By Herbert Mwima
JINJA: I had the time of my life. I wined and dined with great people and enjoyed the perks that fame brings along. It was fun. It was interesting. This is the story of former Cranes star Fred Makoha. But not anymore.
Like many former Cranes footballers before him, Makoha is only left with fond memories of his stellar football career, a career that spanned two decades but failed to guarantee him a secure financial future.
The once prolific soccer star blew almost every cent he made on poor investments and now lives in a one-bedroom house in Bugembe, Jinja district.
Athletes careers are so short lived and their star usually shoots and dims very fast, making them wallow in poverty as they helplessly watch their wealth evaporate into thin air.
An enviable career
This has been the case with Makoha, who is perhaps one of the most widely travelled and decorated former Cranes players in recent times.
Locally, Makoha has played for SC Villa, Express FC and KCC FC clubs in Uganda in addition to Nile FC, UEB (UMEME) FC, Kakira FC, Kinyara FC under Coach Leo Adraa, CRO FC in Mbale and Jinja Hippos FC under the late Coach Mathew Lucha.
He also travelled to Rwanda and played for Rayon Sport, went to Kenya and played for Tusker FC, played for Majees SC in Oman, Dong Tam Long An in Vietnam and had a stint in Cyprus.
While with Kenya’s Tusker FC in 2000, Makoha was called by Nigerian born coach Harrison Okagbue to join the Cranes camp in Jinja that was preparing for the away African nations cup qualifier against Togo in the Togolese capital, Lome.
On November 23, 2000, Makoha scored when Uganda Cranes thumped Somalia 6 – 0 in the CECAFA 2000 senior challenge cup tournament. That particular tournament featured an elite Cranes team that boasted the likes of Andrew Fimbo Mukasa, Hassan Mubiru, Ibrahim Buwembo and Edward Kalungi, among others.
Makoha continued his goal scoring spree in a 7-0 thumping of Djibouti. During the same game, the fast-paced Makoha made a darting run into the penalty area before serving the ball to Mukasa who just slid it past the Djibouti goal-keeper.
“Our partnership with Fimbo Mukasa was so good. I still remember that pass as if it was yesterday,” Makoha said.
Playing for all the VEK (Villa FC, Express FC and KCC FC) clubs despite the rivalry that excited among the trio clearly shows how quintessential a footballer Makoha was.
Makoha was born in current day Bugiri district in 1972. He began his footballing career at St. Steven SS Bugiri, moved to Santos before heading to Bugembe Holy cross FC.
He then crossed to Nile FC in 1994 which was then under coach Polly Ouma. He then joined SC Villa under late coach Timothy Ayeko and late coach David Otti. While with SC Villa, he played alongside Paul Mukatabala, Edgar Watson and Enoch Kyembe, among others.
At Express FC, he was under the captaincy of George Ssemwogerere and played alongside Hassan Mubiru and a horde of other players. Godfrey Kirumira was the club chairperson.
The former star said he doesn’t regret playing during their time although football at the time was all about passion and working hard to don the national colors unlike now when a lot of money is being injected into the game.
“During our time, there was no internet, YouTube or Facebook and TV coverage was very low and it is why our records cannot easily be traced,” Makoha said.
“I urge the current footballers to make good use of the Internet and the financial muscle present to nurture their talents,” Makoha added.
Makoha said his troubles started when a Brazillian player he did not disclose kicked his arm during his spell in Vietnam, causing him an injury that forced him to return to Uganda.
He also regrets the mistake he made when he double signed with SC Villa and Rayon Sport of Rwanda, a move that compelled FUFA to ban him from football for a year.
Need for financial literacy
Football has offered many young people a lucrative route and escape from poverty but it seems the game has only offered temporary relief and Makoha’s case is a telling example of the need to help athletes and footballers to acquire financial literacy skills.
Recently as famous former Cranes footballer Jimmy Kirunda was being laid to rest, a never-ending debate was ignited about lack of support and recognition for several unsung sports heroes.
Former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for BULS FC Ahmed Kongola said government should invest in financial literacy skills for the country’s sports personalities to save them from leading a pauper’s life when they hang up their gloves and boots.
“Well, the fact is that sports careers are short-lived, and if athletes do not manage themselves and their money, they are destined for misery in the end. As it is, the lack of financial management is largely to blame for the poverty woes of athletes,” Kongola said.
He said pro-athletes make the same mistakes others often do —helping struggling friends and family members at the risk of their own financial security.
“Many athletes do not come to stardom all by themselves and often feel the obligation to give back to those who have helped them achieve success. In many cases, when their careers end, these same people hardly come to their rescue,” Kongola added.