One by one Masaka has produced good teams that have competed on the Ugandan stage but none has stayed long enough to leave an inedible mark on the beautiful game.
From Masaka Union in 1986 to Masaka LC which collapsed in 2015, the failure of these teams has left a big hole in the hearts of fans in the region.
For this piece this reporter went around the town and not even the return of SC Villa to Masaka last year has had people find optimism.
“I heard SC Villa would return to Kampala. Then it seems we must let go of supporting football entirely,” Samuel ‘Smart,’ Wasswa, 64, who played Simba in 1971-1979 as a goalkeeper and now resides in Masaka said.
In the village of Gayaza is Joseph Ssentongo, a former player with Masaka Union. The road to his home is flooded with rubbish washed into it. It looks dirty.
Ssentongo, 66, a defender in his heyday, made an immense contribution to the team in the 70s before hanging his boots in the late 80s.
His sons Mike Ssekitoleko (now in South Africa) and Jimmy Ssewankambo picked inspiration from him to play for Masaka LC.
“People used to call me ‘Nanyini Kutomera’ loosely translated as; a lethal header of the ball. My strength at the pitch was my head,” he starts.
He emphasized the multitudes of people who moved long distances on foot to support his team at Masaka Recreation Ground unlike today.
Masaka Union was formed by Masaka Cooperative Union led by Charles Kawunde in 1975. At the time, the major competitions was provided by Villa, Express, KCCA, Coffee, Mbarara United, Lufula, Mbale Heroes, Nile, and Nytil.
In 1982, Masaka Union finished fifth in the league, their best ever. In John Mary Kasozi (director), Roy Katongole (accountant), Isaac Sserwadda (team manager) and Taddeo Kyebambe (secretary), they had a competent team of administrators.
Sula Kato, who went on to play for Villa and Uganda Cranes, was among the stars of that the team. Others included Mike Kiganda, Paul Kasasa, Eddy Ssemwanga and John Ntensibe.
“We even one time shocked SC Villa at their home ground (Nakivubo). We defeated them 4-1 and people went crazy about this,” recollects Ssentongo, an ardent Catholic and church leader at St Lawrence sub-parish, in Gayaza.
In 1985, after the resurgence of political conflicts in the country, the National Resistance Army (NRA) war left the team records burnt down, and eventually collapsed.
“We lost many things as a team and I think the government must intervene,” he emphasized.
The game here died until 1991, according to Masaka District Sports Officer Joseph Lutaaya, who says the resurrection was down to Patrick Kawooya moving Villa to Masaka that year. It was short-lived though.
In 1999, William Byuma, then Masaka sports officer, and Vincent Ssempijja; the district chairman at the time, formed Masaka LC.
Paul ‘Gogolimbo’ Ssali, also former Cranes goalkeeper in 1978 (AFCON), was the first head of MLC FC and in 2000 they earned promotion to the first division. Striker Ismael Kigozi’s late goal in a 2-0 win in play-offs earned Masaka LC promotion at the expense of Elly Kayanja’s Cowadisa.
Among the stars of that side were Ssewankambo, Samuel Mubiru, Kigozi, and Tony Mawejje. Mawejje came from the team’s feeder school Masaka SS but left in 2004 to join KCCA. He has gone on to play for Police and Uganda before his current employers, Albania’s FK Tirana. Ssempijja would later join Parliament and the team declined till its relegation in 2014.
Financial strife led to it being withdrawn entirely in 2015. Peter Ssenkungu, its former publicity secretary and currently the vice president of Villa tells us that the team’s initial success was ignited by Shs1m given by the district monthly. The separation of Masaka into Bukomansimbi, Kalungu, Lyantonde, Ssembabule and Lwengo hastened the collapse of football, according to Stephen Ssemutono, the Fufa delegate.
“The district leadership is no longer interested in football development here,” Ssemutono said. “They are not cooperative at all yet people; coaches, players and team owners need capacity building and technical knowledge of the game through training.”
Ssemutono, 43, is also the owner of Nyendo Vision, a fourth division side. “Talent is not catered for as some players use narcotic drugs especially in Nyendo, and Ssaza trading centers,” he added.
The major survivors from this region today are Fufa Big Leagues sides Synergy FC and Greater Masaka United. The latter’s chances of survival are nearly impossible.
Synergy is under the proprietorship of a UK–born Tim Crow and coach Brian Ssenyondo, also the Big-league Fufa delegate.
In monetary terms, they allocated a budgeted scale of $27,500, approximately Shs100m per season to cater for 35 players.
“We struggle to get the money and the few we get from gate collections cannot help at all,” Ssenyondo revealed. They charge Shs2000-5000 for home games.
Greater Masaka is the brainchild of the current district chairperson Jude Mbabaali who acquired Lweza in October 2017.
Masaka Municipality deputy town clerk Edward Kiwanuka Gwavu wants council, with the support of government, to modernize Masaka Recreation Ground. They have already consulted an Ethiopian firm.
As these efforts are ongoing, area MP Mathias Mpuuga started Masaka Municipality football club that he paired with Mike Ssekabira’s Nyendo Diamonds to join the third division regional league. Mpuuga, approximately spends Shs6m to cater for the team per month.
In February, 2017, SC Villa, led by club president Ben Misagga sought to use Masaka Recreation Ground instead of the music events that it had been reduced to in recent years.
Villa got their approval on March 1 while agreeing to pay Shs200,000 monthly to Kimanya-Kyabakuza Division who manage the facility.
The crowds weren’t big at the start and growth hasn’t been as expected for Villa and Misagga.
Masaka Recreation Ground
Masaka Recreation is located on Plots 3-5, Broadway Street and sits on 7.9 acres. It was constructed in 1952 by Masaka Municipal council.
Ever since Sir Andrew Cohen commissioned it in 1956, the playground remains unfinished.