were put in a section of inmates that dealt with carrying dead bodies of recently-executed inmates and at one time carried that one of Archbishop Jonan Luwum.
From jail Kiganda, joined Nsambya as Express had been banned. In the Cranes team, he had a good partnership with Moses Nsereko in midfield.
- Played for Express, Nsambya, Nakivubo Boys and Masaka Union among other clubs.
- Won the league with Express in 1975 during the era of Robert Kiberu.
- Won the Uganda Cup with Nsambya FC in 1978.
-Played in the 1979 Africa Cup Winners Cup with Nsambya FC.
- Played for the national youth team under coach Robert Kiberu.
- Played for the Cranes; winning the Cecafa titles in 1976 and 1977.
- Was part of Cranes side that went to the Afcon of 1976 and 1978.
- Consistently played for the Cranes of 1978 that reached the Afcon final in Ghana.
- Was the only player Cranes coach Peter Okee allowed liberty to move on forward line whenever wished.
When former Cranes coach and manager ‘Mister’ Bidandi Ssali was earlier this year approached and asked to name this all-time KCCA XI he handled for almost two decades he spent at the club, without hesitation he gave position six to Angelo Dotte.
Dotte is one superb player that emerged from the West Nile region and ending up taking Kampala football by storm. Other notable footballing grandsons of the West Nile region that excelled at the sport include Leo Adraa, Joseph Onziga and Nasur (an Alur whom many mistake to be a Nubian) and Robert Aloro. Dotte joined KCCA from Coffee around 1973.
Coffee then seemed to be a good hunting ground where most giant clubs like KCCA, Simba and Express used to go for good players. He was well-known for possessing a powerful left foot that used to cause havoc to opposing teams.
At KCCA, he joined young but energetic players like Jimmy Kirunda, Nsereko, Omondi, Apollo Lumu, Yusuf Toyoa, Lwanga,, Sam Musenze, and Chris Ddungu,
When KCCA was promoted to the top league, in 1974, Dotte continued doing wonders in midfield. In 1976, when the team won its first league championship, he was one of the few players that featured in almost all 22 matches. His good performance earned him a call to the national youth team where he found others like Nasur.
Lwanga compares Dotte to Kulabigwo and Kiganda saying one thing all the three had in common was being very hardworking on the pitch.
“At KCCA, Dotte paired with Nsereko and Omondi to form a very formidable midfield one of the best not only in Uganda but in the whole of East Africa. Dotte used brains while manning the midfield and whenever he was missing the line-up, everyone noticed,”Lwanga argues. Nsubuga thinks two things prevented Dotte from playing for the Cranes even though he was summoned to the squad.
He says Dotte had a recurring injury that could not allow him to be effective or play better than what Ugandans saw of him. Secondly, during his time the Cranes team had a permanent excellent number six whom no one could dare challenge.
This of course being Kulabigwo. Nsubuga credits Dotte for being one of the few players of the time that took both football and their jobs seriously. “Dotte would always be present in his office at City Hall during working hours,” Nsubuga said. Dotte died in 2008 and was part of the KCCA team that in 1978 won the Cecafa title when Uganda hosted the event.
- Played for Coffee FC and KCCA.
- Part of the KCCA side that in 1974 won promotion to the top league.
- Part of KCCA side that were league runners to Express in 1974 and 1975.
- Was in KCCA team that won National League in 1976.
- Mister Jaberi Bidandi Ssali recently named him the best No. 6 he has ever coached at KCCA FC.
- He played for the Uganda youth team and was also once summoned to the Cranes team.
- He took both football and work at KCCA (town Hall) so seriously.