Localizing football is the best way of re-packaging and marketing the domestic premier league
After the storm of Onduparaka FC, Mbarara FC and Tooro United, then another. Of Wakiso Giants and Kyetume FC.
For so long in Ugandan football, the popularity of the domestic premier league suffered from the lack of identity.
For decades, traditional teams SC Villa, Express FC and KCCA FC always fished fans from the same pond.
They used style, iconic names, achievement and proxy to win over numbers in the terraces.
Villa, for example, overtook Express as the best-supported club in the country on account of their success on the pitch in the 1980s, 90s and early 2000s. They still lack identity.
The fame of superstars like Majid Musisi (RIP), Paul Hasule (RIP), Sula Kato, Andrew Mukasa, Hassan Mubiru, Hakim Magumba attracted neutrals on the sidelines and youngsters who needed idols. Villa was the face of Ugandan football, then.
Express, had for so long benefited from their proxy to the Buganda Kingdom, with several of their founding members and leadership having historical connections.
They deliberately sold the perception to the football fraternity that Express was the ‘royal’ club for the kingdom. Naturally, like everything else in central Buganda, the masses on the ground supported Express out of loyalty to the kingdom.
However, because this positioning was deeply rooted in falsehood, Express found hard times recruiting from the new budding generation.
KCCA’s situation is even more interesting. Founded as the City Council club for workers, city dwellers and the business community, it was the style of football and superstar tradition that did most of the fans recruitment.
Their constituency was not necessarily the city dwellers, but football fans who love flair and stylish football. This is the reason why for all their success on the field and professional outlook, to this day, they are still the least supported club among the giants. The club for the learned and ‘wiseakers.’
When success started eluding Villa, their support base went cold without necessarily disappearing. The same with Express, who, just like Villa, depended so much on results on the pitch to sustain their popularity.
While the football advanced the position, mismanagement at all levels; corruption, lack of sponsorship and lack of professionalism were the main reasons for the drop in popularity of the local league, hardly anyone realized that the fundamental cause was the lack of identity for the league clubs.
The birth of Onduparaka in 2011 finally gave the answer we were all looking for.
Representing the West Nile region, the club supporters who existed long before the club joined the Premier League in 2016-17, showed what a club representing a local community means.
In the recently concluded season, Mbarara FC and Tooro United went a step further in demonstration.
Every home game for Tooro, Mbarara, Onduparaka and Paidha Black Angels filled to capacity.
Never mind the individual tribes of the players and coaches of these clubs, once the name identified with the local community, it became a matter of local pride.
Supporting these football teams is now an obligation for the locals. They represent the identity of the locals against the rest of the country.
This is the sense that I welcome the arrival of Wakiso Giants and Kyetume to the big time.
The popularity and fan following that Wakiso Giants have enjoyed during their time in the Big League reminded me of Onduparaka.
You can be sure everyone who hails from the district, lives or studies there, will identify with the football club and will follow the team news from now. The same goes for Kyetume who hail from Mukono district. This is the true meaning of local football identity.
Localizing football is the best way of re-packaging and marketing the domestic premier league.
Even without the sound governance structures, finances or infrastructural set-up that the likes of KCCA and Vipers SC have, clubs like Wakiso Giants and Kyetume are going to join Onduparaka, Mbarara and Tooro in giving the traditional giants a good run for their money as far as fans support goes.
De-centralising premier league football is the most assured way of popularizing the domestic game.