KAMAPALA – Grew up watching some very talented goalkeepers. Former Simba and KCCA custodian Paul Ssali’s only competition among the keepers to come out of the late seventies, was SC Villa’s Jamil Kasirye.
Even then, my infantile mind never really forgave Kasirye for failing to save a single penalty as Kenya edged Uganda Cranes to the 1982 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in Kampala.
Apprehension towards the sight of Kasirye in Cranes’ goal among the national team’s fans, yours truly included, morphed into open hostility in 1983 when the giant shot stopper was deemed to be at fault as Uganda surrendered a 1-0 lead from the first leg in Dar es Salaam to fall 1-3 at home to Tanzania’s Taifa Stars in an African Nations Cup qualifier. To date, I have never really comprehended how Zamayon Mogella and Peter Tino reduced Nakivubo Stadium to tears.
The mid-eighties saw a drop in the quality of goalkeeping, with KCCA’s John Tebusweke, Nile FC’s Adam Wenga and Express FC’s Steve Ssegujja considered the creme de la creme.
It was Sadiq Wassa who was recruited by KCCA from Nile FC ‘Omuliro’ around 1987 who raised the bar to the level last seen with Ssali when he guided KCCA to the 1978 Cecafa Club Championships and Cranes to the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
For almost a decade, no man between the sticks could match Wassa. Vividly remember his penalty saving exploits in 1989 as the Cranes beat a gifted Malawi team including the Waya brothers, Lawrence and Harry plus Young Chimodze; as Uganda won their first Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup in twelve years.
Believe it or not, Cranes fans lined the Kampala-Entebbe highway to welcome the boys back from Nairobi, Kenya.
This century has belonged to Denis Masinde Onyango. No Ugandan keeper, or footballer for that matter, has matched the Mamelodi Sundowns’ for individual accolades.
Phillip Omondi made the team of the tournament as Uganda lost the 1978 AFCON finals. That’s the closest Onyango has had for competition. Otherwise, this is the fourth consecutive year in which he is regarded as the best African keeper based on the continent. His inclusion in the Confederation of African Football (CAF) team of the year confirms that.
However, Onyango needn’t rest on his laurels. He must now gun for the big one. Though on the wrong side of thirty, he should be aiming to join Cameroon legend Thomas Nkono (1976, 1979) and Morocco’s Badou Zaki (1985) as the only keepers to win the CAF African footballer of the year award.
The sky is the limit. If he can lead Cranes to the finals in June’s AFCON finals in Egypt, he will have surpassed Kenya’s Mahmood Abbas (only keeper ever to go through the league season without conceding a goal), Zimbabwe’s Japhet Muparutsya, Sudan’s Ahmed Brema and Tanzania’s Iddi Pazi as East and Central Africa’s greatest ever.