Experiencing football in Uganda, both on and off the pitch

Oh yeah! Those who know me will never expect this, but I am actually dedicating a blog post to the World’s favourite past time; Football (Soccer for those in the US 😉 ). A topic way out of my comfort zone, since as a born and bred Lithuanian my sport religion has always been basketball. Will you join me as I explore the game of 11 vs 11 in Uganda?

One of the things I really love about my time volunteering in Uganda is that it brings me so many new experiences. As shared in my intro, I am diving into football peculiarities in Uganda and will introduce you to the people I met from this industry.

Just to set the expectations straight from the get-go; I am not going to analyse any matches, best players or clubs. It’s going to be a story about how I met the coaches of Kampala KCCA whilst traveling and how they gave me the opportunity to attend one of their matches. 

The fans are dedicated.

Just into my second week of volunteering I got to witness the popularity of football in Uganda. While staying in Ttagga village I got invited by locals to join a training session and join in to play a friendly match. This all took place at a close by field which in nothing resembled the fresh cut pitches we get to see in Europe. Instead it was bumpy soil filled with high grass. Yet the training and actual game felt so professional, filled with passion. We had an actual coach (Henry) who gave us proper instructions, including on how to control a ball with your forehead. I must confess that ball control, especially with my head, apparently is not one of my strong points, and this showed during the game. Every ball that flew into my direction sent a shock through my system, making me nudge my head out of the way or worse; use my hands to defend my face….I know…please don’t judge 😉 The coach and team captain were very kind about my clumsiness and even called me a fast learner. A blatant lie, but extremely kind none the less as they tried to get me infected with the football virus.

What amazed me most were how skilled my fellow team mates were. With minimal equipment (no fancy Nike co-branded Neymar boots here) they showed determination, poise and passion. To be honest, I was one of the few with actual sport footwear and I was without a doubt the least productive player on the pitch. Henry encouraged me however to keep on at it, as its a game of practice. Maybe towards the end of my volunteering trip I’ll be able to drive one into the net. 

Definitely inspiring how amateurs from the villages experience the game of football. However, I also got to taste the professional football industry in Uganda. I’ll dive deeper into this below.

The fans were infectious and filled with contagiously good spirits.

How did I meet the coaches from KCCA football club?

I was waiting for my lunch to be served at a hotel in Fort Portal city. A guy dressed in sports apparel sat down near to me and initiated a conversation. The tracksuit he was wearing and his initial behaviour made me fall into the trap of judging people too fast. I didn’t feel like conversing, but as our conversation progressed he had some interesting insights to share and I got to learn that he (Daniel) is the head coach of the biggest football club in Uganda. Later his assistant coach and other staff members joined our short talk, teaching me all things about football along the way.

The next day I met the guys once more and they invited me to their match in the late afternoon. I was so excited to experience watching a football match in Uganda and it didn’t disappoint.

Meeting the coaches of KCCA football club

How did I experience the football match?

The Fort Portal city stadium is the complete opposite of what I experienced from my sole prior football experience when visiting a game of Atletico Madrid. The high tech Wanda Metropolitano features all the latest in stadium construction, Fort Portal city stadium has the bare minimum; a pitch with two goals on either side of field.

It was quite difficult to see any of the match, as I’m not a tall lady and there was no stand. Here you just try to find a good spot at the fence or, if you’re lucky, get an elevated view by standing on one of the parked motorbikes. What is also very interesting is that there are no separated sections for home or away club fans, as there is no need for it; Ugandan fans are very friendly to each other and those typical European hooligan fights simply don’t happen here. After or during a match people drink, dance and celebrate together.

Yes, I have seen lots of dancing and organic created carnival-esque parade shows. An opposing team fan told me that these are not real fans, they go there to elevate the atmosphere and enjoy the attention it brings, all whilst enjoying a good party. After seeing their fun, I think I finally realized why you become a football club fan. It’s all about the fun! This has never hit home to me before, to me it always felt like expensive entertainment with no real pleasure for the fan. 

Morley (i.e. assistant coach) showed me on his phone that their stadium is better in Kampala which, based on the pictorial evidence, appeared to be true. Uganda however doesn’t have any football stadium which meet international standards. It’s a pity because people really love football here.

Dancing to the beat of the ball!

What does it mean to be in the football industry in Uganda?

So, after realizing that I met these important people, I felt quite special. I mean even though I am not into football, my brain is big enough to comprehend that coaches of the best national club are people who achieved something big in their life. My tour guide Arnold told me that he knew those guys from the newspapers. WOW!

However, Arnold explained me that a safari guide in Uganda earns better than the best football players. So it’s either safari guides are extremely well paid or football players are extremely underpaid. Probably the truth is in the middle, but it was interesting to listen how difficult it is to be a football player in Uganda. 

Apparently you can get a better pay in other African countries such as Angola or South Africa where the economic situation is better. Even though football is the most popular sport in Uganda, clubs don’t have much money to spend on players. I felt quite nice to at least contribute somewhat by  buying their fan shirt and will wear their colours with pride.

I am always amazed by sports people who dedicate their whole life to training. There are so many of them, but unfortunately not all go to the top leagues or go on to win championships. With this post I would like to give my respect to all of them who work so very hard each day and a special thanks to the warm people of Uganda who shared their passion for the World’s favourite past time. I’m a fan.

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