Elegant Maestros. Creativity and industry have always been some of the hallmarks of Ugandan football. Several artistes have earned their right to feature on these pages because of those strong footballing virtues. But three players in particular; Moses Nsereko of KCC (now KCCA FC), Matthew Lucha of defunct Jinja- based Nile FC and Vincent Ssemanobe, who excelled for Coffee FC were in a different class. The trio also featured for Cranes. Find out, who was better?
O one of the many Jinja-bred stars that was poached by giant Kampala clubs.
Others included Issa Ssekatawa ( Nytil to Express), Fred Mukasa (Nile to Express), Idi Batambuze (Nile to SC Villa), Sunday Mokili (Tobacco FC to SC Villa), Alex Olum (Nytil to Coffee), Richard Makumbi (Nile to Coffee), Fred Musisi Kiyingi (Nytil to UCB), Steven Bogere (Tobacco to SC Villa) and Sadiq Wassa (Nile to KCCA) among others.
Lucha spent most of his childhood at Kakira Sugar Works quarters where his parents earned a living.
He started playing football at Madhvani Primary School and later joined Kakira Secondary School.
His soccer improved greatly as he played for the school and company. It was then that Faisal Muhammad, who is widely regarded as the 'Jjajja of Sports' spotted him.
Faisal, who was the publicity secretary of Nile FC in 1977, forced his bosses to recruit Lucha, his brother Taddeo Azabo and another upcoming star Mike Oziwa to Jinja Hot Stars (the old name of Nile FC that was then being coached by Kizza Kakapu.
Faisal remembers that Lucha joined Nile as a right winger who replaced Mukiibi 'Obote' - nicknamed as such because of a hairstyle he donned similar to that of former Uganda President Apollo Milton Obote.
He could also play No.6 but was eventually switched to No.8 in 1978 when Mike Atim sustained a serious knee injury.
"At No.8, Lucha demonstrated what a talented player he was and instantly became the talk of Jinja Town," recalls Faisal.
He credits Lucha for the role he played in ensuring Nile were the first and only upcountry club to win the topflight league in 1980.
Faisal reveals that Nile was made up of real warriors and unsurprisingly because the first East and Central African Club to defeat record Caf Champions League winners Al Ahly of Egypt in 1981. Nile won 2-0 at Nakivubo but later succumbed to a 5-0 massacre in the return leg in Cairo.
It was always going to be a matter of time before Lucha could be poached by bigger Kampala clubs. Towards the end of 1981 while SC Villa was preparing for the 1982 Cecafa Clubs Championship in Zanzibar, club supremo chief Patrick Kawooya serenaded Lucha and forthwith won his signature.
His departure hurt not only Nile but the whole Jinja to an extent that Faisal had to travel to Zanzibar and try to convince Lucha to change his mind in the middle of the tournament.
"I told him to think twice and see the advantage of playing for a club like Nile FC which in addition used to provide employment for its players unlike non corporate clubs like SC Villa.
Lucha agreed to return on condition that Nile Breweries FC refunds Shs200,000 which SC Villa had paid him. Then, one American dollar equated to only Shs7. Lucha returned to Nile in 1983 and played for the club until 1987 when he graduated to club coach's role.
When Nile signed Polly Ouma, Lucha became his assistant. Former Nytil goalie Patrick Lukalu describes Matthew Lucha as having been a high class midfielder and a joy to watch.
"Lucha was so swift and could also draw back and help his defence in trouble times. He was so good at ball control and making square passes," says Lukalu.
He also says Lucha could play No.6, 8 and even 10 without fuss.
"In the Cranes team Lucha, had a good combination with Nsereko, one reason KCCA people tried many times to sign him but in vain," adds Lukalu.
Lucha and Lukalu were summoned to the Cranes team for first time in 1979 in preparation for the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Kenya.
Lucha passed on in 2017 and was laid to rest in his village home in Kitgum, northern Uganda.
LUCHA FACTFILE (ACHIEVEMENTS)
* Joined Nile in 1977 from Kakira Secondary School.
* Played for Nile and SC Villa.
* Captained Nile between 1982 and 1987.
* Won the league with Nile in 1980 - the only time an upcountry team has achieved such feat.
* Part of the Nile FC team that represented Uganda in the Caf Champions League in 1981.
* Made history with Nile FC as first Ugandan side to defeat mighty Al Ahly of Egypt.
* Part of SC Villa side that competed in 1982 Cecafa Clubs tournament in Zanzibar.
* Was first summoned to Cranes team in 1979 for the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Kenya.
* Earned cult hero status in Uganda for being a square passes expert.
* Was appointed Nile FC coach in 1987 and later assistant to Polly Ouma.
Atrue son of KCCA who served the club throughout his entire life - right from being a ball boy at Lugogo, to playing first team football, coach-player role and full-time coach before ending up as an administrator.
A survey carried out almost 30 years ago requiring prominent players and football administrators to name their all Cranes XI had Nsereko featuring prominently at No.8. Former Cranes star and administrator Jimmy Bakyayita Ssemugabi (RIP) picked Nsereko at No.8 behind Mathew Lucha, David Otti, John Kaddu and George Situma. Born and bred in Naguru, Nsereko joined KCCA at the age of 16 in 1971 alongside his great friend Ibrahim Magala.
At KCCA, coach Jaberi Bidandi Ssali aka Mister fielded him on the right wing after discovering his speed and superior crossing ability that would enable his teammates to several goal-scoring chances. By the end of 1971, Nsereko had earned a first team place and was also invited to the National Youth Team following his superb shifts for Buganda in the regional tournament. He was also part of the youth team that won East African titles in 1971 and 1973.
Nsereko's first full international debut was unique. In 1973 when Cranes had to face Algeria for the 1974 Egypt Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) slot, there happened to be a sudden short supply of reliable midfielders following a tendon Achilles complication on Francis Kulabigwo. The other dependable midfielder Parry Oketch was down with a knee injury and yet it was only a week to the crucial match. There was panic in the Cranes camp as coach Burkhard Pape looked around for a replacement.
But like a bolt from the blue, Pape got a rescue act from where he least expected it. The coach went to watch a Second Division match between KCCA and National Insurance Corporation (NIC) where he discovered Nsereko and immediately summoned him to the Cranes squad. Abbey Nasur was the other beneficiary from the coach's late scouting gig. The youthful duo played an influential role in Cranes' 2-1 victory over Algeria with the goals coming from Ashe Mukasa and Denis Obua.
With the hope that Kulabigwo and Oketch would recover for the return leg, Nsereko, Nasur and Mukasa were released to play for the National Youth Team against Kenya in Nairobi. But when the departure time to Algeria was nearing, it was apparent Kulabigwo and Oketch would, after all, not make it.
This was when Nsereko, Mukasa, Nasur and Mike Kiganda were put aboard the East African Airways flight to join the rest at Entebbe International Airport for the trip to Algeria.
From then until his retirement in December 1982, the No.14 jersey belonged to Nsereko. He was instrumental as Cranes won the Council for East and Central Africa (Cecafa) Senior Challenge Cup titles in 1973, 1976 and 1977.
And as a Fufa administrator, he brought back the same cup to Kampala in 1989 after a 14-year drought. Nsereko's roles in the Afcons of 1974, 1976 and 1978 cannot be understated with the climax being in Ghana where he emerged the best Cranes player in the final against Ghana. He was also voted second best midfielder of the showpiece behind Mohammed Polo of Ghana.
But he also endured his unfortunate moments in Cranes colours. He missed a vital penalty in 1977 against Egypt in Cairo during an Olympic qualifier. Earlier he had also missed a spot kick against Tanzania in 1974 that could have given Uganda the Cecafa title in the decisive final.
At the club level, Nsereko won everything that was there to be competed for: the Uganda Cup, National League and Champion of Champions Cup. In 1976 when KCCA won its first league title after spending just two seasons in the top flight league, Nsereko emerged the club's top scorer with 11. On a regional basis, he helped KCCA win the East and Central African Club Championship title in 1978 - the first time for a Ugandan side to achieve such a feat.
At the continental level, Nsereko featured for KCCA in Caf Champions League and African Cup Winners Cup Championships.
As part of the Cranes side, he also toured the world playing build-up matches in South America, Europe and the Middle East. For his strength and stamina in the midfield, Nsereko was nicknamed 'Kisolo Kya Manyi' (a strong animal).
Former Nile FC manager and currently the Jinja Municipal Council FC chairman Faisal Mohammed says it was easier for the biblical camel to go through the eye of a needle than opponents stealing a ball from Nsereko's feet . "When Nsereko was in control of the ball, nobody could remove it. I personally nicknamed him 'Nyumba ya Chuma," he recalls. Nsereko was gunned down on September 15, 1991.
* Was a ball boy, player, coach and administrator at KCCA FC.
* Joined KCCA FC in 1971 at the age of 16.
* Part of KCCA team that was in 1974 promoted to topflight league.
* Won first league title with KCCA in 1976 and was club's top scorer with 11 goals.
* Won the league with KCCA FC in 1976, 1977, 1981 and 1983.
* Coached KCCA in 1985 and won the league title.
* Won the Uganda Cup with KCCA in 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1984.
* Summoned to Cranes team in 1973 while playing for KCCA in the second division.
* Played for Cranes between 1973 and 1982.
* Won Cecafa title with Cranes in 1973, 1976 and 1977.
* Played for Cranes in Afcons of 1974, 1976 and 1978.
* Part of Cranes team that reached the Afcon final of 1978 and voted second best midfielder of tourney.
* Served as Fufa General Secretary.
Vincent Ssemanobe Lubwama (note that his correct name is Ssebanobe and not Ssemanobe as most people including the media preferred calling him) is a city born whose parents' home was in Ndeeba, Lubaga Division. Ssemanobe's father, Joseph Ndugga and mother Zanabiya Nakitende loved football and gave their son the nod to embrace the beautiful game as a toddler.
He attended Nabagereka Primary School, St. Charles Lwanga SS, Kasasa for O-Levels and later Kampala High school for A-Level. At Kasasa, he found himself in the same school team with former SC Villa striker Rogers Nsubuga and Fred Kayemba.
After Senior Four, Ssemanobe and Nsubuga as the latter went to Brother Bernadine's Uganda Martyrs High School, Lubaga. Surprisingly all this time, Ssemanobe played as a striker (No.9 & 10) - far from the midfielder we later came to admire.
"I was a good goal-getter and never imagined that I would later in the future switch to midfield," he told Sunday Monitor recently. "We would go to Kampala High and watch Coffee FC's training. One day their midfielder Fred Mugisha threw the ball at me and to his surprise I controlled it well using my chest. He and other players asked a lot about me and requested that I start training with them," relives Ssemanobe.
That is how Ssemanobe joined Coffee in 1980. The coach Charles Omigi converted him into a midfielder after observing his superb ball control and ball passing. "Omigi spent a full week training me and showing me the tricks expected of a good midfielder. I later fitted well in the first team following the departure of Moses Ndawula to SC Villa and Fred Mugisha to KCCA," he recalls.
Ssemanobe's father was a staunch Express FC supporter but had earlier advised his son never to play for the Red Eagles as he noted they would never provide him a job like other clubs. Ssemanobe's career lasted a decade.
He vividly remembers the role he played in Coffee's team; like the tough league game in 1981 against Nile FC at Bugembe Stadium and later in an away Uganda Cup tie against Masaka Union when he scored a last minute equaliser to force a 1-1 draw.
Former KCCA and Cranes goalie Paul Ssali rates Ssemanobe highly. In a 1985 league match against KCCA, Coffee trailed by a goal and as the clock ticked away, Ssemanobe became so desperate to find an equalizer at whatever cost. During the second half and from 25 yards, he unleashed a scorcher that almost tore the KCCA goal net and badly injured Ssali, who was for some time treated on the pitch before being stretchered off and replaced.
In Coffee, Ssemanobe enjoyed a good partnership with Simon Omba, Richard Makumbi, Alex Olum, Rogers Ssemere and John Mapeera. In 1985 after the promotion, the team almost won the league title only for them to get points (3) deducted controversially for fielding a suspended player in Sam Sserunkuuma. Ssemanobe was such a good attacking midfielder in the league as justified by his tally of no less than 10 goals every term. He loved Coffee with all his heart and will never forget the day former Express FC manager Hajji Mawejje approached him with a bagful of money, saying that all that cash belonged to him should he accept to join Express FC. Ssemanobe surprised Mawejje when he turned him away.
In national colours, Ssemanobe made his full senior debut during the 1983 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Kenya. "Cranes coach Peter fielded me ahead of Lucha probably for being attack-minded. When I was fielded, I was scared because I had never thought of making stars like Lucha sit on the bench," he reveals. In that match, Ssemanobe scored against arguably the most proud regional goalie Mohammed Abbas.
Again in 1984 in Kampala, he beat Abbas in a Cecafa third place play-off against Kenya at Nakivubo. Former Coffee player and Cranes coach Moses Basena compares Ssemanobe to attacking midfielders like Muzamir Mutyaba (former KCCA) in Uganda and Steven Gerrard at Liverpool.
"Ssemanobe would easily penetrate the opponents' goal area and even score unlike a midfielder like Lucha who was defence-minded and usually resorted to making square passes within the midfield," said Basena. He adds; "Players like Ssemanobe and Lucha should have been summoned to the Cranes team much earlier but were delayed for not playing for giant clubs like KCCA, SC Villa and Express whose players used to be favoured to an extent."
* Joined Coffee FC while a student at Kampala High School.
* Won the 1981 Uganda Cup with Coffee FC.
* Captained Ffumbe clan to victory over Mbogo in Bika final of 1987.
* Scored vital goals for Coffee FC in the league during the eighties.
* Was an attacking midfielder who averaged 10 goals per season.
* Made Cranes debut in 1983 during Cecafa and scored against Kenya.
* Scored against Kenya in the 1984 Cecafa third place playoff.
* Well known for scoring long range shots like in the 1985 league when he scored against KCCA and injured goalie Paul Ssali in the process.
* Holder of a diploma in Marketing from MUBS Nakawa.
Expert View; By Innocent Ndawula
Isaac Michael Mufumba - Nation Media Group Uganda Journalist)
Ssemanobe was not in the same mold as Lucha and Nsereko. Those two were excellent at ball protection. Dispossessing them of the ball was almost impossible. I think it was Nsereko who taught Lucha ball protection. They also used to fall back deep defence from where they would initiate attacks. That perhaps explains why they, unlike Ssemanobe, had fewer goals to their names.