Good Friday afternoon happened to find me at a burial in Nalusugga, along Gayaza road. While there, I bumped into Kennedy Lubogo.
It was more than a decade since we last met but little had changed of the gangly figure I knew from the eighties and nineties. He may not be a household name in Ugandan sport but for anyone well-versed with Ugandan football in the late 1980s and 1990s, Lubogo was one of the most divisive figures.
When he turned up at Express FC in 1987 right from little-known Kakomo FC, many club officials were quick to dismiss him even before he kicked a ball. He looked lean many argued that a six-footer wouldn’t cut the grade of an Express left-back.
At the time, winning a place in the Express first team was perhaps harder that getting a national team call-up because the Red Eagles, along with Villa and KCC, formed the bulk of The Cranes. In other words, the mere being a starter for the Red Eagles was almost a guarantee to be in The Cranes squad.
Ordinarily, such a lanky player would naturally play any other position apart from full back, which ordinarily suits short and agile players. In any case, Express had built its backline around ruthless and battle-hardened individuals such as Godfrey ‘Ifa’ Nyola, Isaac ‘Iron man’ Nkaada and Godfrey Mukasa, yet, Lubogo was not a hard tackler.
However, what helped Lubogo defy critics was the fact that coach Robert Kiberu, who had just taken over the reins, believed in young players and preferred to alter the approach with cool heads at the back.
FINE BREAKTHROUGH SEASON
Centre half Chris Kasasa was the only calm figure in defence and, besides, the Red Eagles did not have an established player for the position, with Mukasa and Chris Ariko swapping starting places. At just 20 years, he was tipped to be a future star but as fate would have it, that futurity arrived after just five rounds into the season when Mukasa picked up an injury against Uganda Airlines FC.
Kiberu didn’t hesitate to send on Lubogo, who made an instant impression. It was hard to envisage that Lubogo would make the position his but he did just that. Even when Mukasa returned after a short while, Lubogo maintained his starting role. Express didn’t win any silverware that season but as an individual triumph, Lubogo made it to the season’s best XI.
Lubogo’s biggest asset was crossing and he made several assists. His set-piece delivery was impressive too. These attributes at such a young age were supposed to be the springboard to become a mainstay at the club and national team. In fact, he was undoubtedly one of the top players in the league and comparisons with the legendary Ashe Mukasa seemed credible.
However, his national team progress remained blocked by Geoffrey Higenyi and Charles Katumba (SC Villa), Richard Mugalu (Coffee) as well as Charles Masiko (KCC). Granted, many predicted it was just a matter of time before he takes the slot.
Going into the league game against Villa on April 2, 1988, Express was the sole unbeaten side in the league after ten rounds, having dropped just one point. Villa, meanwhile, had already lost to KCC.
So, this clash was a watershed moment for both teams. An Express win would not only nullify the biggest threat, it would steer them clear of the chasing pack. On the other hand, Villa badly needed the three points to uplift the morale at Villa Park as well as leapfrog the leaders.
The tense game started with both teams cautious. With the game set for a barren draw, Lubogo threw caution to the wind midway through the second half when he attempted a surge into the Villa half. However, disaster struck when Villa’s Ronnie Vubya won possession and raced clean through to goal before beating a hapless John Tebusweke.
Kiberu immediately replaced Lubogo with Edward Nakibinge and when Vubya’s strike proved to be the winner, some members of the Express executive took the defeat so bitter that they accused Lubogo of throwing away the game. Some accused him of match-fixing to force a move to Villa and, at the instigation of fans, Kiberu didn’t field Lubogo again for the rest of the season.
Lubogo as he looks today
Not that the Lubogo exclusion could stop Villa’s dominance the Red Eagles failed to win anything and twice lost by bigger margins to Villa in the league second round as well as the Uganda Cup final. In this period, Lubogo was alienated, his career in tatters and his confidence completely deflated. He bounced back in 1989 during Express’ Africa Club Championship campaign.
He excelled as they dumped out Swaziland’s Mbabane Islanders but disaster came back to haunt him the second round tie against Zimbabwe’s Saints. The Ugandans had won the first leg 1-0 in Harare and needed a draw of any kind to proceed to the quarterfinal. All went to plan until just four minutes to time when Saints’ George Ayubu beat Express’ offside trap but before he could shoot at Express’ goal, Lubogo fouled him for a penalty.
Some fans openly called him a traitor but luckily, Ayubu shot wide. A minute later, the Zimbabwean striker scored to level the scores. In stoppage time, Express was awarded a penalty but Kateregga also shot wide and the match went into penalties.
During the shoot-out, unlucky Lubogo missed his spot-kick, along with Moses Ndaula as Express bowed out. In all, Lubogo left Nakivubo as the biggest villain and his place was taken over by Angello Mukasa in subsequent games.
Even after the sudden death of coach Kiberu in March 1990, Lubogo was rarely fielded.
LAST DAYS AT EXPRESS
When David Otti took over the reins in May 1990, he accomodated Lubogo in holding midfield position to fill the void left by Paul Nkata, who had joined SC Villa. However, the arrival of youthful Richard Kirumira meant that Lubogo was confined in the midfield, leaving the left back to the budding youngster.
Interestingly, he settled in well and was ever-present in Express’ side which won back-to-back Uganda Cup titles (1991 and 1992) and was also part of the victorious team which recaptured the 1993 league title after 18 years. In the meantime, he flourished in the Bika By’Abaganda tournament, winning the shield with his Mamba clan in 1989 and 1994.
EXPRESS FC IN 1993: Back row L-R are Kassim Buyondo (manager), Robert Tushabe, George Ssimwogerere, Isaac Nkaada, Lubogo, Robert Aloro, Phillip Obwin, Simon Kyobe, Issa Sekatawa, Chris Kalama. Front is Joseph Mutyaba, Beston Maseruka, Richard Kirumira, Davis Odowa, Herbert Kamya and Jackson Nyiima
In August 1994, the club executive had it rough with team manager Kassim Buyondo, who accused his bosses of poor player motivation. Not surprisingly, Buyondo biggest ally happened to be Lubogo.
The club executive moved fast and dropped Lubogo. He moved to Entebbe Works FC in 1995, where he was named captain. Two seasons later, a knee injury forced him to retire at just 30.
He embarked on a coaching role, handling Mamba clan and Kansanga FC. In 2002, he returned to Express as assistant to British tactician Eddie May and later moved to Nsambya FC.
Afterwards, he quit football management and concentrated on his company known as Engravers World, based at City House, William street.
Born Kennedy Mutatwala Lubogo in 1967 to John Baptist Lubogo and Emirina Nanziri of Kyebando.
Studied at Namilyango Junior School and Old Kampala SS.
Played for Kakomo FC (Gomba), Express FC and Entebbe Works FC.
Won one league title and two Uganda Cup crowns with Express.
Captained Mamba Clan to the 1994 Bika By’Abaganda Shield and was also coach when Mamba reclaimed the title in 2003.
His father was a defender and played for Coffee FC and The Cranes while his sister Gorrette Balyana Lubogo played for KAVC and the national volleyball team.
The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.
Source : The Observer