It is not a given that siblings have to be very close. In fact, sometimes people take long to know about certain relations because of not being close.
But that was not the case with Paul Hasule (RIP) and Geoffrey Higenyi, the brothers that dominated Ugandan football with SC Villa and the Uganda Cranes.
Born to be together
There is no doubt Hasule was the most popular. His talent, agility, physique and leadership skills wowed opponents and teammates alike. Despite being more talented than Higenyi, his young brother, there was always something they shared in common a close relationship. According to Higenyi, theirs was much more than a blood relationship. Hasule played the protector’s role always had his hand around Higenyi’s shoulder which at one time became an issue of contention in their family.
“We were very close and our parents got worried that one could not survive without the other. They decided to take Hasule to Tororo College while I went to Rock High School. That was the first time to live apart,” recalls Higenyi.
Even with the distance, they would always meet and catch up on lost times. At St Peter’s College Tororo, Hasule was straightaway nominated the school team captain. Now with power in his hands, he used to organise friendly matches against Higenyi’s school in order to meet.
Friendly as the matches should have been, opponents will always be opponents. It was during one of those matches that the pair first came into confrontation. “Our team was stronger than theirs and we usually won. By the way, my brother was competitive from way back when we were children. He was always irked whenever they lost. His teammates would also taunt him for losing to his young brother,” adds Higenyi.
One day, Hasule was playing as a striker and scored the opening goal of the match. Led by Higenyi on the left wing, Rock High School piled pressure on the opponents’ goalkeeper. Hasule, the captain and star striker could not just look on.
He decided to assume goalkeeping duties. No sooner had he entered goal than he conceded two goals. At fulltime, Higenyi went to console his big brother but the latter just walked away.
“He just looked at me and walked away. Instead of his teammates consoling him, they were instead mocking him about the loss. I just let him be. After a few days, he sent a handwritten apology.”
The two brothers’ quest for footballing glory always pushed them to achieve their goals. After joining Mbale Heroes in the late 1970s, the pair became its source of inspiration. But when the team was relegated in 1981, Hasule moved on to Makerere University for further studies while Higenyi joined Nytil FC. SC Villa officials were trailing the two brothers because they had tormented them in the super mini-league in 1979.
With Hasule in Kampala, Villa pried him. However, as a striker, he failed to stamp his authority and it was on the aice of Jimmy Kirunda that he shifted to defence. Together with Kirunda, they formed an impenetrable defensive combination in the league, winning the 1982 league unbeaten.
“Naturally, I think Hasule was a defender. Yes, you can go upfront and score goals, but if you are not a natural forward, things are bound to backfire. Granted, he had the brains and instincts, but he was not a natural forward. As a defender, he was every coach’s best,” says Barnabas Mwesiga, former Uganda Cranes coach.
After shipping in Hasule, the Villa officials embarked on the mission to reunite him with Higenyi. They kept pressing Hasule to convince his brother.
In 1983, Hasule relented to the pressure and brought Higenyi to Villa Park. Express FC, led by ardent fan Rebecca ‘Mama Baker’ Kazibwe (RIP), was also planning a coup. Their friendship was now destined for higher heights.
“At first, I was young and nervous. Villa had almost all the stars in the country. I had only heard about them on radio and now there I was, to play with them. It was surreal but I was ready to hit the ground running,” Higenyi reminisces.
On his first day, however, things turned out differently. Some “senior” players gave him a cold shoulder. He says, that could have been because he was Hasule’s brother, and they were jealousy of brothers being on the same team.
“I just went under his wing. I needed someone to comfort me. Even the training methods were new. It was a terrible day for me. My brother told me to be strong. On my second, day, we played an 11-aside match and I did well. I created two goals and everyone was impressed,” adds Higenyi.
However, if Higenyi thought he was “in things”, he was wrong. There was a baptism of fire awaiting him. He recalls an incident that almost caused a fight between Hasule and “senior” Kirunda. During the Cecafa Club Championship in Zanzibar, Villa faced Kenya’s Gor Mahia.
As the teams were heading into the tunnel at halftime, Kirunda lashed out at Higenyi “Ggwe mulenzi, oba tomanyi by’ozannya tokomawo mu kisaawe.” (Young man, do not come back for the second half if you do not know how to play).”
Straightaway, Higenyi ran to Hasule, who fiercely confronted Kirunda to calm the situation. Higenyi came back for the second half. Hasule and Higenyi always looked out for each other, which sometimes confused everyone around them. Theirs indeed was a tight brotherhood.
“They were always together. I have seen many footballing siblings, but most are not even friends. There must have been something about them. Higenyi was at times arrogant and some of us also feared him. It was only his brother that could make him keep quiet. Theirs was beyond brotherhood,” says Sula Kato, a former Cranes and Villa teammate.
In 1988, Villa faced Express. Hasule had been diagnosed with typhoid and was left out of the original match day squad, which gave Express hope.
“Everybody appealed to him to play. They assured him that Villa needed him just as a scarecrow but he refused. They turned to me to convince him. I went up to him and said: ‘this game is a matter of life and death and I am your brother. I am ready to carry your body back home or die with you on the pitch’. He accepted and when he led us out of the tunnel, Express’ hopes were deflated.” Villa won the game 3-1, with Higenyi scoring a thunderbolt from 35 yards.
Made in Kuwait!
In the Cranes, the duo kept their understanding. Up to now, football fans still talk about that goal that Hasule scored against Iraq in the 1989 Kuwait Peace Games finals. With time running out, Sula Kato’s corner kick was rebounded. Higenyi, known for his shooting firepower, was well positioned outside the box. All eyes were on him.
“If I had hit the ball, I am sure it was going to tear the net. But when I prepared to smash it in, my brother was closing in, just behind me. He shouted: ‘musajja guveemu nzijja’ (leave it, I am coming). I put myself in a shooting position but intentionally missed the ball. He just smashed it in. All that happened in flash of a second. In Uganda, those who were lucky to see that goal still talk about it. TV stations in the Middle East replayed it for more than two decades,” he says.
Unfortunately, Uganda lost in the shootouts.
Forming the ‘Big 6’
A number of players from different clubs admired the brothers’ friendship and tried to replicate it. “One time, Sula Kato approached us. He had some problems with his big brother, Moses Ndawula of Express. Kato had always admired us and wished that he and Ndawula were as close,” Higenyi says.
So, Hasule and Higenyi met Kato and Ndawula and talked out issues. In the end, they all left laughing. Shortly after, Hasule and Higenyi became counsellors of sorts. The duo, together with Kato (Villa), Fred Mugisha, Yusuf Ssonko (KCC) and Ndawula (Express) formed a group known as the ‘Big 6’ and they could meet every Sunday to talk about different issues. That came at a time when having a friend in a rival club would raise eyebrows.
Till death do us part
Hasule’s death in April 2004 brought out the biblical till death do us part to their relationship. All along, Higenyi was active and jovial, but when I mentioned his brother’s death, everything about him changed. He became uncomfortable.
“It reminds me of everything. One time Mama Baker warned us against being together all the time. She reasoned that if there was an accident, there were chances of us both dying because we were inseparable. To avoid such, she aised us to give each other some space,” recalls Higenyi.
Higenyi talks about his brother’s death with anguish. His voice breaks down and he gets tongue-tied. It was the lowest moment of his life, he says.
“It has never been easy facing the world on my own since his death,” he adds.
Hasule remains one of Uganda’s most successful players with eight league titles, four Uganda Cups, one Cecafa Club Championship, and two Cecafa Senior Challenge Championships. He captained Uganda for four years and Villa for eight years. His coaching tenure gave him four league titles and two Uganda Cups.
Higenyi’s Cranes career amassed a Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup trophy. With Villa, he won seven league titles, four Uganda Cups, and one Cecafa Club Championship. He is now on Lweza FC’s coaching committee.
Next week: Read about former Uganda Bombers captain Charles Lubulwa and his brothers, Fred Muteweta and Robert Lukanga, who were all boxers of the national team.
SOURCE: DAILY MONITOR