DAVID ISABIRYE: Hats off for the retiring Uganda Cranes skipper Geofrey Massa

© Kawowo Sports | JOHN BATANUDDE
Geoffrey Massa in action against Togo during the 2018 FIFA World Cup preliminary round qualifier at Namboole stadium

Minutes after the final whistle at Stade D’Oyem in the Northern forested Gabonese town of Oyem where Uganda Cranes held Mali to a one-all draw during the final group D match at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), I rushed to interview captain Geofrey Massa towards the end of the gigantic stadium.

By that time, he was talking to US Based midfielder Mike Azira possibly discussing the postmortem of the game that was played on a flooded turf.

When I approached the pair, I congratulated them for the day’s result that meant Uganda Cranes would smile back home with a point and goal earned after over 39 years without playing at the AFCON.

FUFA Media
Uganda Cranes pre match Press conference in Oyem during the Africa Cup of Nations tournament. Second from right is captain Geofrey Massa. He was eloquent as he addressed the media any day, any time

I cornered the well-built skipper a few meters away from Azira to ask him a few ‘personal questions’ among which included his club future (then he was at Baroka in South Africa) and then the retirement plans after a great service to the Uganda Cranes over the years.

“I will tell you when we reach home because it is a big decision,” Massa whispered to me in the native Lusoga dialect.

It took Massa close to 60 days to make the decision. In fact, when we returned home, I would call him for normal business and interviews than to know about his future with the national team.

© Kawowo Sports | JOHN BATANUDDE
David Obua and Geoffrey Massa talk after a training session at Mandela National stadium, Namboole

Almost 90 percent of population in Uganda thought Massa would carry on with the captain’s role since he had not announced within weeks after coming back from Gabon.

The decision surely caught many by surprise.

His fellow teammates, sports journalists, friends, family members, fans, administrators at FUFA and guess what even his sworn enemies were shocked when they woke up to the news of Massa’s retirement.

massa walu okwi
Geofrey Massa talks to teammates Godfrey ‘Jajja Walu’ Walusimbi and Emmanuel Arnold Okwi in Botswana before an AFCON 2017 Qualifier

In an exclusive interview shortly after handing over the retirement letter to the FUFA President Moses Magogo, Massa disclosed;

It took me like 2 months to announce my retirement. I asked my family and friends to guide me.

Many wanted me to push on but I came up with the final decision to say good bye. It is an emotional time and happy to have been given the chance

Love or hate him Geofrey Massa has a special apartment reserved in the rich history archives of Uganda’s football.

Fast forward, he will remain the captain who guided Uganda to AFCON after such a long time.

For people close and far from Massa, he will forever remain a down to earth person.

One person with a generous heart, always guiding, counseling and acting the father like role to many young Uganda Cranes teammates and other footballers.

Benda
A young Geofrey Massa (right) with a Walukuba childhood friend Edison Benda. Benda was an immensely talented midfielder who played with Massa back in the days. He is now in the United States

Massa is not jealous as he easily shared the ‘little football basics’ to fellow players with the ease of a free falling object respecting gravitational principles.

I vividly recall one day when he told youngsters Edris Lubega and Muhammed Shaban that they have all it takes to make better players than him.

It is rare for a footballer to testify such to fellow players in this era.

But the former Police and Mbale Heroes forward has been such a type in a long time.

Massa has been a typical leader. On the field of play, it was easily seen when he shouted almost his lungs out to teammates.

Off the field, he was an advocate for the teammates.

He fought ‘silent – healthy’ wars for teammates often pushing FUFA officials to the wall in the interest of building teamwork and promoting equality.

© Kawowo Sports
Geoffrey Massa celebrates after scoring against Guinea at Namboole Stadium. Massa was nicknamed the King of Namboole for turning the stadium into his own with great goals

Massa has been and I believe will remain a cheerful giver.

For confidentiality purposes, I will leave out other people’s tales where Massa’s self-generosity was exhibited but center on my own personal ventures.

I have failed to make count of the times Massa offered me advice in my line of duties.

Personally, Massa is more than a biological brother; a friend indeed who would always call you to correct a story went a mess.

One day, he called me from South Africa to air out grievance for a fellow Uganda Cranes teammate whom I had described as unpatriotic.

Massa corrected ideology and impression I had painted the Uganda Cranes star.

He has been a gallant fighter for teammates indeed.

Massa’s eloquence and good command has also won him admirers across the divide.

Little wonder therefore, he was chosen as one of the CAF and Africa United Health ambassadors alongside Liberian Anthony Laffor and Goalkeeper Dennis Onyango to promote the immunization campaign across the African continent.

Geofrey Massa health Campaign poster. He clinched the deal at AFCON 2017

I learnt with gratitude that Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA) has offered to accord Massa a decent send off with a well-organized testimonial match.

Massa deserves such a high profile send off with, one that will reflect the fond memories and smiles he gave the millions of fans especially at Nelson Mandela National stadium, Namboole where he was baptized ‘King of Namboole’.

Personally, I would suggest one wing of the stadium be named in his honour.

FUFA has also vowed to assist Massa develop a career of his own when he eventually hangs up the boots after club football.

Opportunities in management, administration and media await this clean shaven and polite gentleman.

How I wake up one day when Massa is a newspaper columnist, blog and website sports critic, radio and TV pundit discussing football, a coach on the sidelines, a FIFA agent or a football delegate with rich football ideologies to develop the beautiful game across all boundaries.

massa warm up© Kawowo Sports / AMINAH BABIRYE
Massa leads the paces under the watchful eyes of coach Micho at the Rufaro stadium in Harare before an international build up match

It is a colorful end of a 12 year epoch for Geofrey Massa where he remains the most scoring Ugandan in the AFCON and World Cup Qualifiers of all times.

Massa ticked right many of the boxes paraded in career path and it is not surprising he remains a darling among many.

From Mbale to Walukuba in Jinja his second home away from home, in Cyprus, South Africa and Egypt, Massa no question remains a ‘Saint’.

How I wish I had the powers to award ceremonial medals, Massa would be decorated two special ‘Katonga and Kagera’ medals of Honour.

This would be a perfect reward for his distinguished, diligent and dedicated service to the Uganda Cranes and Ugandan football as a whole.

Massa alights from the team bus before a game for the national team

Many, I inclusive will miss the smile as you make majestic and elegant strides from the famous Namboole dressing room tunnel ready for the next mission at hand.

When you commanded instructions to teammates during the field of play, they politely adhered; you led by example with the due experience.

The loads of calories used to execute the great lung bursting runs full of power, precision and dedication will be missed I am sure at some stage.

You have been the true king of Namboole but the curtains of a glittering career at one stage open as they eventually close down when time elapses.

Geofrey Massa with a Baroka teammate promoting a club brand in South Africa. Massa’s charming personality made him a great brand ambassador overnight

Massa, your retirement is timely but painful.

Thank you for the great and passionate service.

Long live historic Uganda Cranes captain.

Long live the King of Namboole Stadium.

Long live Geofrey ‘Massive’ Massa!!!