UPL Should Copy Masaza Template

A week ago, I observed two mesmerising contrasts happening in a space of 48 hours.

On Friday September 19, three-time league champions URA FC opened their account in the new Uganda Premier League (UPL) with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Bright Stars Lugazi.

Beyond the result, however, the game’s keenest followers seemed to be the two teams’ technical benches and, looking at the TV footage, the few fans in the stands seemed to be passersby whom the game just happened to find at the right place and at the right time. Fast forward to September 21, Ssingo was due to take on Kyadondo for a place in the final of the Masaza Cup at Kira grounds.

Incidentally, the hassle to reach the venue started all the way from Busega, along the Kampala northern bypass, as a convoy of Ssingo fans’ vehicles formed a queue so long it stalled traffic on the normally-jam-less shortcut. I shudder to imagine the numbers that watched the game.

Admittedly, while the URA game involved national team players such as Robert Ssentongo and Said Kyeyune, I could hardly identify a single player from both Masazas. Having said that, the contrasts in the passion and vigour only served to remind me of the irony that is Ugandan football.

How a Masaza game outsells a top-flight match is beyond logic. But that is what happens when teams make the wrong choices.

Association with fans

There is a high chance that had the URA-Bright Stars game been well-publicised, it could have attracted hordes of fans. After all, the Taxmen’s shift from Mandela national stadium (Namboole) to Lugazi was meant to connect with a fan base. However, publicity is not just about calling upon fans. It is identifying with them.

This is what the URA FC management disregarded when they refurbished the stadium. There is absolutely nothing for the locals of Lugazi to identify with URA FC. The same can also be said of Vipers FC and their Buikwe home base. But unlike these top-flight giants, Masaza teams are structured in order for fans and players to have a sense of belonging.

So, where is Lugazi’s connection with URA FC? There is little to attract fans to root for the club. Back in the 60s when football made a grand entrance into people’s lives, nearly all the leading teams were funded by institutions. The likes of Bitumastic, Prisons, Coffee, Army, Police, and UEB based their fan base on the employees and their immediate relatives and friends.

In that situation, Express FC seized the opportunity to identify with the people in the informal sector, who ironically formed the bulk of football fans. In no time, Express was the darling of the ordinary fans and came to be known as Mukwano gw’Abangi (companion of the majority).

To this day, Express derives its support from the ordinary folk but the club’s diminishing power of mobilisation has rendered it mediocre as far as crowds are concerned. What has Express done to identify with the Wankulukuku faithful?

Power of mobilisation

Interestingly, hitherto little-known Lweza FC has filled up the gap in an astonishing way. You had to be at Wankulukuku stadium on September 20 to understand Lweza’s might. Not only did the Lweza fans fill the stadium in the 0-1 loss to SC Victoria University, they cheered on their team from the first to the last whistle in scenes reminiscent of the 90s top-flight football.

Unlike Express, record champions SC Villa have gone back to the drawing board in a bid to return the club to the top. Villa’s decision to relocate their home ground to Mityana has already paid dividends as far as crowds are concerned. All this has been a result of the massive mobilisation campaign aimed at getting back the ‘lost’ fans to support the club.

Villa has greatly involved the media to launch initiatives such as bottled mineral water and reopening of fans’ branches. Villa needs to engage Mityana locals with projects to identify with and I hope Villa President Ben Misagga lives up to his wish to start a maize-growing project in the area.

That was the norm during Ugandan football heyday when institutional clubs such as Nile, Nytil and Tobacco offered employment to the locals and in turn, they massively supported the clubs. Mityana’s Ssaza grounds is simply the icing on the cake. The logic is very simple why take a game to Nakivubo or Namboole when the club can make a kill at Ssaza grounds?

When it comes to mobilisation, one doesn’t need to look any further than the efforts of Charles Peter Mayiga, the Buganda Katikkiro. In a space of just one year, he has defied odds to fundraise billions of shillings towards the rehabilitation of kingdom antiquities. Mayiga has reinvented the power of mobilisation in a way not seen before because people from all walks of life have contributed towards the cause.

This goodwill is brought about by the sense of belonging to the kingdom. The ‘Mayiga effect’ has trickled down to the Masaza tournament, where mobilisation has had a g effect. For instance, while the likes of Kyadondo, Busiro, Kyaggwe and Buddu are the traditional giants, the real powerhouses are Ssingo, Mawokota and Gomba for the simple fact that the latter trio understands best the power of mobilisation.

While Mawokota and Gomba are the most successful teams in the tournament, Ssingo is an emerging power and this can be manifested in its ability to build a stadium, which, among others, is rented by Villa.

And now that Villa has already sold out their two home games [winning both at the same time], it is only logical for URA and the rest to emulate the Villa strategy and on a wider perspective, replicate the Masaza Cup template of associating with the ordinary fan.

That’s just my food for thought.

The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.

Source : The Observer

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