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Ben Misagga: Bringing sexy back to UG soccer

HE’S GOT BALLS: During an average local soccer game, the stands are empty with people cramming bars to watch the English Premier League. Almost every soccer fan has a jersey of a Premier League Club but Ugandan club jerseys are not even available for those who want them. Ben Misagga, the SC Villa president, is on a mission to “bring sexy back to local soccer by marrying it with entertainment, writes Henry H. Ssali

We all know Ugandans don’t attend local soccer games and the stadiums are always empty.  People prefer to stay in bars to watch local soccer games and you want to change that. You have a very big task ahead of you … how are you going to attract them to the games?
Ugandans watch Premier League because there is no local alternative. The moment we improve our game, Ugandans are going to come back to the stadiums.

What exactly are you going to do to make this happen?
It is already starting to happen. I was at the helm of Villa in the previous season and we registered 8,000 fans in the final league game against Vipers. 99 per cent of those were Villa fans because we are doing things to attract them to the stadiums. We now have 12,000 telephone numbers in our fans’ data base and it is growing. Last season we moved our camp to Mityana to grow our fanbase out of town and also create hunger among the Kampala fans. We signed big names like Hassan Wasswa and we also brought musicians to the games.

So you take musicians to perform before games to attract fans …
No,not necessarily to perform. We have them in the stands watching the games and fans enjoy rubbing shoulders with them, so they keep coming back. Soccer stadiums were empty during league games, but the theatres are always full. I wondered why people go to watch the plays and I reached out to people like Kato Lubwama and Abbey Mukiibi. I found out that they marry their art of theatre with music, so I decided to borrow a leaf and marry soccer with music.

Which musicians did you work with?
We had musicians like King Saha, Desire Luzinda, Eddy Kenzo, Mathias Walukagga and Mary Bata joining the fans in the stands at league games.

Speaking of Desire, the tabloids were awash with rumours of something between you and her at the time her nude photos leaked.
My reason for working with Desire was for the good of Villa. There were no intimate intentions. And even when that unfortunate incident happened to her, I did not want to judge her. Every cloud has a silver lining and she did good work for Villa. Besides, Desire is not an animal, she is not mad and she has a name so there is no problem with working with her. Fans wanted to see her and she helped bring them back to the stands. The goal of working with her was achieved.

What else are you going to do to bring back the fans?
We have started making Villa jerseys and they will be available for fans. Previously, they were not available however much someone wanted them. But now fans can purchase them at Villa Park, at Soccernet on Kampala Road, and at the Villa Offices behind Bulange.  I am actually a Liverpool fan, but I don’t own a Liverpool jersey.  It is shameful for us to wear Premier League jerseys when we have our teams. You are giving money to their leagues and then complaining about the welfare of players in our league.

Speaking of welfare. Soccer is big business elsewhere and it is from such earnings that players earn better wages. Yet in Uganda it is a hobby of rich men like you to sponsor clubs.
It is big business, but in every business, there is an investment stage. The Premier League teams started in the 1800s and some in the 1700s. In neighbouring DR Congo, it is now big business because someone like me came up and invested in TP Mazembe. I am trying my best to see that football is not run like a charity. Right now we are also producing Villa Water and Villa Maize Flour to leverage on the brand and bring in business to help with the players’ welfare.

Many talented Ugandans have left soccer because it doesn’t pay. Someone would rather ride a boda boda or get a job instead of playing soccer. Our talent is being wasted … how can you convince talented people to continue playing soccer?
My advice to talented young men out there is that Uganda is not the last end user of soccer. If you are good and given a platform, you can shine and be taken on by big clubs abroad, then your welfare issues will be sorted. Serbia is a small country of about five million people, but about 10 per cent of them are involved in soccer, including our Cranes coach. Nigeria has more than 200 professionals abroad. This can be done even here. In fact we have hired a European coach, Antonio Flores, from Spain, and  one of his terms of reference is to ensure four Villa players are taken on by European teams every year. I have big plans for Villa like our own stadium ans we can only achieve that is by selling players abroad.

You recently won the Uganda Cup and qualified for the Africa Confederations Cup. But you offloaded many of the players who helped you win …
The players we had last season were for a make-shift arrangement.  We got big names to help bring back the fans. But even in the Bible, Moses took the Israelites out of Egypt, but he didn’t reach the promised land with them. These players served a purpose and we appreciate it, but we are now looking at having young players between 18 and 23, who can be marketable. Players like Hakim Magumba have served their time and won’t be on the team next season but they are Villa legends, so they might be able to serve in another capacity, we are even having a testimonial match for him.

Villa came second in the league last season and even won the Uganda Cup … some people are talking of match fixing because Villa has been struggling and didn’t get a trophy in the past six years years.
The people saying that were surprised by the new Villa we put together in a short period of time. If you know you are going to buy games, why would you waste money taking players to camps, organising friendly matches and bringing in motivational speakers. People were surprised because they were not prepared for a strong Villa. You know, you can’t prepare for a tsunami. Villa was like a tsunami last season.

Taking you back. How did you join Villa. Were you once a player?
No, surprisingly at school I played table tennis, badminton and hockey. I took interest in Villa while in primary school at Matale in the late 1970s. Patrick Kawooya who was the president of SC Villa had a son with us at the school. He had a powerful Nissan Datsun with an exhaust pipe that used to make noise like a rally car and bring the school to a standstill whenever he visited his son. We used to admire him. His son told us about Villa and we became fans.

And how did you get into the management ranks?
After school, I joined UCB’s construction department. We used to stroll from UCB in the evenings to go to the neighbouring Villa Park. I started contributing to the team’s welfare. I also had a few taxis at that time and they used to transport fans to games, but at a fee. So when a slot for a national fans coordinator became available in 2005, I stood and was elected unopposed. The late Kevin Aliro was one of my mentors.

But 2005 is a decade ago and you only took over Villa management last year. Why did you go off the scene?
I went off the leadership scene, not the Villa scene because I kept contributing towards the team’s welfare while I was conducting my business in Zambia. We had problems back then because roles between me and then Villa president Franco Mugabe were not defined. I was in charge of the fans and he was in charge of the executive, there was an impasse. I resigned from being national fans co-ordinator but made my intentions of becoming club president clear. Last year, elections were held and I stood unopposed because executive members had agreed to make me president.

So what exactly do you do in Zambia?
I am into mining and construction, not only in Zambia, but also Angola and Malawi. Like I said earlier, I went to school in Zambia so I had my connections there. Former President Levi Mwanawasa  (RIP) and Rupiah Banda were my good friends. Besides, Zambia and Uganda are almost the same. When Zambians, speak a Muganda will understand. There are tribes like the Ngoni and Tumbula whose languages are close to Lugisu, so they are like Ugandans. They even have Kampala Road in the Copper Belt and Milton Obote Street in Lusaka.

misagga on why cranes doesn’t qualify for  afcon
Focus on local talent:
It is because our teams are not strong. We must strengthen and rejuvenate the Villa Express KCC (VEK) rivalry. These teams can feed the Cranes and the boys will play their hearts out knowing that they are headed for bigger things if they shine. The other problems are greed and lack of openness among the soccer leadership. Some people think Ugandan soccer belongs to them yet it is a public good! If you start claiming ownership of a public good, then fights will ensue.

who is  ben misagga?

Tell us about yourself
I am 46 years old. I was born on Christmas day in December 1968. The priest at our parish was an Italian so he baptized me Immanuel, he said the “I” represented Italy instead of Emmanuel where the “E” would represent England.

You are popularly known as Ben Misagga, but people say you have multiple aliases, why is that so?
Our father gave us many names. It is a family tradition. I am Immanuel Benedict Joseph Misagga Mbazzi Muguluma. One of my brothers is Cliff Richard Musango Gwantamu Masagazi Majwala Wakula Ennume. My sister is Lydia Rachael Namazzi Njuki Ssekatawa Teluleka. Our last born brother is Peter Bemba Bazale Wakula Enumme Muguluma. Actually I inherited some of my names from my late uncle as his heir. He used to work in the Kabaka’s palace and he was castrated because he was attached to the residences of the king’s wives, so he didn’t bare any children. Being his heir, I had to make sure his lineage goes on, so my passport is in the names of Joseph Muguluma Mbazzi.

And your school background?
I went to Kitagobwa Primary School in Kiteezi. My uncle, the father to current BOU Deputy Governor Louis Kasekende was the headmaster of the school and he is the one who picked me from the village. I later went to Matale Boarding School and Namilyango Junior Boys before going to Jinja College School, Jinja SS and back to Jinja College.

How come you went to many schools?
My father was a soldier who used to be posted to different places, so naturally we had to keep moving with him. But I later went to Longoi Polytechnic in Nairobi because I had an aunt who lived in Kenya. She wanted me to be a pilot but I did a higher diploma in Motor Mechanics. After a while, I went to Zambia because I had an uncle who lived there, and I joined Copperbelt University for civil engineering. I later upgraded with a Post Graduate Diploma in Project Management from Greenich University, still in Lusaka Zambia.

How about family?
I am a family man with children.

How many are they?
Many. Baganda men are not supposed to count our children.

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