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Fred Kajoba, the player, coach many admired

Fred Kajoba (L) with teammate Ibrahim Kirya during his time at Simba

Fred Kajoba (L) with teammate Ibrahim Kirya during his time at Simba

Fred Kisitu Kajoba, one of the most recognized figures in Ugandan football, passed on May 13 in Tanzania. He succumbed to heart failure, aged 54.

For more than three decades, Kajoba enjoyed a successful career as a player and coach. From his humble roots, ‘Coach Kajo’ rose through the ranks as a goalkeeper to star as a striker as well as featuring for the national team, on top of mentoring several stars, writes HASSAN BADRU ZZIWA.

Among football enthusiasts, the mere mention of Kajoba’s name evokes sharp memories of the agile goalkeeper and peerless goalkeeping coach. At the time of his death, Kajoba was the goalkeeping coach at Tanzania’s Ihefu club, which he was managing with his compatriot Matiya Lule.

There is a tendency to heap superlatives on people who have died, often emotionally, as a way of bidding a final farewell. I’ve heard quite a number of touching eulogies about the late Kajoba, but you ought to have met him as a player, coach, or friend to understand why, even after his death, he remains a revered person.

Outside his football life, Kajoba was a successful farmer, staunch Catholic to the extent of being tagged ‘Maama Maria’ and, crown it all, a genuinely likeable gentleman. He was friendly to almost everyone and enjoyed his work. He will always be remembered for honing the skills of Cranes custodians such as Denis Onyango, Robert Odongkara and Salim Jamal Magoola, among others.

FORMATIVE YEARS

It was in 1986 that Kajoba emerged while playing for second-tier side, Pepsi FC, where he featured as a top prospect. But having failed to join the top-flight league, his chance to impress came in the 1987 Bika Bya Baganda tournament, in which he starred as the goalie for his Fumbe clan.

This prompted Coffee FC’s big-spending boss, Alex Kiseego, to recruit him in 1988 for a then Ugandan record signing fee of Shs 1m. However, the young Kajoba spent the first season as fourth-choice keeper behind experienced names of Robert Kiwanuka, Patrick Kiho and Paul Sentongo.

Kajoba (C) introduces the Kabaka to Ffumbe clan side teammates
Kajoba (C) introduces the Kabaka to Ffumbe clan side teammates

The following year, Kajoba was elevated as the understudy to Sentongo. He had some good performances for the club but there was little to suggest he would become a star Kiseego envisioned. But, a combination of intelligence and sheer hard work ensured that he seized his chance and had become the first choice by the season.

The 1989 season was a disaster for Coffee and when the club hired former Cranes coach Barnabas Mwesiga, he overhauled the team and handed the club’s armband to 21-year-old Kajoba. The 1990 season saw Coffee challenge for league and cup silverware, with Kajoba featuring prominently.

They narrowly lost the league title to SC Villa by two points after losing only two league matches [to KCC and Resistance FC]. However, Kajoba and teammates enjoyed a fairytale run in the Uganda Cup in which they eliminated Express in the quarterfinals after Kajoba saved two penalties in the shoot-out.

Though they lost to Villa in the semis, Kajoba had established himself as one of the best in the country. In fact, he was summoned for the Uganda Cranes for the first time but coach Polly Ouma retained the pecking order led by Sadiq Wassa and Bright Dhaira.

Kajoba would later make his Cranes debut on September 3, 1991, in a friendly match against Sudan, which Uganda won 1-0. His first competitive match for the Cranes came on December 7, 1991, when Uganda met Sudan for the third play-off during the Cecafa Cup tournament held in Kampala.

Earlier in the 1991 league campaign, Kajoba made headlines when he saved key penalties from Magid Musisi [Villa] and Robert Aloro [Express]. However, the Joseph Kabundi-coached Coffee could only finish fourth in the league behind the three traditional giants.

By now, Kajoba was enjoying the peak of his career and many people pinned their hopes on him to help Coffee break the hegemony of the traditional giants. In 1992, Coffee yet again came close to winning the league but finished runners-up. In the same season, Kajoba got his only red card in his career when he fouled UCB’s Bashir Adam.

Later that season, Kajoba was in the Uganda Cranes squad in Tanzania. When Wassa got injured before the final against Tanzania, Kajoba seized his chance as Uganda beat Tanzania 1-0 to earn his first title with the senior team. In 1994, the club posted poor results following the reduction of financial support from the parent body [Coffee Marketing Board], which saw the exodus of players at the end of the season.

At some point, the club fell short of strikers, prompting coach Tom Lwanga to deploy Kajoba as a centre forward. He repaid the faith shown
in him with a typically classy season. He scored nine goals, including two braces against Express and KCC. Still, the team finished fourth from the bottom.

LIFE IN THE UAE

Kajoba, with the help of Steven Bogere, joined the paid ranks in Oman, where he continued to play as a centre forward for Majjees FC. He scored 10 goals. He returned to Uganda in 1997 and joined Simba as a striker.

Fred Kajoba (2nd L) with Coffee FC teammates
Fred Kajoba (2nd L) with Coffee FC teammates

Early in 1998 when Simba got walloped 0-5 by Express coach Paul Hasule asked Kajoba to return to goal to stop the rot. Indeed, this helped the team settle and helped Kajoba regain his Cranes place. He was part of The Cranes side that travelled to Austria for the one-month training camp. However, his love for the Cranes ended when he conceded all six goals in the 0-6 defeat in Tunisia in 1999.

TURNING TO COACHING

After hanging up his gloves, Kajoba decided to go to England to start a coaching career. He obtained a Uefa B license. When he returned to Uganda, he rejoined Simba’s technical bench until 2009, when he was appointed head coach of the army side. He was also appointed Uganda Cranes goalkeeping coach at the same time.

He would guide Simba to the 2010/2011 Uganda Cup trophy and later helped Vipers SC secure the 2019/2020 league title. He was also instrumental in Uganda Cranes qualification for the 2017 and 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, helping to sharpen Uganda Cranes custodians Onyango, Odongkara and Magoola.

He also coached other teams including the Solitilo Bright Stars as well as Tanzania’s Ihefu, among others. He will be buried on May 19 at his country home in Malangala sub-county, 29 miles off Mityana road.

bzziwa@gmailcom

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