By Kyobe Harunah
The 2000 football season was the 33rd league edition which was contested for by 16 teams and around that time the three traditional giants SC Villa, Express plus KCC ruled the game by sharing trophies amongst themselves every campaign.
The championship was won by SC Villa after garnering 75 points out of the 30 played matches, KCC closely followed 5 points behind the champions as Express settled for third position with 65 points.
During the course of the season, we witnessed an unforgettable incident involving Express and SC Villa as the battle for league honours within the VEK trio intensified.
It all started on May 4th 2000 when Express hosted Kakira Sugar at Wankulukuku stadium in a match everyone expected the Red Eagles to win easily due to the gulf in quality between both teams.
However, the Jinja based team put up a spirited fight by holding mukwano gwa bangi to a 0-0 draw though the game was marred by various stoppages as the Red Army expressed discontent with proceedings on the pitch.
Despite the match concluding to its full duration, a row erupted immediately after as security battled Express fans who hurled insults, threw stones and even destroyed property in a bid to manhandle the match officials.
A few days later during the National Football League Committee (NFLC) sitting, basing on the referee and match commissioner’s reports, Express was handed a stadium ban as a punishment for the crowd violence.
Remember Wankulukuku stadium had suffered a similar fate after running battles between Father and Son when Express hosted SC Villa in a 1997 league encounter which was abandoned after Stephen Muleyi ruled out Zazak Lingaya’s would be winner.
Interestingly, Express next home match was against arch rivals SC Villa on 13th May 2000, however the ruling gave them liberty to choose a neutral venue of their choice from where they were to host the nail biting contest.
Express top brass convened a meeting in which they zeroed on Barifa stadium in Arua and their resolution based on reducing the travelling fans to create a peaceful atmosphere while in the West Nile town.
The club’s decision was officially communicated to the league authorities who in turn confirmed the same thus adverts for the Express/SC Villa derby in a neutral Arua started to run.
To say the least, it was a strange decision which caught many football loving Ugandans by surprise since transport to the Northern part of Uganda then, was very difficult as vehicles moved in convoys after Karuma dam escorted by NRA soldiers due to the insurgency by Kony rebels.
Ahead of the match, SC Villa chartered a local flight and within an hour, the Jogoos were in Arua but surprisingly Express opted to use road transport which required around four days.
As fate would have it, the Red Eagles got stuck in the convoy as match day approached while the Jogoos enjoyed the cool breeze in Arua as they waited for kick off time.
Interestingly Fufa’s appointed referees Haruna Kebba, Sulaiman Matovu & Hussein Bugembe were also held back by the security operatives at Karuma giving Express confidence that all was well since they were in the same situation like the match day officials.
Sensing danger of the match failing to take place, Fufa appointed an alternative set of referees from Arua Jack Nyaku, Silas Aliku & Sam Omba to officiate the tie just in case the original officials couldn’t make it.
Match commisioner remained Jaffar Alikuwa from the same area, come match time, Express FC was no where to be seen hence Nyaku took over, inspected SC Villa players as the wait for their opponents ensued until when the mandatory time elapsed without the Red Eagles trace.
Upon return to Kampala on a ferry via Masindi, Express filed a defence before the league committee indicating circumstances which led to their no show in Arua and waited for the ruling.
Chaired by Godfrey Kwizera 50 days after the incident, the NFLC awarded SC Villa points of the aborted match and in their communication, Secretary Raphael Ouma Bwire duly explained that Express defence wasn’t satisfactory.
An appeal was filed as Express desperately tried to convince the authorities how reasons of the failure to appear were beyond their control as a club.
Their pleas fell on deaf ears as the Appeals committee upheld the earlier NFLC ruling and the Red Eagles never recovered from that setback as SC Villa matched home with the league crown while Andrew Mukasa emerged top scorer with 27 goals.
Many thanks to Senior Hassan Badru Zziwa for some additional information on this piece.
Kyobe Harunah is a football administrator and a director at Vipers SC.