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Recalling time when Doka 'The Rock' was unplayable

Ahmed Doka

Ahmed Doka

I was on the edge while streaming Uganda’s World Cup qualification loss to Guinea last Friday. It was frustrating.

We seemed to match the west Africans but we were timid and lacking in concentration, especially in defence where we lacked leadership. Every Cranes era has a peerless leader in defence but we don’t have one at the moment. A player in the mold of John Latigo, Paul Hasule or even Ibrahim Sekagya.

However, on Friday while watching the match, the name that came to mind was Ahmed Doka, the classy defender from the 1970s. He is widely regarded as one of Uganda Cranes and Simba FC’s greatest players, having won four major titles and featuring at two Afcon finals.

Technically, he was supreme; the timing of his tackles was good and his reading of the game plus aerial ability made him a nightmare for defenders. However, like many of his peers from the golden 1970s generation, Doka’s career was cut short due to alcoholism.

Born and raised in Bombo, the towering player first emerged on the local scene as a star performer for Bombo SS in the 1960s. He later joined Kampala District Bus Service (KDS), a second-tier side, where he was deployed in midfield.

A ROCK IN THE SIMBA DEFENCE

In 1969, Doka joined the Uganda Army and thereafter switched to Army FC (later named Simba FC) in 1970. There, he found an ageing defence that had the likes of Ben Ezaga, Joseph Onziga and Peter Godi; so, the coaches switched Doka from midfield to defence.

That very year, Doka was summoned to the Uganda Cranes squad and got a baptism of fire in Uganda’s 0-4 defeat in Sudan in a 1972 Olympic Games qualifier. From then on, Doka cemented his place in the team and thrived with his centre-back partner Jimmy Kirunda and the full-backs Eddie Semwanga and Ashe Mukasa.

Back at Army FC, he had already helped reduce the side’s goals leakage and it came as no surprise when the club won the 1971 league title, thanks to no small part from the free-scoring trio of Polly Ouma, Swaleh Wasswa, and John Dibya. Remarkably, the defence marshalled by Doka conceded just nine goals throughout the season.

In 1972, the army side made history after reaching the final of the Africa Club Championship before losing the title to Guinea’s Hafia FC. In 1973, he played an integral role as the Uganda Cranes won the Cecafa Cup title in Kampala.

He also played a key role in helping The Cranes qualify for the 1974 Afcon held in Egypt after eliminating Algeria. He featured in all Cranes games in Cairo, pairing with Kirunda, but Uganda was eliminated at the group stage.

At Simba, Doka was the de facto leader on the pitch and his fine play was rewarded with a promotion to the rank of lieutenant. With this meteoric rise on and off the pitch, Doka had established himself as a household name. Wherever he moved around Kampala, Doka was always gifted tokens of appreciation for his talent.

Unfortunately, such perks included free alcohol at top Kampala hangouts. Nonetheless, few could dare come out to question Doka, given that he was an influential figure in The Cranes and his great run from inside his half to set up Phillip Omondi’s goal in the 3-0 win over Zambia booked Uganda’s qualification for the 1976 Afcon.

DESTROYED BY ALCOHOL

In 1976, Cranes coach David Otti was the first to express concern with Doka’s drinking habits. To show his concern, Otti dropped Doka from the starting lineup at the 1976 Afcon tournament in Ethiopia.

He instead started Tom Lwanga. He was only used twice as a substitute before The Cranes bowed out of the tournament. The loss of his starting place at a time he was at his peak is said to have greatly demoralized him and plunged him into alcoholism.

By 1978, it was evident Doka’s powers were waning. He also missed training sessions and it was later revealed that he had developed into a full-blown alcoholic. In 1979, he quit football and left for India for a military course and while still there, Idi Amin’s government was overthrown.

Doka didn’t return home due to the persecution of former army officers and instead moved to Syria before settling in Lebanon. He only returned to Uganda in the 2000s but he had already been diagnosed with lung cancer.

He got admitted to Mulago hospital before he breathed his last on November 22, 2003. He left behind five children, including Amina Doka, who is married to former Bunamwaya FC player Paddy Mukiibi. The couple lives in Maryland, USA.

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