At 81 years and 10 months old, former Uganda Cranes and Express long serving captain, Ibrahim Dafala is still as strong as a gentleman half his age.
On a normal ordinary day, the lanky former defender, a self-confessed staunch Muslim wakes up as early as 5:00 a.m for the day’s first Islamic prayer – Salat al-fajr .
One hour later, he is out of his Katabi orthodox house for a 30 minute walk before he returns for breakfast and simple house chores including washing and sun-drying his own clothes.
The tag Dafala sounds louder than the echoes reflected off the famous Entebbe cliff near Kitubulu in the vicinity of his aging house.
Dafala captained the treasured Uganda national football team, Uganda Cranes and Express, the only club he played at his glittering 18 year career span.
A proud father of 12 with several grand-children, Dafala currently stays in Entebbe Municipality at Katabi along the Kampala – Entebbe Highway with a childhood friend, a one Abdul from Arua Municipality and a few relatives.
Dafala’s life script boosts of a number of enviable records that range from being the first Ugandan football to play at Manchester United and Cardiff City, playing as Mr Clean (without a single booking or send off throughout his career) to winning three CECAFA championships as well as playing at the 1968 AFCON finals.
In an exclusive interview with Kawowo Sports, the aging defender acknowledges in a mixture of Luganda, Nubian and Swahili that it is the mercy of the Almighty Allah for his achievements and life gift thus far.
At all times you have to thank no other else but the Mighty Allah, first for providing the life, good friends, the talent and above all , his mercy to make things happen without question
Dafala struggles to recall most events and scenarios in the course of the interview as he often excuses himself to visit to the special home library where all his records are stored.
I studied at Chadwick Primary School in Entebbe. I was the youngest in the class and football team captain. I also went to Ndejje Primary School and Kibuli Demonstration School and later at Kibuli S.S.
Scholarship to Mombasa:
After Kibuli S.S, Dafala attained a scholarship at the Mombasa Institute of Muslim and Technical Education in Kenya.
The scholarship at Mombasa was through the British High Commission and I studied Electrical Engineering before getting a job at Uganda Television (UTV), now UBC TV as a sound engineer. I was responsible for controlling sound at the station
Due to the immense football talent, he was convinced to join Express Football Club at a time he was also working at UTV.
Mr Jolly Joe Kiwanuka convinced my bosses at UTV that I would skip some days at work as I train with Express and both parties agreed which worked in my favour
British and Life Captain nicknames:
Lady luck smiled on Dafala once again and he landed a training opportunity with BBC in the United Kingdom.
While on the training stint that spelled for a period of two years, he trained with both Manchester United and Cardiff City.
It was just a one-off. Both I and the Manchester United people were not serious about this.
I was very talented; they liked me, but that was it. I was also not interested because BBC was paying me well.
I learnt many football basics. For instance, to head the ball with the neck sticking out plus the art of short and long-range passing.
I also learnt to dress up in a British way. Upon my return, my playmates nicknamed me ‘British’.
For the life captain name, I was always committed to one team – Express F.C and I was captain for a long time.
How Dafala moved to Express:
For 18 years in club football, Dafala only played his top flight football at Express Football Club, a rare feat in the contemporary world.
From school, he joined the village side, Young Salumbey, a team that whose composition was three thirds Nubians, his tribe.
Young Salumbey played in the Entebbe-based Chwa League. During this time, the country’s top flight league was in a recess.
The D-moment for Dafala happened in 1961 when Young Salumbey was playing in the Luwangula Cup (current Uganda Cup).
In a match against Express, little known Young Salumbey shocked the Red Eagles 3-0, a result that was bitterly protested by the then Express coach cum director Jolly Joe Kiwanuka.
Kiwanuka who had missed the match because he was in Europe demanded a replay which was passed.
Express overturned the result in the reciprocal 3-0 but still Dafala had a field day at office and he was officially recruited for the next 18 years of his career as a Red Eagle.
Kiwanuka was everything to me. I respected him and obeyed his word. Even if you came with a million shilling, I would not sell my soul that was painted Express for life.
This is the reason, I played at Express Football Club for the rest of my club career
In 1961, Dafala got a call-up to the Buganda region team for the Aspro Cup (Regional Cup) where he played gallantly before attracting the eyes of the national team selectors and fans alike.
His moment arrived 12 months later when the national team head coach then, Clive Bond summoned him alongside 10 other Express players after convincing in a build up that Express won 3-1.
In fact, he was part of the 1962 Uganda Cranes team that qualified for the Africa Nations Cup in Ethiopia.
Being the most junior player on the team, he never featured in any of the matches.
The same year, he won the Gossage Cup and the subsequent year in 1963. From then onwards, he was part of the national team for the next 7 years.
He was also part of Coach Robert Kiberu’s Cranes side that played in the 1968 Afcon games in Ethiopia.
Uganda lost all their group games against Egypt, Ghana and hosts Ethiopia.
He also won three consecutive Cecafa titles in 1968, 1969 and 1970 came as a relief.
He was part of the Uganda Cranes team that toured West Germany where they lost 7-0 but earned special Addidas Boots for his outstanding display.
He officially retired after Uganda beat Tanzania 4-1 for the 1970 Cecafa title.
I still recall those good memories with the national team. I am happy to have toured West Germany where I got special addidas boots.
Also, being part of the 1968 match for Uganda Cranes against Middlesex Wanderers from England during their tour of East Africa.
We lost 7-0 in Kampala but surprisingly held them 1-1 in England during the return visit
Dafala retired from active football in 1975 only after having led Express to the league glory in 1974 and 1975.
His record of not getting a booking nor a sendoff still stands out. He attributes the feat to discipline;
Football is a fair and gentleman’s game.
Why should I play to hurt the opponent. I avoided unnecessary tackles and I did not want to protest referees’ decisions which is common today with most players
For his life and diligent service as a footballer, Dafala, was also privileged to have had a father (Kadara Kenyi) who served in the King’s African Rifles (KAR) and fought in both World Wars.
In 1971, Idi Amin gave Dafala, David Otti (RIP) and Hassan Mutaasa a sports goods shop that had been left behind by the expelled Indians.
This became his only source of livelihood until 1978 when Amin was overthrown.
Dafala narrates the ordeal with glumness replacing the smile as tears roll down his face;
Insecurity back in the days cost us the treasured sports shop where all our livelihood was now based.
When we lost the sports shop, life started getting tough. Because during our times, there was no money in soccer; just allowances.
That’s why you see most players from our generation suffering.
His old friends speak out:
80 year old Elifazi Mugalula, now a big land lord in Abayita Ababiri has fond memories with Dafala since their Chadwick Primary school old days.
Now partially blind, Mugalula recalls of the discipline, respect and huge talent Dafala had.
Ibrahim Dafala was my classmate at Chadwick Namate Primary school in 1945.
He was very disciplined, smart and respected everyone young or old. What I recall about him well is the best football skills he had and he was our school captain.
Personally, I was not a footballer but the entire school desired to be like him.
From Mr Smart, The British, Life Captain to current misery
Dafala enjoyed all his life moments for as long as they lasted. From being the most disciplined player to the life captain of sorts, Dafala now lives in misery state.
He is in abject poverty right from the poorly ventilated house he is currently staying in at Katabi.
It is sad that a former Uganda Cranes captain of Dafala’s class shares a room with all sorts of rodents in a poorly ventilated and wired housing unit.
In fact, he appeals to the general public for any kind of assistance;
A few years ago, I used to get assistance from Peacock Paintings Limited and football friends.
I have lost many of my club-mates and friends. The financial, material and moral support is now no more.
I call upon any kind of help to elevate me.
Dafala’s current state of being is a typical testimony of many Ex-internationals in the country who by sheer fate or design have failed to smile in retirement and instead lived to regret and curse the sports they once joyfully served to the brim.
Ibrahim Dafala fact file:
Full Names: Ibrahim Dafala
Nick Names: ‘The British’ and ‘Life Captain’
Date of Birth: 2nd February 1935
Parents: Aminah and Kadara Kenyi
Role Model: Jolly Joe Kiwanuka (R.I.P)
Education: Chadwick Primary School, Ndejje Primary School, Kibuli Demonstration School, Mombasa Institute of Muslim Education (specialized in Electrical Engineering), UK training in Sound Engineering
Football Career: Young Salumbey Football Team (Non league side), Express F.C (Played for 18 years) and the Uganda Cranes (Played for 10 years)
Achievements: Captained Uganda Cranes at 1968 AFCON finals, Part of Uganda Cranes team at 1962 AFCON finals, CECAFA (Gossage Cup) Winner 1962, 1963, 1968, 1969 and 1970, Uganda Super League winner (1974 and 1975), Runners Up CECAFA (Gossage Cup) in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967
Best Moment in life: Captaining Uganda Cranes at 1968 finals in Ethiopia, Touring West Germany (voted best defender despite losing 7-0), Playing at Manchester United and Cardiff City Junior sides.
Worst Moments in Life: 1977 Security insurgence when he lost the treasured sports shop and losing 7-0 to Middlex
Toughest Opponent: Jimmy ‘Omulogo’ Sewavah
Employment Record: UTV Sound Controller, Peacock Paints Limited, Uganda Cranes and Express Football Club player.