Express FC is enduring a difficult time of late both on and off the pitch. And whereas it has not reached alarming levels of relegation or power struggle, there is no doubt the club misses an incisive influence that has been renowned of Express.
The last such figure in the long history of Express powerbrokers is Mze Kezekiah Sseggwanga Musisi, an authoritative figure who was revered by the Red Eagles faithful for his directness and decisiveness.
He never shied away from speaking his mind even when he knew his views were not popular as long as it was for the benefit of Express. Musisi was an Express FC pillar right from the club inception in 1959 and his landmark decisions which defined the Express character continue to reverberate to this day.
Yesterday marked exactly three years since his passing and it is only fitting to relive his Express days. I first got to know him in the seventies as a close friend of Express FC’s founder Joseph ‘Jolly Joe’ Kiwanuka. Kiwanuka, an equally no-nonsense person, appointed Musisi to be patron of Nakivubo Boys (Express’s junior side that later became SC Villa) in order for him to instill discipline in the youngsters.
In 1972 when Kiwanuka was murdered, Musisi came on board as one of the key decision-makers at Express. In 1973, Express was on the ropes due to poor results while some of their key players like Timothy Ayieko, Billy Kizito and Ismeal Kiggundu had crossed to NIC FC.
More worryingly, the club was destined for relegation but thankfully for them, Musisi was chairman of Fufa and Cecafa at the time. So, with Express in free-fall sitting second-from-bottom, the drop became inevitable.
But, Musisi improvised a queer way to save Express by invoking his powers to declare an abrupt end of the league for being behind schedule. He ordered that no team is relegated but in a bid to appease the state, he ordered that army-side Simba represents Uganda in Cecafa and Caf competitions.
Musisi must have thought he killed two birds with one stone but in a 1975 shocker, Col Nasur Abdalla, the self-appointed disciplinary officer for Central province, ousted him as Fufa boss and replaced him with then little-known referee George Wamala Katumba.
He kept a low profile afterwards but in the wake of Nasur’s ban of Express FC in 1977, Musisi was lined up as one of the Express officials to be arrested by virtue of sitting on the club’s board of trustees. So, he relinquished that position and that of Nakivubo Boys patron, in which he anointed Patrick Kawooya to take over.
The fall of Idi Amin regime in 1979 resurrected the Musisi-Nasur feud. As fate would have it, Musisi got elected National Council of Sports chairman to replace Nasur, who was incarcerated at Luzira prison.
His first task was to oversee the return of Express, something he did after convening meetings with club strongmen like Sam Njuba, Jimmy Mugambe Kiwanuka, Vincent Bbale Mugera, Hajji Abdul Kasujja, Bablo Ali and Patrick Kiwanuka, among others.
Whereas the Fufa leadership suggested that Express starts from the third-tier like any new club, Musisi didn’t wait for the official Fufa announcement and convened a press conference to announce that Express is back in the topflight.
In 1982 when Express abandoned its Uganda Cup semi-final match against KCC after conceding a penalty, Fufa indicated that KCC would win the match by forfeiture but Musisi overruled the Fufa executive led by Caleb Babihuga and instead ordered a replay. Still, KCC won it 1-0.
His last major act came in 1997 when Express boss Bbale Mugera retired and the club went for polls to elect a new chairman. There were two candidates; John Bagambe and Meddie Sebbagala. Musisi backed Sebaggala on election day which required voters to line up behind their candidate.
It became clear that Bagambe was winning a landslide, something Musisi could not fathom. As a trustee, he declared the situation chaotic and ordered for the postponement of the elections citing possible violence.
Fresh elections were held on April 14, 1997 at Lugogo and this time, Bagambe declined to stand while Sebaggala didn’t show up as he was in Dubai. As fans debated how to go about the dilemma, Musisi ordered the returning officer, Hajji Abu Mayanja, to go ahead with the exercise and declare Sebaggala as the sole candidate. Indeed, he was elected in absentia.
That is Musisi, whose words had the force of nature.
The author is The Observer operations director.