By Lydia Namubiru
FOOTBALL is the most popular spectator sport in the world, according to the Microsoft Encarta encyclopedia. Anyone who needed proof of that should have been in Kampala last Saturday when the Uganda cranes beat our pessimism to thrash Angola 3-1 at Namboole Stadium.
Compared to other home matches before, the build-up to the Angola match was low key. The Uganda Cranes was hosting a team that had been to world cup in 2006 and had been one of the favourites for the Africa Cup of Nations, 2008. And just a week before, our team had been thrashed 4-1 by underdogs, Benin. All odds appeared to be against Uganda.
This time round, there were no queues at Namboole Stadium entrance. And the population on the terraces was sparse. The musicians who normally provide pre-match entertainment were replaced by music blaring out of the stadiumâ€™s loud speakers. Most fans felt we did not stand much of a chance, while others prayed that we at least secure a draw.
Others claimed they had only gone to watch the Angolan stars that they had seen on TV during the last World Cup.
The Police, who ironically turned out in big numbers spurred on the only significant pre-match animation when they got into a row with a section of the crowd.
But when the referee blew his first whistle, the Cranes fans gained some confidence. â€œThe boys were in control right from the start and we started believing that we actually stood a chance,â€ says Hilary Bainemigisha. â€œThey threatened the opponentsâ€™ territory and kept them off our vital areas,â€ another fan explains. â€œThe Angolans will tell their people that Uganda has this big guy who terrorises defenders. Ssepuuya really bullied them,â€ Kassim Kirunda another fan said.
In less than 10 minutes, Eugene Ssupuuya picked a cross from David Obua and sent a long, powerful carpet ball that whizzed past the post and embraced the net, causing wild excitement among the fans. With the sparse population, fans had space to run around and dance. Unfortunately, the score board did not join the celebrations. Akin to the surprised Angolan players, it was blank and lifeless because the stadium management had not switched it on.
Still a few pessimists remained skeptical; Kirunda recounts the nervousness of another fan who was seated behind him. â€œGo get the ball. We scored first in Benin but see what happened. Come on, get that ball out of their reach,â€ the doubting Thomas shouted at the players. Never mind that he was too far in the stands to be heard. About ten minutes later, he was converted into a believer when Andy Mwesigwa sent the net shaking again.
As the Ugandan fans went into wild excitement, the Angolan goalkeeper went after his defenders, threatening to box them. The Cranes, however, did not let off the offensive. â€œThey gave us reason to cheer through the match,â€ Kirunda states.
â€œThe third goal was the sweetest,â€ exclaimed one fan. Wagaluka, the diminutive player known for dancing rings around defenders garnished an already mouth watering meal when he scored, just 12 minutes to the end. In and outside the stadium, Kampala caught fire.
With the kick of a speared and bleeding game animal, the Angolans managed a score during additional time but the deal had long been sealed. Most of the fans were so wild with excitement, they barely noticed. The cloudy evening was now alive with excitement so tangible you could cut through it with a knife.
In the city centre, fans sprang out of sports bars and set the party blazing long before those who had watched the match at Namboole could pour in.
Horns and trumpets blared from every direction with deafening noise. The NEMA expert who measured the DP rally noise levels was perhaps off duty this time round. Masked fans took to the streets in animated merrymaking while parents with children scampered for the nearest taxi out of town.
Kampala suburbs were not left out of the party either. Celebrating Mwesigwaâ€™s goal, one child in Biina dashed into a road without a thought. His action was a terrifying reminder of the death of another child who was knocked dead near Bugolobi market when Uganda beat Nigeria last year. He too had dashed into the road.
One fan in Bweyogerere could have met the same fate but like one fan said, God was Ugandan on that day. This young man in his frenzied celebration nearly rammed into cars. Blaring his yellow trumpet to the high heavens, he ran into the road.
Like a possessed man, he ran full speed towards an in-coming car, only to grind to a halt a few metres from it. He sure scared the daylights out of the truck driver who, for a few seconds, fidgeted with the brakes to save the crazy manâ€™s life. Still, the crowd cheered the fanatic on.
The heart of many Kampalans must also have taken quite a beating from the match if we are to go by recent research on football and heart attack.
Menâ€™s risk of heart problems while watching their team play is 3.26 times higher than normal. For women, it is 1.82 times higher, according to the findings of the German research that analysed data on heart attacks in Munich during the 2002 World Cup. The findings were published in the January 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
When the Beninese come to town in September, you might want to stay home if your heart or bones are weak.