Uganda's most successful club is currently going through a trying moment with two factions operating club affairs.
With the confusion between Fufa and USL leading to the creation of another Fufa faction and two parallel leagues, Villa has also been divided into two groups. It's a reincarnation of a 90s scenario.
Back in 1993 when SC Villa was at its peak, it was the only bull in the Ugandan football kraal. After winning everything there is in Ugandan football, the club had shifted focus to conquering the continent. 1991 runners-up in the Africa Club Championship (now Caf Champions League) before coming up short in the 1992 Caf Cup final (now merged into the Caf Confederation Cup), Villa pulled all stops to win the 1993 Africa Club Championship.
Hell breaks loose
Just days before the eagerly-awaited quarterfinal against Ivory Coast's Asec Mimosas in September that year, the all-powerful club chairman Patrick Edward Kawooya suffered a life-threatening stroke that partially paralyzed him. Still, he controlled the club through trusted generals like club secretary Edward Mugalu Luyimbazi (RIP) and team manager Eriab Kamya.
But, everything unraveled from there on. See, Kawooya - popularly known as 'Chief' - was the driving force behind Villa's successful story. The chief financier and motivator. A one-man team of sorts, he called all the shorts from management to hiring players to gate collections. He was revered and feared in the same measure.
Indeed, apart from Luyimbazi and Joe Muganzi (RIP), the other club officials had no clue about the arrangement of the match. Matters were not helped when Kawooya's trusted lieutenants Edward Semanda (RIP) and Sam Mutebi controlled the gate takings. In the end, the proceedings from the match went missing and the team pulled out of the competition. Caf fined Uganda $90,000.
From then on, Kawooya's stranglehold loosened. But, discontent had started to brew long before the stroke.
Stable financial base
Following the end of the Agip sponsorship in 1989, SC Villa financially depended on gate takings as well as the big pockets of Kawooya and the tycoon-dominated executive that had Franco Mugabe, Fred Kauma Andrew 'Zzimwe' Kasagga, Bob Kabuye, Joe Muganzi, Hajji Sudi Zziwa (RIP), Alex Kiseego (RIP), Hajj Omar Ahmed Mandela and Ephraim Kizito among others.
Still, no one dared talk about elections and it was in Kawooya's discretion to drop or appoint an executive member. Some quietly questioned his style of running the club though could not put it on record. Perhaps that was in fear of being seen as saboteurs at a time the club was dominating.
Enter the fans
The club's failure to honour the return leg in Abidjan seemed to have awoken fans, who behind the scenes had support from some executive members. They called for the club's general assembly.
Led by Hajji Juma Nkambwe, the fans group had energetic supporters like Rebecca Sanyu, Ogen Kevin Aliro (RIP), Siraje Mbuga, Billy Kaguta, Sam Akaki, Kamya Serwadda and Vincent Bbale Mugera [No relation to Express chairman Vincent Bbale Mugera] among others.
They daringly summoned Kawooya at Villa Park but the maverick leader initially called it a joke but with the backing of some members of his executive, Kawooya obliged. When questions regarding the club's finances, including the whereabouts of the money the club got from the sale of Magid Musisi, were put to him, Kawooya bitterly told them off while citing the colossal sum of money he personally injected in the team.
The meeting ended abruptly but for the first time, Kawooya's powers had been tested and that's when the plot to oust him thickened. It's from this bitter confrontation that voices of discontent grew louder and calls for a general assembly gained momentum. Kawooya who had originally sanctioned the assembly wanted to stop it but things failed to work out.
At that time, even club founders like patron George Faison Ddamulira (RIP), Fred Kauma Luyimbazi, Sam 'Kapeera' Tamale, George Sebuliba, Dan Lule - save for Eriab Kamya - didn't have a clear picture of the club's direction. When it became clear he was losing the grip, Kawooya identified Balamaze Lwanga to take over but the latter declined the offer. Balamaze is said to have feared being a figurehead as Kawooya runs the show.
Then Kawooya zeroed on Kiseego, a man who had just crossed from Coffee just two years back. Again, Kiseego also shied away. Kawooya then offered himself to retain the chairmanship but the majority of executive members went for the vibrant Franco Mugabe, who accepted the nomination on condition that he doesn't stand against Kawooya.
Officials even tried to convince Kawooya to become club patron but he refused to budge. Come elective general assembly on December 17, 1993, Kawooya boycotted but it went on as planned.
Tom Bwete nominated Mugabe's name and when there was no other competitor, long-serving patron George Ddamulira announced Mugabe as the new club boss.
Villa split into two
Kawooya declared the assembly illegal and maintained he was the rightful club leader. However, he was clearly clutching at straws. Kawooya had bitterly fallen out with the Fufa executive and was not on talking terms with Fufa boss John Baptist Semanobe, to whom he had lost the Fufa chairmanship in 1992.
Therefore, it came as no surprise when Fufa quickly recognized Mugabe's executive. For two months thereafter, Villa operated with two factions. Mugabe and company controlled Villa Park and the players while Kawooya continued to run club matters from his home in Lubowa. Fans were divided but it was clear Mugabe had the upper hand.
When Kawooya tried to register Villa for the 1994 league season, Fufa turned him down. His efforts to woo players and officials also backfired. That proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back.
And on March 6, 1994, Kawooya launched his new club Villa International at Nakivubo Stadium flanked by Express chairman Bbale Mugera. He said Villa officials Eriab Kamya and Fred Sekasi plus Siraje Mbuga had come on board as well as the likes of Gen Moses Ali and former KCC vice chairman Joseph Kabuubi.
He also managed to get two players Adam Semugabi and Steven Bogere on his side. That marked the end of the saga. Villa International won promotion to topflight in 1995 but the team unfolded following Kawooya's death on December 31, 1995.
Finally, those who had crossed to Villa International returned and rejoined Mugabe.
Both sides can settle the current impasse amicably
Fred Muwema is also vice chairman of the Uganda Super League (USL), which is at loggerheads with Lawrence Mulindwa-led Fufa. Muwema took over the SC Villa mantle from Franco Mugabe in July 2010 but a section of fans were not happy especially when the club was registered as a body corporate.
Feeling sidelined, matters were not helped when the club failed to return to the lofty heights in the league despite Muwema's introduction of professionalism and hefty salaries. Muwema also transferred the club's training ground from Villa Park to Kisubi amid a tug of war but when he declared the club will only participate in the breakaway league run by USL, it stirred up a hornet's nest Villa faced a ban from Fufa had it failed to beat the registration deadline for the new season.
That's when a section of the club faithful resolved to register the club with Fufa. They also elected an interim committee headed by Ben Waira, Christopher Musoke (Secretary), Rebecca Sanyu as (Treasurer), Eriab Kamya (Technical), Sam Nadiope (Marketing) with Paul Nkata as coach.
So, for now, Villa is split into two factions. This is a recipe for disaster for both sides. But, both sides need to calm down and settle the differences amicably or else the club could become a laughing stock.
The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.