URA FC’s ejection from the Caf Confederation Cup at the hands of Orlando Pirates passed off without much fuss and conspiracy.
Understandably, the Taxmen were clearly punching above their weight. That was the exact opposite in 1995 when Express FC’s elimination at the hands of the same South African side left a sorrowful mood in Kampala.
In February 1995, Express faithful were hit by a bombshell when veteran coach David Otti quit the club and joined archrivals SC Villa. Otti had guided the club to the 1993 league title, a first in 18 years. So, few expected rookie coach Jimmy Muguwa to match, let alone surpass the feats of his predecessor.
However, Muguwa surprised everybody when he won the 1995 league and Uganda Cup titles. That same season, lady luck smiled on the Red Eagles as far as representation on the continent was concerned.
Express had finished as league runners-up to Villa in 1994. But due to Villa’s inability to represent the country following a suspension by Fufa after their failure to honour an away tie against Asec Abidjan in 1993, the Red Eagles were given the nod.
At the time, Express squad was a blend of experience and youthful players such as goalie Abu Kigenyi, skipper George Ssimwogerere, Edward Kalungi, Abdul Nsubuga, Robert Kizito, Fred Tamale, James Kirinya, Richard Kirumira, Phillip Obwin, Andrew Arinaitwe, Davis Odowa, Willy Kyambadde, Zazak Lingaya, Simon Kyobe, Kefa Kisala, William Makumbi and Friday Senyonjo among others.
Indeed, Express stormed the continent in high gear and eased past Djibouti’s Force Nationale de Securite 9-0 aggregate. In the second round, the Ugandans were pitted against Aigle Royale Nkongsamba of Cameroon. Going by the record of West African sides, it looked like a tall order but Express whipped the visitors 3-0 in the first leg at Nakivubo courtesy of goals from Arinaitwe, Tamale and Kyambadde. Their 0-1 loss away didn’t halt their progress.
Lying in wait in the quarterfinal was Zimbabwe’s Dynamos de Mbare. The visitors nicked Express 0-1 in Kampala to send chills among the home fans. However, Express chairman then Vincent Bbale Mugera was confident and predicted victory in the return leg in Harare.
True to his word, Express turned tables against their hosts with Zazak Lingaya scoring in the first minute. Dymanos equalized before the break but Mutyaba scored the winner in the second half to book a spot in the semis.
Hundreds of Express fans stormed Entebbe airport to welcome the team from Harare. Players were lifted shoulder-high amid merrymaking as the normally 30-minute journey to Kampala last well beyond three hours.
PIRATES BREAK UGANDAN HEARTS
The fairytale was well and truly alive. For the first time in the campaign, Express had to play the first leg away from home and travelled to South Africa full of confidence they would reverse any damage in Kampala.
In an era when live telecasts were rare, Ugandans had no option but to glue onto Radio Uganda live broadcast from the FNB stadium. Pirates’ Jerry Sikhosana scored on 52 minutes in what proved to be the only goal of the game but many Ugandans will forever remember the tie as the breakthrough moment of Jamil Kyambadde.
The youngster endlessly dribbled past the opponents in a man-of-the-match performance that set up a mouthwatering decider in Kampala. Once again, Express fans welcomed back their players in big numbers. On the match day, thousands filled Nakivubo stadium to capacity. Ironically, some were rival fans, particularly of SC Villa and KCC, who came out to mock Express.
George Cosmos Adyebo, the then prime minister, was known to have a lucky charm every time he watched a game at Nakivubo. As the chief guest, Adyebo switched the match hype into overdrive when he staked Shs 1m for every Express goal.
Express stormed out of the locker-room with intensity. Arinaitwe, Kirinya and Kyambadde pilled on some early pressure as the visitors looked out of sorts. And when Arinaitwe scored shortly before the break, the stadium went wild as the red and white Express flags covered the stands. The game was now tied 1-1.
Endlessly cheered on by the home crowd, the Red Eagles pushed on for the winner while Pirates hung on. In the dying minutes, however, Pirates won a free-kick that looked harmless given the long distance and narrow angle. Pirates players took time to strategize as Express fans jeered in what they called time-wasting.
That also seemed to work on the psychology of Express players. So, when Pirates defender Mark Fish finally hoisted the ball into the box, Express players quickly moved out, anticipating to catch Pirates players off-side.
Instead, Pirates’ Garvin Lane headed low but somehow the ball awkwardly rebounded off goalie Kigenyi’s body into the net. Express needed two more goals but there was no time even for one.
Even after the final whistle, crestfallen Express players, officials and fans spent more than an hour on the field before leaving the stadium. Many cursed Kigenyi and from then on, he fell out favour and the club replaced him with Congolese import Isa bin Mungu.
The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.
Source : The Observer