6 October 2012

Uganda/Zambia: Country Stadia Have Gone With the Years

Whilst the rumblings of Cranes failure to qualify for Afcon for the last 34 years continue to, errr, rumble in the wake of Zambia's visit, the southern Africans have voiced concern over the quality of Namboole stadium.

They say it is in a dismal state and could prove the decisive factor in their qualification for the African Cup of Nations in South Africa. Because of this, the Zambians even suggested that the match be shifted to another neutral ground!

Pompous Ugandan fans will quickly dismiss Chipolopolo as a nervous bunch who are afraid to lose. But upon careful observation, the Zambians actually do have a valid point.

Older Ugandan football supporters love to reminisce about the good old days. They always look back with nostalgia on the 50s, 60s, 70s and even turbulent 80s. They say those were our footballing heydays. Back then we played better football.

They cite the 50s when the Uganda Cranes toured Britain in 1956, then had Nations Cup appearances in 1962(Ethiopia), 1968(Ethiopia), 1974(Egypt), 1976(Ethiopia) and 1978(Ghana).

Why we have failed to qualify for the Nations Cup since 1978, is the topic of much debate. Some of the theories bandied around are: Uganda football is a den of disorganisation, anarchy, poor administration, incompetence and, if you are to believe defender Abubaker Tabula in 2003 - even witchcraft!

Iam of the opinion that much of the credit for the Cranes success and good football they played at the time is down to the football stadiums and their smooth playing surfaces that were dotted around the country as it is with the coaching and abundant talent that prevailed then.

The Zambians concerns are not misplaced. Today, the football pitches all over the country are in a very sorry state.

Nakivubo stadium, going, going almost gone!

Much of Uganda's football's lore and history, great moments - both sad and happy - are etched and framed in Nakivubo Stadium's confines. Officially opened on April 1, 1926, the first match it hosted was between the national team and Uganda Kobs, a team dominated by whites and founded in 1926!

In 1999, fans witnessed a budding, straight-talking striker called Andrew Fimbo Mukasa, perhaps one of the most intelligent, agile strikers, tear defenses to shreds on its pitch and rewrite history by scoring an incredible 45 goals, shattering Jimmy Kirunda's 32-goal record which had stood since 1979!

Today, 'sad' and 'terrible' are just two of the words used by football fans to describe Nakivubo War Memorial Stadium. The truth is: it's on the brink of being swallowed up in the wave of business developments taking place around it.

The perimeter wall, including the washrooms, have already been turned into lock-up shops. Part of the parking yard is run by Kalita Bus Company. The reminder is an open air market, especially during the festive Christmas period.

There is fear that it is just a matter of time, Uganda's football history is about to be torn down and replaced by ugly concrete shopping malls.

Lugogo football grounds

In Kampala, the six football pitches at Lugogo were a perfect breeding ground for football talent, especially for Kampala City Council. A lot of talent from Naguru and its environs was cultivated and nurtured there. A couple of years ago, two of the football pitches were allocated to investors for developing.

Mbale Municipal Stadium

Once the pride of Mbale town, and also home and slaughter ground of mighty Mbale Heroes, (formerly Gangama) and, briefly, Mbale Municipal Council FC, a look at Mbale stadium prompts a lot of head-shaking.

Today the stadium, managed by Mbale Municipality, is a pale shadow of its former self just like the town it is named after! It should be one of the most dilapidated stadiums in the country.

The once all-grass pitch has been replaced by baked hard unplayable pitch. The toilet facilities have since broken down. The gray uncompleted structures would have made the pavilion look like an ugly wreckage of a bombed out structure have been an eye sore since 1984.

Bugembe Stadium

Bugembe Stadium in Jinja, the fabled home of football in Busoga, and is still part of many football fans' hearts and memories, is another ground that is in bad shape too.

Visiting teams had to sweat and grit their teeth to walk away with a point from this once the proud home of top clubs like Nile FC (Omuliro), Nytil and Tobacco.

Today, the stadium that played host to international tournaments like Cecafa is being systematically stripped by people who seem to have been blinded by the love for money.

The area surrounding Bugembe is going through so much change and stress, and the stadium is right in the middle of it. It has been turned into a collection centre for sand. Lock-up shops are being constructed on the perimeter wall.

The last time I peeped inside the ground, my reaction was of shock. A group of young men sat among towering weeds in the stands. The wooden benches in the pavilion were rotting and crumbling and so rusty was the perimeter fence. The visiting team's room situated under the pavilion had been turned into living quarters!

Mandela National Stadium Namboole

For most people, a good football stadium is one with a good playing surface and other games facilities, not just having nice seating stairs and walls.

Sadly, the new home of the Cranes is on the brink of suffering from the same fate as other stadia in the country because it is used as a multi-function venue. Its multi-purpose use - staging concerts, public rallies on top of a footballing schedule - seem to be at the root of the problem that has played havoc with its condition.

When experts carried out the cosmetic repairs at Namboole which included relaying the tartan track, they forgot to relay the grass. To make matters worse the stadium's fledgling natural grass pitch has been invaded by termites, rendering it patchy and bumpy all over the place.

Way forward

If we want to develop football in the country we should start with revamping the dilapidated stadiums and football pitches. Professional players deserve to play on high quality surfaces which provide the best opportunity to perform well. The technical quality suffers because of the poor quality of the playing pitch.

Want to know why we have been calling heads and turning up tails for the last 34 years and why long-suffering fans always look back on one year with nostalgia: 1978? There you have it - partly let's blame it on poor football pitches!

Don't be surprised when the poor state of Namboole pitch haunts us again against Zambia and prolongs our wait for AFCON qualification!

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