Tears for the Uganda Cranes

By on July 8, 2019

The first time football ever made me cry was in 1994. That year’s World Cup brought tears to my eyes for several reasons. Yes, the final was a tear-jerking spectacle, especially if you were rooting for the Azzurri but the game that really made me cry like an infant was a group stage game between Nigeria and Italy.

After a poor group stage display by Cameroon and Morocco, all Africa’s hopes lay with the Super Eagles. Their first game of the tournament was a delicious 3-0 mauling of Bulgaria who would eventually go all the way to the Semi-finals. The Super Eagles then went on to lose very narrowly to Diego Maradona’s Argentina 2-1 and then finally thrash Greece 2-0 to show the world that they meant business.

What stood between the Super Eagles and a place in the quarterfinals of the 1994 World Cup was an Italian team that had performed below par, with top marksman Roberto Baggio still to score in the tournament.

Nigeria went ahead to draw first blood and put one foot in the last 8 through an Emmanuel Amunike goal in the 25th minute. Everything was going according to plan, so much that, in the 75th minute, the Italians had Gianfranco Zola sent off. And then, with two minutes left on the clock, the Italians orchestrated a move that ended in one of the most painful goals ever conceded by a team. Roberto Baggio scored his first goal of the tournament to send the game into extra time and right there, in extra time, Baggio scored another – a penalty, that would condemn Nigeria to a painful exit, Africa to silence and a little boy in Bukoto White Flats to tears.

From then on, football tears became part and partial of my life. Sometimes I shed a tear in public, right in front of the TV, other times I walk away, hide from everyone and break down. One would, therefore, assume that after all these years of watching football, and crying, one gets used to the emotional madness and therefore should not cry anymore, what a lie!

Before Uganda Cranes played the first game of Afcon 2019, I was not sure what to expect. I personally did not expect much but surprisingly after all the group stage action was done, we had qualified for the last sixteen without having to pull out calculators, use horoscopes or rely on wizardry.

Quite naturally, when you come up against the continent’s highest-ranked team in Senegal, there is little in the way of genuine hope. Yes, your heart is open to a shock result but deep down you fear for the worst. As a matter of fact, I personally thought we would concede 3 or 4 goals.

Strangely, even after losing 1-0, it was clear that we were no walk over. It was clear that our boys had given it their all and they had done their best except that their best was just not good enough. Sometimes you have to take a step back and admit that you are not as good as your adversary. And that is not where my tears for the Cranes came.

My tears for the Uganda Cranes come after the tournament when all the dust has settled.

In the aftermath of the Cranes’ exit from the tournament, some uncomfortable discussions need to be had. As someone who is planning to watch the Cranes play football for a few more decades, it brings tears to my eyes when any attempt of any Cranes project is treated like it is the last attempt. Countries that succeed on continental and global levels are countries that have people who set plans in motion, fully aware that they may not be alive to see these plans yield results. The sad fact is that most of the thinking around the Uganda Cranes preparation, is short term thinking – and it makes me shed a tear, albeit quietly.

When the Uganda Cranes are not participating in any tournaments, there is a nonchalance that seems to reign supreme, so much that people are unbothered about who is part of the cranes contingent. No corporate company wants to have anything to do with them and very few people will be seen donning their Cranes Jerseys on any day of the week. And then when we have a tournament coming up, there is an urgency that grips the entire nation right from the Top to the very bottom. This urgency is good, it really is. But can it be an urgency that is backed by preparation and planning?

From the day we qualified for the Afcon 2019 to the day we played our first game at the Cairo International Stadium, there were 217 days. We could have done a lot during these 217 days.

First off, how does our national broadcaster UBC fail to show the games claiming ‘funds were not released in time’? Why don’t we cultivate a culture of planning early? Where we not aware that we needed to broadcast this game? Did we have to wait till the last moment to start scampering around looking for the funds? Sources on the inside intimate that the problem is bigger than we see. Apparently, there is a huge debt upwards of 50,000 Euros that is unpaid from previous engagements with CAF. Since I am here to offer solutions and not to condemn anyone, can we start planning to pay off this debt so that by the time the next Afcon comes we are in the clear? Can the money that was (finally) released go towards offsetting that debt as we look for more money to finish off the debt?

Secondly, why does the team have to riot while they are already in camp yet we knew very well that they needed to be paid? Why did we not start planning and perhaps earmarking the money to cater to them? While we lost honorably to Senegal, a part of me feels like the squabbles for money in the camp before the game might have dented our challenge and given our opponents more confidence than they should have had. Can we identify in advance how much the players must be paid, agree on how and when it will be paid and then let the players concentrate on the football? The discussion of greed among players would never arise if there was a system in place which clearly showed how and when the players would be paid?

Now that we have been dumped out of Afcon 2019, can we start planning for the next 2 years, 5 years, 10 years and beyond? Yes, our beloved florist Sébastien Serge Louis Desabre is no longer with us (another discussion that makes me shed tears) but can we start to plan for the future NOW? We can not always be languishing in the bottom quarter of the top 100 in FIFA Rankings as if we can not get better.

Can Ugandans begin to take an interest in this thing called football not just on a continental or global level but on a local level? If every Ugandan supported a local club and watched a few local games a season, we would build a whole lot of confidence in our local structures which would give rise to a more comprehensive national structure.

Many Ugandans only rise up to support Ugandan football when it is Uganda Cranes related but we forget that we can not expect much from our national team if we do not invest in our local clubs. And the investment does not have to be in billions of dollars. Buy the merchandise of a local club you support, wear their jersey every once in a while, go watch them play, give them support offline and online, become an ambassador of your local team wherever you go.

It is not by mistake that the most successful countries in football across the globe are often countries with a rich local club fanbase. Can we start a new chapter of Ugandan football where every Ugandan falls in love with and supports a local team? I can guarantee that if we start to plan for the Uganda Cranes early, embrace our local Clubs and stop languishing in mediocrity, we shall take up our rightful place as one of Africa’s footballing giants.

“Football is the ballet of the masses.” ― Dmitri Shostakovich

a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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Beewol - The Talkative Rocker