By ALDRINE NSUBUGA
S2 – E16
Jimmy Kirunda’s candle burns out
KCCA & Cranes legend has gone
He was 20 when I was being born. No surprise then, that even though I saw him in my childhood at Lugogo mostly during training as I accompanied my mother, I first watched him play a live game in Nakivubo in 1978 – a year before he ended his 10 year career (1979) as a KCC player. 1978 was also the year he led both KCC and the Uganda Cranes to glory heights on the continent as captain.
I had a chance there after to see him a couple more years as an active player before his retirement.
I will not go into his statistics. They are well known. I will dwell on the fact that he was Uganda Cranes and KCC FC’s longest serving captain ever. Legend.
No wonder Tom Lwanga was so good. Playing alongside Kirunda for donkeys years at center back for both club and country had to rub off you.
Jimmy perfected the ‘sweepers’ role ( No.5). For a player so tall, his agility, comfort on the ball, ball playing skills, vision and passing were extraordinary. He made defending look so simple, he found on numerous occasios time to join in with the attackers and return to defensive duty as though it was natural transition. He was a natural in everything.
Unbeatable above ground, unbeatable at sea level. His uniqueness lay in his game reading, his game intelligence, movement and brilliant game involvement from back to front. The greatest header of the ball in Uganda’s football history was also the greatest leader and commander on the pitch. He exuded class and an aura of elegance in everything he did. Whatever football needed in a player, Kirunda gave it. He was a natural center back but he played like a central midfielder and when he needed to, he was seemless as an attacker. His 32 goals as a center forward to top score in the league in 1978 will forever remain untouchable.
For those who didn’t get a chance to see him play but saw Tom Lwanga, John Latigo or Ibra Sekajja (close your eyes now) – he was the 3 combined in style, class and elegance. For driving a team forward with his feet and as commander, think Paul Hasule (RIP). This is not mere high praise. It was the quality and class of the man. If it wasn’t for the bias towards attacking players, Kirunda should have been undoubtedly Uganda’s greatest ever player. In fact, only Phillip Omondi robs him of the honour.
It’s ironic that Jimmy has passed on at the time when I have been running us ‘down memory lane’ series covering many players today’s fans didnt get a chance to see. It’s fitting that Jimmy takes center stage today.
His longevity, consistency & loyalty for club (KCC) and country was rare discipline and professionalism. He did get a stint in semi- professional football in the arab world. Notably, KCC signed him from Express for whom he played just 1 year (68-69) and later before his retirement was snapped up by SC Villa (early 80s). It is the 10 years he spent at KCC which define him. His legend.
Off the field, he was not as successful a coach as he was as a player but he also served as Cranes manager before very late working with FUFA at Fufa house.
Kirunda is one of Ugandan football’s most painful stories. His greatness and contribution should have earned him an affluent lifestyle. In fact he should have led football in his time. For a man so humble and down to earth, with everything that he did for football including the glory and honour, it’s sad that all we have left is to reminisce over his class and greatness, while looking over his shoulders wondering what his life might have been had he found fitting financial rewards.
A true legend of the gane has passed. We thank him for the beautiful memories. The class of Kirunda, Omondi, Lwanga, Nsereko, Latigo, Mazinga, Ssali, Hassan Biluma, Musenze is the reason why we KCC life long supporters find Lugogo a strange place when we go to watch training or home matches these days. It’s day light difference.
May God comfort his family. May God comfort his former teammates. If only Tom Lwanga and Ibra Sekajja could return one more time and play together in central defense as a testimonial, may be those who never saw Kirunda play will get a rough idea of what it is that is missing in Ugandan football today – natural defenders with class, elegance and flair.