DAVID ISABIRYE:  The good, the bad and the ugly at the 2017 Copa schools’ football tourney

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St Mary’s Kitende player Sula Mpanga with an acrobatic kick during the game against Dynamic

The 24th edition of the national copa schools’ football championship successfully concluded on Saturday at Masaka Recreational stadium.

For starters, Jinja Secondary school made history when they won their first ever championship after defeating Jinja S.S 4-3 on post match penalties following a one all draw in normal time.

Record tournament winners Kibuli edged Nakaseske International 1-0 in the classification match to finish third and also book a berth for the 2017 East African secondary school games slated for August in Gulu, at St Joseph’s college, Layibi.

Kawowo Sports’ David Isabirye was caged in Masaka for the tournament duration and reflects on the tournament low and high moments.

Mammoth and passionate crowds:

One noticeable feature at the 2017 Copa national schools football tournament in Masaka were the mammoth and passionate crowds at all the playing venues used to host this annual event.

© Kawowo Sports / DAVID ISABIRYE
A section of fans on the Shell Buddu wing at Masaka Recreational stadium watching the 2017 copa finale

Right from Masaka Recreational stadium, Gayaza, Arena, St Henry’s Kitovu, Blessed Sacrament Kimanya, St Jude to the Police play grounds, the crowd did not disappointed.

As soon as the group stage matches kicked off, business in Masaka almost came to halt as fans flocked the playing grounds as early as 8 a.m to catch live the games with passion and determination.

For obvious reasons, numbers sworn towards the knock-out stages.

It was evident that round of 16 and semi-finals at the Arena play ground in Kitovu as well as the final match at Masaka Recreational will remain on record for the overwhelming numbers.

Withstanding the bold fact that all the games at the championship were free to all, the fans braved the hostile rainy conditions to watch the games.

How to maintain these crowds at all sports related events particularly football remains another enticing topic reserved for another day and forum.

Amazing new talents on the block:

A tournament of Copa’s stature will always provide the due plat form for promising players to showcase talents.

© Kawowo Sports / DAVID ISABIRYE
Masaka’s Badru ‘Jibril’ Nsiimbe was one of the tournament revelations

Indeed, the tournament has not been a disappointment as many players, virtually unknown to many have been exposed.

Club scouts, tournament selectors, schools and FUFA underage representatives have optimally utilized the event to reinforce their respective teams.

Players as Goffin Oriyowoth (Buddo), Moses Aliro (Kibuli), Vincent Zziwa (Jinja S.S), Abdallah Ssenyonga (St Julian), Sula Mpanga (St Mary’s Kitende), Frank ‘Walcot’ Iga (Masaka), Bardu ‘Jibril’ Nsimbe (Masaka), Derrick Onyai (Amus College) have been a raw deal for many and will definitely present a puzzle to future national team selectors just in case they follow the right up-bringing and the zeal to play football.

Affluent organization:

The copa schools tournament is arguably the biggest national football championship that encompasses all the districts and regions of the country.

Part of the local organizing committee for the 2017 Copa games

Right from the zonal qualifiers, the tournament graduates to the districts that eventually breed to regions all over the entire country.

From the grass root qualifiers, organization is tip top which is brought forward at the national finals.

In Masaka, it was no different. All the participating schools were well fed and accommodated at the vast  Masaka S.S school premises.

Security for all the students was a top priority.

© Kawowo Sports / DAVID ISABIRYE
Ivan Wani (right) dribbles during the final match at Masaka Recreational Recreational stadium. Wani was voted MVP.

Healthy rivalry of schools and fans:

Take it or leave it, football is interesting with healthy rivalry of the players and fans.

As the fans battle on the field of play, fans ought to have a great day at office in the stands.

In the exact words of Hon. Charles Bakabulindi, who was chief guest at the tournament closure; “Football is not war”.

Indeed, football is one sport that fosters unity and cordial relationships that a corrosive force.

Players and fans alike should enjoy the beautiful game at all times.

Constructive play and goals galore:

The joy of football is when a team constructively builds play, balances defense and offense – epitomized by scoring.

Abdul-Karim Watambala misses his kick that crashed Kitende.

Artistry galvanized by special talents is a mere icing that fans love most.

From all the group stage matches, there were signs of schools playing good football, defending and attacking with purpose to score.

Full stake holders involvement:

On a rather positive note, it was great to witness all the major stake holders involved to ensure a smooth run tournament.

From the security organs, medical wing, central government, sponsors, schools, fans, media, Federation of Uganda Football Associations (FUFA) to the local organizing committee, there was a major commendable role to each of the party aforementioned.

Suspect refereeing decisions:

First, it is imperative upon me to first thank the tournament refereeing appointment department headed by Ronnie Kalema and Catherine Adipo.

The match officials who officiated the final between St Mary’s Kitende and Jinja S.S during the limbering exercise prior to the game

Then, the respective match referees ought to get and deserve a big applause.

Apparently, there were grey areas in some of the matches handled that left many unanswered questions than answers.

A case in point is that highly charged encounter between Masaka s.s and Kibuli during the quarter final.

Referee Ashraf Miiro was as though the man of the match with un-called for decisions that would have led to the match abandonment.

Good enough, the match progressed with the intervention of policemen who fired into space to disperse disgruntled parties.

Sironko Progressive absence:

For lack of a better word to use, Sironko Progressive Academy was ill prepared.

A month after qualifying as one of the three Teso sub region schools, Sironko Progressive Academy failed to show up.

Reason – they did not have transport to Masaka.

This left the would be 60 teams’ tourney with 59 schools.

Wet and cold weather conditions:

Throughout the course of the 2017 copa tournament, Masaka district and the surrounding areas have been as wet as a dog’s nostrils.

Players fight for possession on a flooded ground. Many playing venues were left muddy following the endless rains day and night.

Convectional rains were the order of the day and night.

This left many playing grounds flooded and muddy – almost unplayable.

Many a times, easy ball movement was hampered thus distorting the natural flow of the beautiful game.

Nevertheless, the fans braved the rains to catch the exciting action come rain or shine.

Repeaters allowed to play:

This year, organizers allowed the repeaters to feature at the tournament unlike in the previous events.

The decision left many game teachers two faced.

Whereas others okayed the decision, others were against it under the guise that the essence of the tournament was being killed.

“When you allow repeaters to play, there will be no chance for new and fresh talents to be seen” reasoned long serving Masaka S.S’ games master Meddie Sserwadda.

Distant playing venues:

Many schools especially those without buses or coasters complained of the distant venues where their respective matches were to be held.

© Kawowo Sports / DAVID ISABIRYE
Action between Nakaseke International and Jinja Progressive in the quarter finals. Many schools complained off distant venues

In future, this is a test for the organizers to ensure that all the schools are helped.

Continued use of mercenaries and non-students:

A few schools as Nkooma were suspended and punished for continued use of non students which is very regrettable.

Players’ and team officials’ indiscipline acts:

The tournament was punctuated by regrettable incidents of extremities of indiscipline cases from players and officials.

Blame it on the overwhelming urge to win at all costs, schools

Jose Chamelone wrap up:

He might have gone over board with obscene verbal artillery, but the music icon Jose ‘Doctor’ Chamelone definitely stole the show at the climax of the tournament.

© Kawowo Sports / DAVID ISABIRYE
Excited Jinja S.S players celebrate with Jose Chameleon on the podium

As the closing ceremony concluded in the middle of the Masaka Recreational stadium, Chamelone jumped to the stage for an energetic performance.

Jubilating Jinja S.S players joined the music star as he performed his hit songs as ‘Owakabi’ among others.

The players optimally utilized the big stage to enjoy endless selfies with the self proclaimed musical doctor.

Chameleon declared the plat form as one for champions only as he vulgarly got off the other people.

The crowd loved his unique dance strokes and they sang aloud.

Congs Jinja S.S for the historic victory.