After enjoying moments of rare interaction with the fans, Uganda national team players and coaching staff have pledged to win the upcoming Cecafa Cup for the adoring supporters, writes Moses Mugalu.
The vows by national team head coach Bobby Williamson and his boys comes after last Saturday's three hours of a fun-filled training session, spiced up with entertainment from singer Bebe Cool as Cranes players freely mingled with the fans at KCCA ground Lugogo.
The maiden Cranes Fans' Day event, organized by the recently-formed Uganda Cranes Initiative (UCI), coincided with the official start of the national team's preps for the Cecafa Cup that kicks off on November 24 in Kampala. In a loosened atmosphere, most of Cranes stars renowned for being shy and laidback in public, signed autographs, posed for pictures and had one-on-one chats with fans.
"We are grateful and we owe these fans a lot," says Hassan Wasswa, who will skipper The Cranes in the Cecafa tournament.
Cranes coach Williamson was overwhelmed by the fans' massive show of support while his assistant Leo Adraa and Jackson Mayanja were equally appreciative. "This is how it used to be done in the 1970s," remarked Adraa, himself a former Cranes player who has fond memories of winning the 1973 Cecafa title at home.
Fufa vice president Mujib Kasule says: "we can't ask for more...through the Initiative, players now have 'all reasons to work extra harder and that is good pressure on them."
The initiative, founded largely by media personalities and top corporates, used the event to officially kick off the Shs 200m fundraising drive. Singer Bebe Cool set the ball rolling with an offer of Shs 500,000 and 50 cartoons of drinking water.
By Saturday morning, more than Shs 50m had been collected through cash and donations. UCI spokesman Patrick Mugumya says they hope to hit the shs 200m target before the tournament kicks off on Friday at Namboole Stadium.
Contributions can be made through Mobile Money on 0788 162 001 with the reason 'Cranes.' Further details about the Initiative's fundraising drive and activities are updated on the Facebook page 'Uganda Cranes Initiative.'
Already, the Initiative has helped Fufa get The Cranes better accommodation and gym facilities at Rivonia Suites. Uganda Cranes, who will be defending the Cecafa title, face Kenya in the opening match. Ethiopia and South Sudan are Uganda's other opponents at the group stage.
Williamson picked a largely young side to test some of the players for upcoming 2014 World Cup qualifiers against Liberia, Senegal and Angola.