Apart from the passionate support from their vocal West Nile base, one of the reasons for Onduparaka’s rise to nationwide prominence was the uniqueness of building their team basing on players from the club’s home area.
Unlike other West Nile region teams that played in the topflight league before them, the Betway-sponsored team stuck with the majority of the team that earned them promotion. This was with a few exceptions that included Akram Kakembo, Ivan Mbowa, Mahad Kisekka, Gerard Lipot and Emmanuel Olinga.
This included winning a protracted war with Vipers over the services of captain Muhammad Shaban, who would later score a second league-best 13 goals.
The striker’s game epitomises everything about the Arua-based club as he received eight bookings, the most in the topflight division, as the league witnessed his fiery and at times reckless character.
Apart from Shaban, the club also brought to the fore exciting left footed winger Livin Kabon as well helping resurrect the careers of attackers Gadaffi “Gadinho” Anguzu and Rashid Agau.
Caesar Okhuti also made a return home in addition to fellow striker Fahad Toko, who returned mid-season after stints with SC Victoria University and SC Villa.
While the club was unable to replicate their Uganda Cup 2015 finals appearance, they managed a respectable fifth place finish in their maiden topflight season.
Coach Livingstone Mbabazi, however, expressed displeasure at the team’s second round performance as the team suffered five of their seven losses in the second round to drop to fifth after finishing third in the first round.
That dip in performance is believed to have persuaded the club hierarchy to alter their approach as seen in the team’s off-season transfer business.
‘‘We are not done yet, we still have areas where we need some characters. It’s not all about getting the players, it’s about getting the right quality“, Mbabazi said after the signing of goalkeeper Nicholas Ssebwato.
The former Bright Stars goalkeeper has been joined by midfielder Rajab Kakooza from Lweza whereas Karim Ndugwa was signed from Sadolin.
Express defender Bob Kasozi was added to Aggrey Kirya and former Jinja Municipal left winger Vianney Ssekajugo while Rashid Okocha joined from Nebbi Central.
The latter, alongside Ezra Bida, are the only players from the West Nile region to have moved to the Betway Greenlight Stadium.
The signings have raised debate among the fans with some believing the club is sacrificing the team’s identity.
“In West Nile, we have good players better than those ones you are talking about. Just call for a trial and you see the quality we have ,” Fiesta Chombe posted on the club’s Facebook page.
“We are concerned. We need home grown players. That’s what drives us to support Onduparaka,” added Gilbert Endriabayo.
Club CEO Anthony Affeti however disagrees. “Onduparaka is not just a team of West Nilers. We do not support tribalistic tendencies. We want to spread the club’s support to other areas because we have fans there,” Affeti explained.
“As you saw last season we are a very young team. We needed experienced players to help build the ones we had, yet we could not get them from West Nile.
“We also had a squad of 22 players last season but only 18 were active and we also needed to increase the squad size,” Affeti told SCORE.
In 2002, angry players and fans took the then Arua United manager Charles Letti to an LC1 court to explain the merger of their club with Mbale-based side Garage FC without their consent.
The club consisting of players including Simon Olema, Sula Lusonda, Zakaria Lubega Fred Kutosi and Ernest Magala was relegated at the end of that season.
Edioffe Hills, another club that originated from Arua did not last more than a season despite bringing a young Okhuti to the fore as they were relegated at the end of the 2008 league campaign.
The same fate was also suffered by Arua Central captained by Gift Ali two years later.
Silly season players signed thus far
Nicholas Ssebwato (Bright Stars)
Rajab Kakooza (Lweza)
Karim Ndugwa (Sadolin)
Rashid Okocha (Nebbi Central)
Bob Kasozi (unattached)
Aggrey Kirya (Saints)