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Remembering Kawooya, the man who made Villa a giant

Patrick Kawooya in office

Patrick Kawooya in office

Every end of year brings back the memory of Patrick Edward Mayengo Kawooya, a colossal figure in Ugandan football with an insatiable appetite for success.

He almost single-handedly built SC Villa into the most successful club in Ugandan football and arguably one of the best on the continent. At just 48 years, he breathed his last on December 31, 1995. Here is a slightly abridged profile I did about him 10 years ago.

Being rich from an early age gave Kawooya great leverage to scale football heights. He was aggressive, a perfection- ist and at the peak of his
powers did everything his way.

He had a personal dream for SC Villa to be the continent’s best and did everything possible – even at the expense of his own integrity – for Villa’s success. Everything started, revolved and ended with him.

However, he was seen by some of his peers as arrogant with dictatorial tendencies, something which might explain the fallout during his last days at Villa Park. But the 13 major trophies Villa won under his reign still remain unmatched.

I got to know Kawooya in 1979 and got close to him in the 1980s. I saw a man who loved the game than anything else, a man who opened the eyes of Ugandans that they were sitting on a gold mine when he sold Magid Musisi to France.

EXPRESS FC DAYS

Kawooya’s interest in football dates back to the late 60s while still a student at Pilais SS in Kampala. An ardent Express FC fan, Kawooya gained prominence in 1972 as a successful young businessman with an irresistible hand of generosity towards the club.

Kawooya built his fortune from his Amazon shop along the busy Namirembe road and regularly dished out money to players. He slowly rose through the ranks of Express hierarchy but when the club founder Jolly Joe Kiwanuka got exiled in 1973, a power vacuum emerged because Kiwanuka used to run the club almost single-handedly.

In this position, he oversaw the recruitment of players and this experience would later prove valuable. Express woke up from the slumber to win the 1974 and 1975 league titles but following a chaotic end to the 1977 league encounter against army side Simba – after which Express
was banned – Kawooya was among the Express official that went into hiding for fear of arrest.

It took the intervention of high-ranking friends within the army for Kawooya to be cleared. Afterwards, he kept a low profile in football.

JOINING NAKIVUBO BOYS

In Express’ absence, their feeder club Nakivubo Boys grew stronger in the lower division. In 1979, it joined the top-flight but around the same time, Express was revived and Kawooya also bounced back. A plan was mooted to merge the two clubs but Kawooya and a few others wanted each team independent.

Failure to agree led to a major split that saw Kawooya join Nakivubo Boys as club chairman. From then on, he took full control in almost every aspect of the club. He then set about to build a new team by recruiting new players and also changed the club’s name; first to Nakivubo Villa and later SC Villa, using a rooster as club logo to convey the club maturity.

He also named the club’s training ground Villa Park to equate it to that of his favourite English Premier League side Aston Villa. In no time, the club went on to win the 1982 league title unbeaten. That was the beginning of Villa’s dominance and Kawooya never looked back.

THE BIG SPENDER

Kawooya’s personal involvement in player signings caused unnecessary wars at times as rival clubs accused him of an unfair use of his financial muscle to attract the best players. This further fueled the rivalry in Ugandan football as clubs fought to retain their star players from being poached on by the big-spending Kawooya.

He greatly motivated his players. He used to furnish houses of most of the players he recruited and paid extra allowances for his star performers. Such was Kawooya’s motivation for players that at times, he could reward a crucial Villa win by awarding half or the entire club gate collections to players.

THE VISIONARY

Kawooya was a trendsetter and introduced several things he admired from his travels abroad. In an era when sponsorship was unheard-of, Kawooya promoted his business empire by sponsoring the Big League (now English Premier League) on TV through his company, Olympic Motors.

And in a groundbreaking partnership, he secured a lucrative five-year deal from oil giant Agip to sponsor Villa. Understanding that the club depended on huge finances, he wooed several tycoons to Villa.

Kawooya also created a scheme whereby fans paid for membership cards. All these made SC Villa unbeatable as the club won title after title. In a bid to expand the club fan base, Kawooya moved Villa’s home ground to Masaka in 1990. The club went a notch higher in 1991 when they finished runners-up in the Africa Club Championship.

It was a huge achievement but Kawooya was somehow unsatisfied. In July 1992, Kawooya sold star striker Magid Musisi to French club Rennes for a reported $120,000 and that very year, the club also reached the Caf Cup final but lost to Nigeria’s Shooting Stars.

MR FLAMBOYANT

SC Villa’s continued dominance left rivals in a confused state. Some alleged Kawooya was using juju for the unabated success that included five straight league titles. That prompted Express and KCC to bury the hatchet and work to stop Villa’s dominance. Kawooya, knowing his superstitious rivals had played into his hands, started doing strange things.

He wore unique outfits at some of the big games. He could lead his team while smoking a cigar or a pipe, further sending his rivals into fear. Sometimes, he could come with a couple of pigeons in the bag, which he let out immediately the teams entered the pitch.

Sometimes he could come out with a couple of roosters (Jogoos) painted with Villa’s white and blue colours. All these left the opposition mesmerized.

Kawooya’s influence didn’t stop in Uganda. In 1991 when SC Villa eliminated Nigerian side Iwuanyanwu Nationale in Ibadan, astounded Nigerians tagged him Chief and bought him the West African attire which donned on big occasions. From then on, the tag stuck and he became to be addressed as Chief Kawooya.

SAD DEPARTURE

In 1993, voices of discontent emerged within the club amid calls for an elective club assembly. Kawooya was against the elections but the club executive went ahead to set the date on December 17, 1993. Kawooya called the meeting illegal but the poll was conducted in his absence and Franco Mugabe went through unopposed.

An angry Kawooya left Villa and formed Villa International shortly afterwards. By 1995, he had run out of steam due to poor health. He passed away on December 31, 1995. It was a humbling end to a powerful man who had pulled Ugandan football out of football amateurism.

bzziwa@observer.ug

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