Ugandans are united in their overwhelming love of football. Whenever the Cranes, our national team, line up for an international match at Nelson Mandela Stadium, all roads lead to Namboole Hill on which the world-class facility sits. Thousands of fans draped and painted in the black, yellow and red of our flagnconverge, vuvuzelas blaring, by whatever conveyance — foot, boda-boda, matatu or private car — can get them to the kick-off on time.
Such is the unifying love Ugandans have for the game and their Cranes, it is said warring couples forgave each other and cancelled divorce plans when we defeated Nigeria’s Super Eagles in friendly match last March. In December, the Cranes beat Rwanda’s Amavubi to win the CECAFA championship for a record-extending 14th time.
“Ugandans love for football is legendary. We momentarily forget tribes, political parties and social class during a good game of football! Way to go UGANDA! Way to go East Africa! Meanwhile, as we wait for our next shot at the World Cup, we should continue to support other African teams that have potential,” says Edwin Mamuto, an ardent Uganda Cranes fan.
Looking beyond Uganda’s borders, our fans divide their loyalties between teams like Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United.
“In the past few years, clashes with South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana or Angola have attracted record crowds,” Mamuto says. “Ugandan footballers have signed for clubs outside of the country – in Scotland, Serbia and Austria – so when the national team plays, fans expect a higher standard of performance. And if the Cranes are playing a big team like Ghana or Nigeria, there’s the added bonus of watching celebrated African players such as Michael Essien, Nwankwo Kanu or Joseph Yobo.”
Football remains Uganda’s favourite sport. As they have for generations, children in the countryside still use string to tie pieces of old clothing or banana fibre into balls to kick around. Most may never wear football boots, but they still nurse big dreams of following in the steps of their heroes. The government pays the game a lot of attention. It became talk of the nation some years about when a yellow-jerseyed President Museveni showed up at the stadium to play a match with members of his cabinet.