What the 50+1 demand by Man-U fans means in a Ugandan setting.

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By Alex Bossa

It is Eid day and Yusuf wakes up to do his daily bakery work. Being a passionate fan for the local soccer team Namagumba FC, he remembers that it is the final day of the Eid cup between his beloved Namagumba FC and Nakalooke FC. 

He picks his book where he records community members who donate towards the team each match day and starts to make a round. Yusuf has been doing this since his youthful years and he is proud of it. Such arrangements not only include the community in matters of the football team but it brings that excitement and the spirit of belonging.

Today the top clubs in Ugandan football have long forgotten the tradition and are either owned by individuals or organisations. This kills the attachment of the fans to the club since the fans have to abide with what the money driven investors want in addition to low morale.

The danger attached to individual ownership of clubs is that once the proprietor dies or runs bankrupt, there are high chances of the club going extinct or deteriorating. A case in point is AC Millan which had long enjoyed success under Silvio Berlusconi but once he went bankrupt, the club became a shadow of its former self.

Throw in Mbale Heroes, it’s most recent successful spell in the late 90s and early 2000s was built on the late James Wapakhabulo. His death was not only a pain to his relatives but also the Mbale Heroes die hard fans.

At its formation, the then Bunamwaya FC had identified itself with the people of the area and it’s surrounding. Communities along Entebbe road would speak one language “Bunamwaya FC” but the rebranding to Vipers has since changed matters. It gave room to the resurrection of forgotten clubs like Lweza FC and Katwe United who embraced the idea of communal ownership of soccer clubs.

The likes of Allan Ssewanyana have built their political careers on society-based ownership and belonging to a communal team. Katwe United has built him a platform to the extent that even non-football lovers started following football.

For a long time football has been a uniting factor in Society where a multiple of tribes have come together to speak one language, football.

On 8th October 2005, the Ivorian team was on the verge of making history and qualified for the World Cup for the first time but back home then there was a civil war which had divided the country since 2002. But that victory in Sudan and a heartbreaking last minute penalty kick from Cameroun sent the entire war-torn nation in jubilation. The entire country was united, every person and house came together and as it is said, the rest is history.

When fans are involved in the running of a club, they not only bring in the match day gate collections but also attract potential businessmen who would wish to advertise their merchandise. Investors will always aim at numbers and once they find an organized group of people, they will always look for a loop hole to penetrate the market.

The exodus of sports business has steadily wiped off the communal belonging to football teams with the events in Manchester last weekend being a climax of why the game should be taken back to the fans.

Giving 51 % control to the fans may not be suicidal depending on how terms are drawn as it is with the Bundesliga where fans control the majority of the club affairs save for Red Bull’s stake in Leipzig. To no surprise Leipzig is the most hated club in German football.

The disappearance of fans from the Ugandan super league matches steadily increased as clubs moved away from society based on the hands of investors. Gone are the days when a league match between Express Fc and Sc Villa would fill Nakivubo Stadium beyond capacity.

These matches witnessed goal scorers or players who performed heroics in a match being tipped by the excited fans. Such was the beauty of football.

Of course, fan ownership comes along with its vice such as taking matters in their own hands with the recent abandonment of the Manchester United Vs Liverpool game where fans protested hours to kick off.

You cannot blame investors for taking the lion’s share since they hold the money bags and they have more to lose. The likes of Dr. Lawrence Mulindwa have injected a fortune in Vipers SC and you do not expect a 50 +1 to be allocated to the fans. This literally translates, “How does he call you?”

The challenge of having a number of stakeholders can be suicidal since each individual knows that they are right in their own way which slows down decision making. Express and SC Villa are testament to this as they have for long faced management problems as a result of mistrust from fans in the club’s leadership.

When Godfrey Kirumira was at the helm of Express FC, a section of fans was dissatisfied with the club’s chairman ship and decided to forcefully make him resign his role but ever since he left, the club has been changing management year in year out which has affected the club’s performance on and off the pitch to the extent that in the 2017/2018 season the team to win against relegated Masavu to survive relegation. By the time Kirumira left, the club was among the league’s elite.

SC Villa followed similar traits of fans taking matters of club ownership in their hands and the club has since deteriorated after the departure of Ben Misaga

The giving away of the 50 +1 stake to fans may be suicidal to the investors but worth it in the long term where fan loyalty can play its role and have stadiums filled again. Germany is a testament of this strategy and it has reduced on the dangers of exploitation of the club by owners. 

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