Three years ago, Vipers edged SC Villa to win the league title on the last day of the season after defeating BUL FC at Buikwe. Three years down the road, the Venoms found themselves in a similar situation needing to defeat UPDF FC at home on the final round of matches to be guaranteed of the crown.
The major difference between the two scenarios is that whereas the 2015 success created little buzz within the football fraternity, the May 25 D-day gripped the nation in a scenario I last saw in the nineties.
At the end of it all, Vipers got the desired result to seal a third league title that capped a memorable turnaround after a rocky start. For starters, it goes without saying that Dr Lawrence Mulindwa’s huge investment in the club has paid instant dividends.
On the field, attackers Daniel Sserunkuma, Erisa Ssekisambu and Milton Karisa stood out and while the club’s marketing boss Simon Sekankya has done a tremendous job to woo more than a billion shillings in sponsorship.
However, this season’s turnaround started with the appointment of veteran Eddie Butindo as technical director in December 2017, something I initially found to be a gamble, given his tough stance.
Twenty-two matches since then, the club has astonishingly not lost a single game on their way to a league and cup double. At the time of Butindo’s appointment, Vipers had just lost to URA FC and were nine points off the summit.
But a superb run of form saw them win 13 of the last 16 league games with only BUL, Maroons and Kirinya-Jinja SS managing to get a point off them. A string of eight straight home wins is another testament of how the shift to their home stadium (St Mary’s) in Kitende was a masterstroke.
At Buikwe, the community never really warmed up to Vipers as part of it despite the club’s efforts to refurbish the stadium; so, the move to back home in Kitende fits well with the ethos of the club that was started in 1970s as Bunamwaya.
When I look back to the past five months, it is hard to escape the fact that Butindo has reorganized the once volatile coaching environment. The club has always had an array of coaches with no clear hierarchy right from long-serving Edward Golola and Richard Wasswa.
In recent years, former head coaches George Nsimbe and Abdallah Mubiru were sacked partly due to the intrigue that had eaten away the technical department.
But with the arrival of the highly-respected Butindo, he was able to get the house back to order and provide coach Miguel da Costa a free hand in tactical and team selections.
Meanwhile, Butindo’s firm hand can also be seen in the unearthing of young Turks into the first team through his four-year development programme. I was a bit skeptical when Butindo preached about nurturing players at the expense of buying proven stars but going by the results, I have no doubt he is on the right track.
Youngsters such as Bashir Asiku, Brian Kalumba and Ashraf Bamuturaki are some of the new faces that have emerged this season. And with schools football powerhouse St Mary’s SS Kitende acting as the conveyor belt, Vipers have a rich pool to pick from.
Incidentally, the rise of youngsters has come at the expense of big names who could be on their way out going by the disciplinary record. For instance, I’m reliably informed that Tony Odur, who was onetime the club talisman, has spent a big part of the season on suspension. Tom Masiko, the club record buy, has not fared well on disciplinary ground.
For now, Vipers have their eyes on the double but beyond that, the club needs to look beyond dominating the domestic scene. The club has to make a presence on the continent the way KCCA has managed to do it.
It is through facing the best on the continent that a club legacy can be built and with Butindo pulling the strings behind the scenes, that dream is not farfetched.
The author is operations director of The Observer Media Ltd.