Wakiso Giants Football Club are known as the purple sharks, because of their team colours. Playing in their first season by that name, they have enjoyed a purple patch; one that has made them the flagship side of the Fufa Big League season 2018/2019 with such aplomb, writes JOHN VIANNEY NSIMBE.
A 2-1 win over Entebbe FC at Bugembe stadium was enough for Wakiso Giants to secure promotion to the 2019/2020 Uganda Premier League. This was with one league game to spare. Promotion to the top-flight league had always been the target this season. Realizing it was a fairy-tale. However, it more significantly brought into perspective the efforts of the Wakiso Giants owner, the youthful Musa Sebulime.
Commonly known in football circles as Atagenda, which literally translates as ‘one who does not go away’ has in such a short time turned Giants into a real firebrand in Ugandan football.
As a former student of Kibuli SSS, Sebulime has football running through his veins. No one can doubt how Kibuli is synonymous with football. They have been national schools champions several times. In an interview with him over a year ago at KCCA FC’s stadium in Lugogo, Sebulime revealed how he had been quite close to Vipers SC. Yet, he realized that he could only influence so much there in terms of the club’s developmental strategy towards becoming a fully-fledged professional side.
As a result, the only way he could implement his ideas, was acquiring his own team. He bought Kamuli Park at the end of the 2017/18 season. Before long, the team’s jersey design for the 2018/19 season was making rounds on social media.
A club bus painted purple was bought after Ibrahim Kirya the former SC Villa and URA FC tactician had been unveiled as the man to head the technical wing. On top of that, the Giants made marquee signings. Players, that would ordinarily be plying their trade in the Uganda Premier League (UPL), decided to drop down a level to join the Giants in the Fufa Big League.
For example, Steven Bengo, Moses Feni, Ayub Kisaliita, Hassan ‘Dazo’ Wasswa, Hakim Ssenkumba, Karim Ndugwa and Fahad Kawooya were signing lucrative deals to play for Giants even when it was clear they could still attract suitors in the UPL.
Some critics, however, said that Wakiso Giants is all about recycling old players. Sula Kamoga, the CEO of the Giants told The Observer how all this was part of the bigger team strategy.
“You see our boss had done his research on what is needed to become a top football club and brand. First you have to win games, to attract fans. But to win, you need good players with experience.” Kamoga said.
The decision to sign recognizable stars with unfinished business has turned out to be as magical, as it could have been inspired. In 18 league games, they have won 10, drawn 7 and lost only one, putting them on the brink of qualification to the top flight. This has been a tonic for rallying more fanfare around the club, which is one of the few clubs in the country with offices and recognizably functional secretariats.
Kawowo Sports football reporter Ismael Kiyonga does media work for Wakiso Giants. He told The Observer, that with Sebulime, he lets everyone do their work, and only demands results without interference.
That has enabled the club run progressively, because whomever Sebulime has hired to do a specific task is an expert in their role. He is not the kind to place square pegs in round holes. The secretariat has cameramen and videographers to cover the team’s training sessions and matches who ensure that every piece of action is posted in time on social media.
In addition to that, the club also has a merchandise shop on Najja Shopping Centre building along Entebbe road. A lot of club memorabilia ranging from Shs 25,000 to Shs 50,000 is sold here. Sebulime has ensured that club jerseys are affordable, so that fans can buy them. Whenever a fan wears his club’s jersey, they get endeared to the team even more, because the kit embodies their identity, Frank Omena, a fan said. But probably no fan is more endeared to the club as Bugembe resident, Fatuma Nambi, 29, a mother of three.
Because of her son, Shafik Nabeta, 11, their lives changed, courtesy of Wakiso Giants. Nabeta used to go to the stadium painted on the back, the name of the team. The passion towards the team was humbling. And in a show of gratitude, the club management decided to donate Shs 1 million to clear Nabeta’s 2019 school fees.
“I cannot tell you how this sorted my troubles. Not only did I pay Nabeta’s fees, but even those of his siblings. This club will forever be in my heart,” Nambi, who sells second hand clothes, said.
Wakiso Giants have also extended support in form of balls and other logistics to the Busoga Drum tournament football team. And ever since they started playing in Bugembe, they have improved the conditions of the stadium by watering it frequently, to enable the return of its lash green. Also, the stadium pavillion has been worked on, and tap water has been restored, after a hefty bill, accumulated by previous users, before Wakiso Giants arrived, was cleared.
Undoubtedly, Wakiso Giants’ presence has given Bugembe an uplift. And for that reason, Rajab Mukose, the director of Eastern Talent Soccer Academy is saddened that they will be leaving after this season.
“We did not just learn to support them, we fell in love with them, because they became part of us in growing the community,” Mukose said.
On top of that, Wakiso Giants players became their idols. Not only because they threw their playing kits to the fans, which is a novelty, but because they equally entertained with good football. One can only imagine, how a fan would feel to own a jersey one of their stars has been wearing.
All this has been by design; intended to market the club even more among the general public. Today, according to Kamoga, the club CEO, they have sold more than 1,000 club replica jerseys. And they have more than 1,000 registered fans.
During their visit to West Nile recently, to face Nebbi Central, the Giants had a travelling fans contingent of over 200 fans occupying two coaches and two coaster buses.
“We had not experienced anything like that. It was exciting, to see all those fans, investing their own resources to go support their team,” Kamoga said.
Much credit has to go with the level of activity that goes into promoting the Giants’ matches. Artists like Jose Chameleon have often been used to drum up games through promotions on the Wakiso Giants social media pages, especially Twitter.
Even before their home games in Bugembe, from where the Giants intend to move, albeit with sadness (the Jinja fans have fallen in love with them), after this season, rounds of announcements on pickups with loudspeakers in Jinja town are made.
Kamoga said, “The Jinja fans had asked us to stay there and be their team. As much as their suggestion is humbling, we have basically been playing away from home all season. We are a Wakiso team. That is our true identity and home. Besides, it has been so costly for us playing our home games in Jinja.”
In light of that, Sebulime and his management team, had decided, that all their fans, who travelled with the team from Kampala to Bugembe for all the ten home fixtures, would access the stadium for free. This was intended to give back to them, since they had the burden of having to travel to Jinja and not play in Wakiso, the team’s actual base.
Perhaps, even with how heavy laden Sebulime must have felt playing their home games away from home, he focused on the bigger picture all season. Allow your fans to watch your home games free of charge, to get them hooked to the club like it is an opium. Once the time comes and they are glued, they will find it irresistible to pay top dollar to watch Wakiso Giants in action.
Sebulime’s dream, is to make Wakiso Giants the most professional model club in Uganda. No question he admires the way clubs like Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Manchester United among others, are generic examples of success stories, as far as professional teams are concerned.
Notably, Sebulime has ensured that his players are well motivated, a big reason they have played well. His selfless nature towards players dates back to the time he became a Fifa agent in 2017. He represented a number of players, including Tom Masiko (Vipers SC) and Derrick Nsibambi (Smouha FC, Egypt) among others. He has enabled them get good deals, because of his negotiation ability. Sebulime is a deal maker.
Furthermore, the overall team organization has enabled a more professional outlook. On a weekend every month, there is a fans-meet-the-players luncheon. This provides for a photo moment and interaction to grow interest. The team travels for far away fixtures a day before match, to enable them train in the area they are going to play - helping them get enough resting time before a game.
More often than not, most football clubs here, would not afford that. Instead, they will travel on the same day they play the match, meaning that fatigue is likely to affect their performance. This raises the question: Where does a young man like Sebulime, said to be in his early 30s, get all the money to afford all that is required to manage a football club?
It is said, the club’s annual budget is Shs 300 million. Sebulime is a businessman, who trades in sports merchandise, supplying a host of football clubs, with equipment from overseas. In addition, he is into real estate business, owning a good number of rentals.
But more significantly, he owns a restaurant at Ham Shopping centre, Nakivubo, famously known as the Papo restaurant. It serves a hefty number of customers on a daily, some of the best food in town. The late Jack Walugembe, who was the team physician always said that since joining Wakiso Giants, he was at his happiest, because he was always paid on time.
Even when Walugembe was bedridden, after he suffered a stroke that led to his death in March, the club footed his medical bill and the burial arrangements. Philanthropy is certainly one of the major attributes of Sebulime. But some say he has generated his money through betting.
At the inception of Sebulime’s dreams, many could have thought he was simply an over-ambitious young man, punching above his weight. To many people, he remains mysterious. Yet, that is actually the distinction of his style. Sebulime does not want to be the face of the team, but for the team to build its own face and brand. In fact, when they tell you he is the owner, you would not believe it.
He is simple, small bodied (club owners would ordinarily be seen as imposing figures) and not a showman. He has learnt that by coping the management style of several global brands out there that are more famous than their proprietors.
In a nutshell, seeing how far Wakiso Giants has come as a club, he is on course to steering it to greater scales. And as his famous nickname (Atagenda) suggests, his faceless nature and demeanour points to one fact, he will be difficult to dislodge, and he is going nowhere.