Mawejje bids adieu

National Duty. Mawejje (4th Left) lines up with the Cranes before the 2015 Afcon qualifier against Ghana at Namboole Stadium.   Photos/John Batanudde  

What you need to know:

On Wednesday, Tony Mawejje captained a select team of former Cranes Internationals in the first of two testimonial games in his honour, having hung up his boots last season.  The down to earth player talks to Sunday Monitor’s Denis Bbosa  about the trials and tribulations he has had to encounter in the 19 seasons he has weathered as a player, sparring time to offer refreshing tips to upcoming players and giving an insight about the proposed midfielders’ academy he intends to establish and why he thinks it is the tonic boost Ugandan football needs at the moment.

There many footballing moments retiring box to box midfielder Tony Mawejje will savour and will never forget. Few will forget his last league outing at St Mary’s Stadium-Kitende on May 21 in a lopsided 5-0 lose for Police - vaselined by an emotional standing ovation across the fans divide. What about that memorable Afcon appearance in Gabon after a 39-year thirst for Uganda Cranes. And of course joining the exclusive list that includes Nistrelooy Kizito and Ibrahim Sekagya  to have played in the Europa League with his Norwegian side. 
It has been a roller-coaster ride  for a village boy who cut short his education path to earn a living chasing the onion bag. Last Wednesday and Friday,  Mawejje said his emotional goodbyes to the adoring fans that first set their eyes on him in 2003 with the emotional felt testimonials at Lugogo and Masaka when his 2017 Afcon Uganda Cranes team took on the current Cranes side coached by Micho Sredojevic. 
On Wednesday, Mawejje captained a decent team dotted with notable names like Denis Onyango, Dennis Iguma, Hassan Wasswa, Godfrey Walusimbi,Isaac Isinde,Yunus Sentamu,Emma Okwi, Joseph Ochaya and Paul Mucureezi. He still had the Midas touch, awareness, vision and gusto that many will always miss.

Tony Mawejje


 
Were you born into a footballing family?

Mawejje; I would say so. My late dad (Charles Dumba) played football in the lower tiers in Greater Masaka and my elder brother Gilver Ssemuwemba was a relatively good player at school level.
Born in Kijjabwemi-Masaka, Ssemuwemba introduced me to the love of my life - football - as we listened to football commentary together over his radio set. I would escort him to training and my lovely mum Jane Nassolo didn’t object.
I come from a family of over 12 siblings and my family at a certain point lacked school fees in my Senior Two class at Kako SS. As luck would have it, Masaka SS welcomed me instantly with a bursary that took me up to Senior Six. I’m forever indebted to that school and the entire community.

 At what stage did you realise that football was your calling?

Mawejje; Towards the end of my Primary education, youth coach Peter  Sserubogo told me to take the game more seriously because I had something special. He taught me the basics of controlling the ball in tight spaces, passing at long and short range and also practicing hard shooting. My versatility was hard to ignore right from the start because I started out as a centre-back, shifted to the wings and ended up as a box to box midfielder.
Soon I was invited to train with a newly formed Masaka LC that had joined the topflight league under coach-player George Ssimwogerere and with Vincent Ssempijja (then Masaka LC chairman, later Kalungu MP and now Minister of Defence). I was in Senior Five and treated as a ‘kid’ by management but Ssimwogerere did his best to get me a licence and play the last half of the season in the 2002-2003 season. As they say, the rest is history.

Mawejje takes on Angola defender Antonio Cassule during a  2014 World Cup Qualifier at Namboole Stadium in 2013. 

Some SC Villa fans say they will never forgive you for betraying their trust and joining arch-rivals KCC (then) back in 2004.


It was a tricky situation that I could not be faulted for that back in 2004. True Villa officials approached me first with a  lucrative offer and were assured by Ssempijja, a staunch Jogoo fan, that I could be theirs at the end of the season.Just as they left, then KCC coach Mike Mutebi, manager Badru Kigwe and board member Ahmed Juma Midi, arrived with an irresistible offer.
Mutebi warned me about the stiff slots competition that I would find at Villa Park (they still had  experienced  players like Morley Byekwaso, Edgar Watson and Hakim Magumba under current Cranes coach Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic) and promised me a starting berth in his team. Villa returned at the end of the season and were shocked to learn that I had penned a deal with KCC. 
They persuaded me with a rented apartment and almost doubled the money purse but my decision was already made.Then again Mutebi had emphasised that I would be banned by league authorities if I signed for two teams at same time.

 You hardly stayed long at KCC, Police and URA, have you always been after who brings the better cash package?

Unfortunately that is the vagaries of life.Successful people always strive for the better and never get contented. I had started well at KCC in Mutebi’s favoured 3-5-2 system playing alongside Asan Bajope and Noah ‘Babadi’ Kasule in the middle until hell broke loose when the coach threw in the towel midway the campaign in 2004 due to financial issues. 
Truth be told, the financial meltdown at Lugogo affected us all and that is why we twice finished third despite leading the table for longer spells. 
Coach Charles Ayeikho plucked me from the Lugogo misery and took me to Police FC who were fresh from winning the 2005 league crown Asuman Lubowa and were preparing for the Cecafa Kagame Cup in Tanzania.
I had been with Police coach (Asuman Lubowa)  at the time at the national team and when he was succeeded by Sam Timbe, he too was familiar to me. I scored the crucial goal against Tanzania’s Moro United in the final that clinched the Police it’s first and only Cecafa title in Dar es Salaam. That performance must have tickled moneybags URA FC to get me at all costs moments later. Under Basena at URA, I played 80 percent of the league matches as the team won the 2009 crown and left for Iceland with a few matches left to the end.


 Did you ever think of ever ending up in Iceland’s extremely cold weather for your first professional stint?

I would say it was fate.Back in 2008, I didn’t know that former Iceland national football team and IBV coach Heimir Hallgrimsonwas on holiday in Uganda on an invitation by Uganda Cranes defender Andy Mwesigwa (also played in Iceland at the time). 
As I played exceedingly well and scored three goals for the national team in the Cecafa Cup triumph at Namboole, he was watching and taking notes.
 At the end of the tournament, he met me and broke the good news that we were to return to Iceland together because he was convinced by my talent and had processed most of the paperwork. 
He had also taken interest in Cranes and Express goalkeeper the late Abel Dhaira with whom we took the plane to Iceland. I took time to adapt to the new environment and culture and also getting into the first team but the coach understood and was patient with me. I would play for two years with the club and then ask for a loan move to Golden Arrows in South Africa to be able to feature for the demanding national team. The Iceland league takes longer breaks due to chilly conditions.  I returned from the South African league after the six months adventure and played for IBV upto 2013 when I got a dream move to Haugesund in Norway.

Do you ever regret that the Norway switch didn’t move according to plan?

That ranks top of my biggest regrets in football. I should have been patient at Haugesund and waited for my time and I should have listened to the pleas of my agent who I always treated with contempt. 
The coach then, Jostein Grindhaug, benched me for six months without getting any playing minutes. I was distraught and felt I should leave. This was at a time when the national team pressure was at its highest and my number was at risk. I secured an immediate escape route with a loan move back to Iceland, and this time with Valur FC.  I entirely hated the Haugesund coach and vowed never to play for his team again.

Mawejje donned the national team jersey 83 times between 2004- 2017. 
 

Playing in the lauded Europa League must have eased the pain.
 It came as a miracle! With bags packed for the Valur move, Grindhaug surprised me with a starting berth and completed the full 90 minutes of the 2014-2015 Europa League match, ostensibly to justify to the management and fans why he always limited me to the bench. Guess what? I put in a commendable shift that left my colleagues, fans and all bewildered and speechless. Regardless, I had to move on and never returned. After Valur, I joined another Iceland team Thottur and shifted to Albanian side Tirana upto 2019 when I joined Al Arab of Kuwait. It was around that time that the Covid19 pandemic started ravaging the globe and the Ugandan lockdown was implemented just right after I had returned to Kampala for a holiday. We kept in touch with the club officials in Kuwait throughout worldwide lockdown but soon called it quits. I had known Police chairman Afande Asan Kasingye since my first spell at Police and also knew club coach Abdallah Mubiru since my KCCA days so when they tabled the offer to return home, I didn’t hesitate for a minute.

Ten years navigating the murky waters of professional football, what candid advice can you give to prospective players habouring the same dream?

First and foremost you must believe in yourself. Let that belief be seen and felt firsthand on the pitch by your employers and club fans. Those clubs weigh your daily contribution in contrast with their home stars and once you are found wanting, the axe falls on you.You must know that you’re no longer in your home surroundings where help is a call away and shouldn’t feel comfortable at all.Avoid spending nights in bars and flirting with women because the same fans you enjoy with will be the same castigating you on match days if you don’t deliver. 
Above all, Ugandan players should know that a player gets his best footballing moment between 20 to 30 years so it should be used profitably to avoid regrets.

How did you even dare decline Bobby’s national team call up back in 2012?

 I set out to give the national team 100 percent every time I put on that coveted jersey and listen to the national anthem. I had spent time in Kampala on holiday and wasn’t training when then coach Bobby Williamson summoned me for Cranes’ engagement with Liberia in Monrovia. I humbly declined his request and politely explained to him. Luckily, he understood although he lost his coaching job after losing the match. 
For 13 years at the national team, all the coaches admired my consistency and leadership and I want to be remembered for that.A national team game comes once in months and you must make every outing count, that has been my dictum. To stay that long at the top like Denis Onyango, Hassan Wasswa and me, current players must keep discipline, get enough rest, train like there is no tomorrow, have a good diet and above all, try to be scandal free else they risk being fodder for negative media.

How can Fufa address events like the Obua fiasco and Egypt Afcon boycott from ever happening again?

I must admit Obua was right to show his dissatisfaction when the Fufa regime then barred him from extending the players’ grievances to President Yoweri Museveni who was set to visit the team camp ahead of the 2011 crucial game against neighbours Kenya. It is not everyday that you get an audience with the President . That rash decision (of terminating Obua from the squad) cost the team Afcon progress because Obua was a special player and lived for the big moments. 
The 2019 players’ hotel boycott at the Egypt Afcon finals is kind of similar. Players craving for a right to ask for their match bonuses and wanting their voices to be heard.It is not indiscipline when we ask for what belongs to us because we don’t play for charity. Now that I have hung up my boots, I’m going to be an advocate for change in general player welfare.

It seems you have invested wisely for your old age and may not need the fundraising drives as witnessed for most of the ex-footballers.
I have accrued tangible and intangible benefits from my expansive career. Apart from the countless beneficial friends worldwide, I have made many business investments that I cannot show in the media. Most of my friends I grew up with in Masaka are now boda Boda riders yet God has helped me live a good and comfortable life.

National Duty. Mawejje (4th Left) lines up with the Cranes before the 2015 Afcon qualifier against Ghana at Namboole Stadium.   Photos/John Batanudde  

How much of the proposed shs200m capital for the TM6 academy do you have now?

I’m still waiting to know how much I get from the two testimonial matches and then embark on the Tony Mawejje 6 (TM6) midfielders academy project proper right away next month. I already have land in Masaka for the academy and hope to spread its wings throughout the country with several branches. 
I’m confident the initial capital of Shs200m will be garnered from friends and well-wishers as well as my savings. My particular interest is with midfielders because I know what it takes to make one. I have foreign coaches that I will invite once we roll off to polish boys from the age of six years to 16 years when we feel they are ready to compete.
All the great midfielders Uganda has had over the years will be at liberty to pass by the academy and share ideas with the young crop of players.
 The midfield is the engine of the game and it saddens me that I’m quitting with few midfielders to point to as my successors. Players like Frank Tumwesigye aka Zagga (Vipers) had the ability to make it to the top but got disillusioned along the way. Marvin Youngman and Bobosi Byaruhanga are still rough diamonds.
We want to produce vibrant midfielders that can match the demands of the modern global game. It is a huge challenge but attainable if we work together as football stakeholders. I want to use the Haugesund and Molde academy templates that have bred top talents yearned for by the european top leagues.
I’m starting my coaching badges soon and see myself as a  Caf Pro licensed coach and a proud supplier of polished midfielders to big clubs in Africa and Europe in the next ten years.

You have kept your family out of the limelight, are they supportive of your noble cause?

My mum is always in touch with what I do and sends blessings. I want my son Tiene Mawejje junior to follow in my footsteps but he is still only four years old. My two daughters Maria Mawejje and Hope Mawejje plus their mum are always by my side through thick and thin.
I spend my free time with family and close knit friends chatting about different topics.

 
 



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