Omondi, Ayiekoh and Kisitu: Uganda’s historic superstars

Sunday November 29 2020
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Golden Boy. Omondi dazzles past Ghana’s midfielders during the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations final. Uganda unfortunately lost to the hosts 2-0 in Accra. On the left is Omondi posing with the Top Scorer’s accolade. PHOTOS/ COURTESY

By Robert Mugagga

Phillip Omondi

There is a big number of Ugandans that point to the late Omondi,  a player that could fit and star well in any position on the pitch from number six to eleven as one of Uganda’s best footballers if not the very best.

Omondi was indeed a unique player such that one of the most difficult tasks for Ugandan sports scribes has for long been the best way to describe his playing style. 

Many fans and sports scribes that watched him in action give different descriptions of this nation’s football enigma. Veteran sports journalist Douglas Nsubuga who worked for national newspapers; Voice of Uganda, Weekly Topic and  Soccer World  Magazine, for instance, says that Phillip Omondi, the pride of KCCA FC is Ugandan best ball player ever.

Nsubuga’s description of Omondi is like a film script. “Omondi treated the ball like his girlfriend. He would head it, kiss it, chest it, thigh it, name it... He was always a joy to watch and simply a blessing to Ugandan football.” 

Nsubuga recalls one moment during the eighties when Fifa referee Israel Kintu blew the whistle when Omondi was in the box and set to score.

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Omondi shouted: “What ref?” Kintu answered: “Handball,” Omondi shouted back: “No, it is chest control.” 

After the match, Kintu apologized to Omondi in front of journalists. Nsubuga remembers a day in 1977 when Voice of Uganda newspaper published a big headline:  “Omondi to stage comeback today.” 

That was a league games involving KCCA and Gangama United which attracted a huge crowd and Omondi didn’t disappoint scoring a brace in a 5-1 rout.

Omondi had been sidelined for months having sustained a serious injury in Kasese during the match against Kilembe Mines FC. The late Samson Kaaya, who in 1973 scored the goal that brought KCCA to the super division league, was once quoted saying, “when the team was looking for a goal, Omondi’s eyes would turn red and his teammates would stay away from him whenever he possessed the ball for fear of spoiling his efforts.”   

Omondi was born in Tororo, eastern Uganda in 1957 to Kenyan parents who later shifted to Kampala and resided at Naguru Housing estate when the future footballer was still putting on diapers.

This is one reason why up to this day many Kenyans still claim him as having belonged to the other side of the border before Uganda stole him.  

Contrary to what most fans think, Omondi’s favourite childhood sport was not football but boxing. On his way from boxing, the young boy used to pass by the training ground of KCCA which was also located at Lugogo.

He started at FIAT FC, the club that also nurtured other former Cranes stars like late Sam Musenze and Tom Lwanga. He later crossed over to KCCA obviously because the club’s training grounds of Lugogo would save him transport as it was a stone’s throw away from his Naguru home.

Omondi joined KCCA in 1972 and was traditionally a midfielder. At the time, the club was being managed by Jaberi Bidandi Ssali and consisted of skilful young players like Moses Nsereko, Jimmy Kirunda, Moses Ssentamu, Yusuf Toyota, Billy Kizito, Musenze, Angelo Dotte. Ibrahim Magala, William Mindrea, Tom Lwanga and William Kityo.

In 1974 Omondi was part of the KCCA team that gained promotion to the top league and later making history by finishing second to champions Express FC which beat them to the title by just a point.

It was during the sixth match against Coffee that he was for the first time switched from midfield to the forward line. In the next games against Kilembe, Omondi crashed into the opposing custodian, one Kikomeko, seriously injuring his spleen.

Two surgeries followed at Mulago but that didn’t help. The government flew Omondi to the UK for further attention. He recovered fully.

In 1983, during the Africa Cup Winners Cup, second round return leg match against Arab Contractors of Egypt he scored a great second goal which was a sole run from the right flank that left a number of Arab defenders on the ground shaking their heads in amazement. 

In 1978 he was part of the KCCA side that became the first Ugandan side to clinch the regional Cecafa clubs’ title by overcoming Simba of Tanzania.

After that, he went to the UAE and signed for Sharjah, returning in 182 to re-join KCCA. The second spell didn’t last long as he turned to coaching with Bank Bank of Uganda FC.

There was an incident that defined his off pitch antics as told by the late Jimmy Kirunda. On the eve of a game against Maroons (then Prisons), KCCA’s toughest opposition then, Bidandi Ssali begged players to stay indoors.

He escored Omondi home. Once there, he picked a taxi and went on drinking spree before showing up the next morning with a stench of local gin, and a swollen eye following a fight. A suspension was swift but others pleaded for him to play.

KCCA won the match 3-1 with Omondi scoring two goals. For Uganda Cranes, it’s the late David Otti who spotted him in 1973. He would later become instrumental in taking Cranes to the 1978 Nations Cup final, losing 2-0 to Ghana.

Omondi finished joint top scorer with Opoku Afriye of Ghana and Segun Odegbami of Nigeriaon three goals. There were countless brilliant goals in his career. Such was Omondi whom many footballers across Africa admired.

During a past interview, Abedi Pele, arguably Ghana’s best footballer of all time, said he was 14 when he first saw Omondi in action during the 1978 Afcon and was inspired to play like him. He died in 1999.

Omondi fact file (Achievements) 

  • Played for FIAT FC, KCCA, Sharjah (UAE) 
  • Part of the Cranes team that won the 1976 and 1977 Cecafa titles.
  • He won the league with KCCA in 1976, 1977 and 1983. 
  • Won the Uganda Cup with KCCA in 1979.
  • Won the 1978 Cecafa title with KCCA in 1978.
  • He played semi-professional soccer with Sharjah of UAE .
  • He was part of the 1978 Afcon Cranes team that reached the final.
  • With three goals, he was joint top scorer at the 1978 Afcon in Ghana.
  • He was appointed Bank of Uganda FC coach in 1984.
  • In 1987, he went to Germany for a grade B- Licence coaching course.
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Star-Studded. Omondi (3rd R) and Kisitu (4th R) were in the famous Cranes XI that started against Ghana in the Afcon final of 1978. PHOTO/ COURTESY

Godfrey Kisitu
Let’s first refresh our mind with a simple question: Can you name any three Ugandan teams rated among the very best to have come out of Uganda football? 

Possible answers could be: 1. The Simba FC team of 1972 that became the first East African side to reach a continental final 2. The Uganda Cranes team that went on to reach the 1978 Afcon final in Ghana. 3. The SC Villa team that in 1982 won the league unbeaten.

There is only one player that prominently featured for all those mentioned three teams, this being Godfrey Kisitu. 

He was one of the very few players in Ugandan footballing history that could play in almost all positions on the pitch apart from the goal.

Headed goals were his trademark and if teams wanted to prevent him from scoring they would avoid conceding corner kicks or free kicks.  

During his career, Kisitu scored so many important goals both at club and national level. For starters his name is one that Nigerians would like to wipe out of their minds for good.

In 1981 after being released from Luzira maximum prison where many footballers attached to military teams were jailed after the fall of Idi Amin’s government, Kisitu was summoned to the Cranes team that went to Nigeria for a friendly match to commemorate the country’s independence celebrations. 

Kisitu’s goal helped Uganda beat Nigeria 1-0 to end the West African 11 years unbeaten run at Lagos’ Surulere stadium. 

In 1972, Kisitu scored a winning goal that enabled Simba beat Hearts Of oak of Ghana in the semi-finals to romp into the African Cup of Champion clubs (Caf Champions League) finals where they lost to Hafia Conakry of Guinea.  

While featuring for the Cranes during the 1976 CECAFA tournament in Zanzibar, Kisitu scored the two goals that sunk Malawi in the semi-finals for Uganda to go through to the final where they defeated Zambia.

And has anyone forgotten Kisitu’s goal he scored as a ‘mercenary’ helping Nsambya to beat UCB in the 1978 Uganda Cup final?

At the time, rules allowed players belonging to clubs that didn’t register for the tournament to feature for clubs of their choice.

Besides, Kisitu indirectly helped KCCA win the 1976 Ugandan league by scoring a goal that helped Simba beat their rivals Express in one of the last league matches that paved the way for KCCA. 

That season KCCA piped Express to the title by just a point. Kisitu was born in a sporting family where his father Erinayo Ssebaggala is said to have played for the Cranes while his elder brother Wilson Nsobya too played for Express and the national team. 

Kisitu was one player that boasted of every ingredient required to make a perfect midfielder with balance for defence and attack. For instance, in the 1978 league which was won by Simba, Kisitu was the club’s top scorer and yet he was just a midfielder.  

A beginner as Nakivubo Boys, Express’ feeder team, be briefly went to Express in 1969 and later Bell FC.  

His breakthrough came in 1971 when army side Simba signed him during his teenage years. From 1972 to 1979, a period of seven years Kisitu played in almost all Simba matches winning whatever was there to be won.

He was part and parcel of the great Simba side of the early seventies that terrorized local and foreign clubs with other stars like Patrick Natan (goalie), Abdu Kiggundu, Joseph Onziga, Ahmed Doka, Ayub, Francis Kulabigwo, John Dibya, Ouma, Swalleh Wasswa and Nteeba Mbalasasa. 

After the 1979 Liberation war, most Simba players joined other clubs with Kisitu opting for SC Villa where he played a pivotal role in the club winning the 1982 league unbeaten. In the national team, his first call up came in 1973 during a tour of Brazil and played in the 1978 Afcon, scoring twice. He retired in 1991 and passed on two years later. 

Kisitu fact-file (Achievements) 

  • He played for Nakivubo Boys, Express, Bell, Simba and SC Villa, Coffee and UEB.
  • With Simba, he reached the 1972 Champions League final. 
  • Won the 1978 Ugandan Premier League with Simba FC. 
  • Won the 1977 Uganda Cup with Simba. 
  • Won the 1982 Uganda League with a 100% record with Villa. 
  • He also won the 1984 and 1986 leagues with SC Villa.
  • He won the 1978 Uganda Cup with Nsambya FC. 
  • Scored 1978 Uganda Cup winner for Nsambya vs UCB.
  • Won the 1976 and 1977 Cecafa titles with the Cranes. 
  • Scored two goals for Cranes vs. Malawi (1976 Cecafa semis).
  • He was part of the 1978 AFCON Cranes team to Ghana.
  • Scored two goals for the Cranes in 1978 Afcon in Ghana.

Timothy Ayiokoh

Ayiekoh was a versatile player. He left behind a rich legacy in Uganda and Kenya for winning all that there was to be won. 

Little wonder that he was once signed by three of the greatest football clubs in East Africa namely; Express, KCCA and Gor Mahia.

His combination with Stanley Mubiru “Tanka” in the Express team and the national team set up a formidable midfield department that used to terrorize teams.


“Ayeikoh had rare shots and long balls that helped us to win so many difficult matches. 

“I will always remember him for his contribution when Uganda beat Zambia to win the 1976 Cecafa Championship. His inclusion played a part in scaring the Zambians who knew him well and he indeed had a great match,” the late Kirunda, former Cranes captain said in 2017. According to former Cranes keeper Paul Ssali, Ayiekoh always brought up good ideas whenever the Cranes faced difficult continental matches.

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East African Hero. Ayiekoh during his stint as Cranes coach. He etched his name into regional soccer’s history for his prowess as a man who could unleash ferocious shots from anywhere outside the 18. He also captained Kenyan side Gor Mahia. PHOTO/FILE

Ayiekoh was born in 1954 to John Njaga and Hellen Anyango of Kisumu in western Kenya. At the age of three, his parents migrated to Uganda and settled in Mengo-Kisenyi from where he attended Nsambya Primary school before completing O-levels in 1970 at Pillais secondary school then located below the former Hotel Equatorial.

The same year, Ayiekoh joined Nakivubo Boys which was then a feeder club to Express. He however failed to break into the Express team due to his diminutive size.

In 1972 Ayiekoh left and joined NIC linking up with fellow youngsters like Ashe Mukasa, Billy Kizito and Mubiru (Tanka). He was invited to the youth team that won the regional title in Kenya.

His performance there forced Express to re-sign him and went all the way to win the 1974 and 1975 league titles with the club. Towards the end of the 1976 season, one of Ayiekoh’s admirers KCCA coach Bidandi Ssali signed and brought him to Lugogo where he played an instrumental role in the team that won the 1977 league.

KCCA would then become the first Uganda club to win the Cecafa clubs’ title with Ayeikoh scoring a hat trick in a 3-0 semifinal win over Luo United.

During the 1979 Liberation war that toppled former president Idi Amin, Ayiekoh fled to Kenya, signing for Gor Mahia where he became captain and led them to several league titles and the 1980 Cecafa title, beating rivals AFC Leopards.  In Kenya, Ayiekoh is still treasured among the best footballers to have played for Gor Mahia.

Ayiekoh joined the national youth team in 1973, graduating to the senior team the following year. Cranes the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in 1976 and 1977.

He was named in the Cranes’ 1978 Afcon team but injury on the eve of the tournament kicked him out. In April 1985, Ayiekoh returned to Uganda from Kenya with SC Villa appointing him assistant coach to Polly Ouma.

The two helped SC Villa win the league and cup double. In 1987 they added on the CECAFA clubs title beating Al Merreikh of Sudan in the final.  

In 1988 when SC Villa recruited British-born coach Geoff Hudson, Ayiekoh was appointed his assistant and helped propel the club to the 1991 Caf Champions League final losing to Club Africain of Tunisia.

In 1992 when Hudson left, Ayiekoh was appointed full coach and guided SC Villa to the 1992 inaugural Caf Cup final losing to Shooting Stars of Nigeria.

Ayiekoh’s coaching career also saw him handle the Cranes team, first as assistant to Polly Ouma between 1989-1995 when the Cranes won three Cecafa titles. When Polly Ouma quit in 1995, Ayiekoh was made Cranes head coach. He died in 2017.

Ayiekoh fact-file (Achievements) 

  • Played for Nakivubo Boys, NIC, Express, KCCA and Gor Mahia of Kenya.
  • Won the league with Express in 1974 and 1975.
  • League winner with KCCA in 1977.
  • Won the Uganda Cup with KCCA in 1979.
  • Won the 1978 Cecafa title with KCCA.
  • Won the 1979 Kenyan League with Gor Mahia.
  • Was in the Gor Mahia team that reached the 1979 Africa Cup winners Cup final but lost to Canon.
  • Captained Gor Mahia of Kenya to the 1980 CECAFA title in Malawi.
  • Appointed Gor Mahia assistant coach in 1984.
  • SC Villa assistant coach between 1986 to 1991.
  • He was SC Villa assistant coach when the club won the league and Cup double in 1986.
  • Was assistant coach to Polly Ouma when SC Villa won 1987 Cecafa title.
  • Coached SC Villa to the 1992 league and 1992 African CAF Cup final.
  • Was Cranes assistant coach between 1989 and 1995 when team won three Cecafa titles.
  • He  was appointed Cranes head coach in 1995
  • He went to Germany in 1987 and earned a grade B-coaching licence. 

Speak Out; by Innocent Ndawula

Tom Lwanga (Cranes Legend)

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Tom Lwanga (Cranes Legend). PHOTO/NMG.

Ayiekoh was older and first to play for Cranes amongst the three. He had the most powerful shot outside the 18 and scored goals like those of  Frank Lampard.

Kisitu could run box to box and had enviable stamina. Omondi was the best ever. An all-rounder. He could dribble someone with even his chest.

John Mutenda  (KCCA fan)
Ayiekoh was a net burster. Kisitu was a hustler and his goals weren’t the most beautiful.

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John Mutenda, KCCA fan (In KCCA FC yellow shirt) PHOTO/NMG.

Omondi came from boxing and he was a super talent. He could move with flamboyance and could pull off the most unimaginable of dummies. A natural dribbler and ball weaver. He was easily the best of his generation.

Paul Ssali (Former Cranes goalkeeper)
Kisitu’s an ingrain scorer with the head and was a penalty specialist. He rarely missed them. Omondi and Kisitu made a good combination in Afcon. Kisitu could pick his man anytime.

Ayiekoh was a marauding midfielder and could move forward. Ayiekoh scored two goals against Gor Mahia from outside the box that are still memorable. Omondi is simply my best.

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Paul Ssali (Former Cranes goalkeeper). PHOTO/NMG.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com
 

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