Called To Serve: The Remarkable Story Of Kamwokya FC Part 3
Layth and the schoolchildren of Kamwokya.
In the concluding part of Layth Yousif’s journey to Uganda and superb three-part series the writer watches Kamwokya FC take on Bazaar in a Third Division clash and discovers another member of the Jack Wilshere fan club.
As our players, clad in a black and white striped kit, warmed-up on the dark brown dusty surface, (‘a kind man from Newcastle donated them to us’, Godfrey explained), a goat wandered past oblivious to the fact a Ugandan Division Three Football match was about to take place.
A man in an immaculate short sleeved shirt over pristine trousers ambled over to me. I was an easy target as I was wearing my Arsenal shirt. I was expecting him to mention to ask what a muzungu (foreigner) was doing here. Yet he complemented me by proclaiming: ‘Arsenal good team’. It was no surprise that I liked him immediately, even if it wasn’t the time to detail my increasing frustration with Arsene Wenger. So I thanked him.
Encouraged, more people gathered around me, asking where I was from, not expecting anything in return apart from a reply.
A younger man with a broad beam that fell easily across his face pointed to my top and said ‘me too’, shyly adding ‘Jack Wilshire’ for confirmation. The lingua franca of our team transporting him from abject poverty to a shared pride.
They suggested would I like a drink? I replied with a smile and within minutes they had returned, fighting each other to hand me back my correct change along with a crate of beers in the form of 5.5% Nile Specials for everyone around us. It was still cheaper than a pie and a pint at Wembley or the Emirates. (Incidentally the last time I had people take me money and buy a round with it was in a heaving pub in the East End of Glasgow before watching Arsenal play a Champions League qualifier at Parkhead. The effect was the same though: it made me believe in humanity).
I then spent the first half discussing the minutiae of the English Premier League with well informed and half-cut Boda-Boda drivers. It wasn’t that surprising considering every sports update on the radio gravely informed listeners of the latest shenanigans in the Premier League. However give or take a few, their knowledge and passion was on a par with any pre-or-post match pub conversation across the UK.
The Kamwokya players looked tall, thin and nervous. There were in a play-off place and needed the three points. As a consequence their actions were marred by cheap mistakes even if their technique suggested more work was required on the basics. Yet it was easy for me to say that, I wasn’t the one playing in a broiling heat under an unforgiving blue sky on a rutted, jarring pitch, that had almost as many potholes as the road that lay parallel to it.
Then just before half time, after a period of fruitless skirmishing, a Bazaar FC defender with a head wound, sustained following a clash of with our centre forward, pumped a long ball forward. (After the clash I had noted he sat quietly and without histrionics, as the blood poured from his head. I also noted that the first thing the physio did was put rubber gloves on: in a country where millions had died from AIDS this wasn’t a cursory or perfunctory act).
The more stocky of Kamwokya’s centre-half pairing failed to deal with the bounce, and the ball squirted through to Bazaar’s bustling centre forward, who looked like an African version of Ian Ormondroyd, but without the pace or finesse. Surprisingly he pushed the ball ahead of his man with his first touch, and scrambled the ball under our keeper, who’s reactions, to be fair, looked as if he too had just eaten a large plate of Matooke.
At half time both teams sat on the red dusty earth and listened to their respective managers. It is amazing how football is similar the world over. Bazaar’s manager opted for the hairdryer treatment hurling scornful remarks onto his crack unit of bullies, illuminated with small violent pumping gestures and plenty of pointing.
I preferred the more cerebral approach of Kamwokya’s manager, a small impeccably cool, twenty-something with a quiet dignity. It was only later that I thought who he reminded me of: a Ugandan Pep Guardiola. For a place with such committed and knowledgeable football fans was it too fanciful to believe that he had based himself on the Catalan legend?
Our manager appeared to undertake individual discussions with his players, providing a paternal tap on the back for encouragement for the defenders, whilst with the forwards he darted his hands in what can only be described as a tactical instructions motion. I asked Godfrey if he was their full time Manager. ‘No’, he replied, ‘he’s also a well-known DJ.’
It is surely impossible to dislike a team who, despite coming from the poorest part of town, play in a donated a kit, yet still try to stick to their manager’s principles and attempt Total Football on a dusty rutted patch in front of their die-hard supporters (including a goat) with all of them sharing the powerful and motivating bond of poverty – and who also have a manager who’s day job (or should I say night job) is a DJ.
After the restart it was clear which team had taken on board their manager’s instructions. Yet the Bazaar defence deserved credit for withstanding everything that the Lions of Kamwokya threw at them. Bearing in mind the amount of times Godfrey’s excitement was cruelly dashed or crushed, as a move that promised much fizzled out, I was convinced he was going to have a heart attack, or at the very least a small angina episode.
With time running out, Kamwokya’s small, lithe little winger, of which every team has one, or should have, finally beat his man, a tiring cumbersome brute who had taken great satisfaction in bouncing him off the ball in every previous confrontation. The brute’s style was to perpetrate a sharp foul before saying to the ref, ‘I apologise Sir’ thus narrowly avoiding a yellow card.
It was also instructive to witness every player giving the ref – an officious straight backed type with a hand sewed FIFA patch proudly displayed on the arm of his luminous yellow shirt – a respect so rarely seen for officialdom at all levels of the game in the UK.
Having space to run into for the first time in 89 minutes our jinky winger eased into the channel before looking up and crossing it to Kamwokya’s centre forward, a taller yet equally as ineffective player in the first half. The forward then proceeded to confound all expectation, and slotted the ball calmly past their bewildered (and flat-footed) keeper.
Rarely have I seen such unexpurgated happiness on the field of play. The Kamwokya players as one yelped and hugged each other with a passion, as the Boda-Boda boys not only spilled their Nile Specials but spilled onto the pitch in deep joy. It was a good natured if boisterous celebration, enlivened by some revving up their bikes, whilst others blew a high pitched trill at their surprise at gaining an unexpected point in their fight for promotion. Even the Kamwokya goat looked pleased for the Lions. It was then I realised why they were so delirious: their team had made them rise above the struggles of everyday life and filled them with a transcendental hope that made everything else momentarily disappear. It was in short the condition of a normal football fan. And that was what the people of Kamwokya wanted – to be normal, to have a dignity, and a cause and to enjoy their lives the best way they could.
Bazaar FC barely had time to kick off. The ref blew a pedantically long burst on his whistle and ‘we’ had won a hard earned point. The crowd hugged and clapped, no doubt aided by the 5.5% beer that was flowing freely, and having caught up with Mr Francis I proceeded to give him a huge embrace. ‘We did it’, I cried in excitement.
As calm as ever Mr Francis looked at me with that strange but mesmerising combination of tired but blazing eyes, and serenely replied: ‘Why shouldn’t we have?’
Postscript: Kamwokya FC finished above – amongst others – Happy Boys FC, City Boys FC, Life Eternal FC, Mutundwe Lions FC, Bweyogerere FC, Wembley FC, & Bazaar FC, and were eventually promoted from the Third Division of the Ugandan League.
The day before I was due to fly back to the UK, Mr Francis and Godfrey presented me with a small brown envelope. I was told not to open it before I got onto the plane. Keeping my promise as we surged into the night sky at Entebbe Airport I opened it. Inside was a team sheet of the game, and a small scribbled note in vivid blue ink that read: ‘Although not a programme we hope this team sheet will be appropriate for your collection’.
I still treasure that flimsy, worn piece of paper, which speaks of so much, as it humbly takes pride of place in my programme collection. Meanwhile, Mr Francis, KCCC, and Kamwokya FC continue to battle on and off the pitch.
Called To Serve: The Remarkable Story Of Kamwokya FC part 1
Called To Serve: the Remarkable Story Of Kamwokya FC part 2