Jinja: The veteran footballer is now 73 but still as fit as a fiddle and after bidding farewell to the beautiful game a couple of decades ago, he donned on coaching badges and now passes on skills to youngsters in Walukuba, a famous footballing hub located in the heart of Jinja city.
“Football has given me so much and I decided to give back by grooming new talents,” Kiirya said. Walukuba has been a star factory for many national football players since the 1980s and Kiirya looks forward to reviving the glory.
Kiirya was born on September, 8, 1949 to Soucepatil Kirya and Joyce Luwedde. He started school at Bishop Primary School in Mukono before joining Bukoyo in Iganga district. He then joined Jinja Pilai Secondary School now St. James secondary school.
On joining Pilai Secondary School, Kiirya teamed up with compatriots; Etoma Tom, Ali Mukama and John Sekyanzi, among others, to form a formidable school team that ‘terrorized’ other schools during schools’ football competitions.
It was during his school days that Kiirya joined Blue Bats, a team that belonged to British American Tobbacco. When he completed Senior Four, Kiirya headed to Kampala and alongside Stanley Mubiru (Tank), they started training with Express FC. He later left Express for National Insurance Football Club where he played for three years.
When Nile Football Club was formed in the late 1970s by Nile Breweries, Kiirya joined the club and was part of the golden side that lifted the trophy in 1980. Prior to that, Kiirya was summoned on the national team that reached the finals of the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana but competition from the likes of Denis Obua kept him out of the starting line line-up.
After becoming Ugandan champions, Nile FC proceeded to the Africa Cup of Champions Clubs, currently the CAF Champions League. Kiirya remembers playing against Central Africa Republic and Egypt.
“Al Ahly tricked us. They left their best players in Egypt and when we went for the return leg, we were beaten by five goals to nil,” he said. Among the players in our squad were Mathew Lucha, Patrick Lwanga, Mike Dicku, Mukiibi Edward, Jalobo Charles, Tadeo Azabo, Sam Natulya, Edward Kinobe, Elias Wapicho, Paul Olya, Chris Dungu, Mike Latimu, Cloves Ssegujja, Adam Wenger, Meda Lukungu and Natali Mwaka (Player/ Coach), among others.
In 1982, Kiirya retired from active club football and started working with Nile Breweries, but continued playing in non-competitive games. In 2006, he stopped working with Nile Breweries and started full-time training of Youth football in Walukuba. He went to Nile Breweries and requested for balls that he used to equip the youth with skills.
“I have never attended a football coaching course but I use my experience to help them make it,” he said. “I got a chance of mentoring international players like Geoffrey Massa, Simeon Masaba, Ngalo Richard, Moses Oloya, Kacupuli Dan and Arthur Kyesiimira, among others,” he added. Kiira said he has kept healthy and going because of daily exercises.
“I do exercises daily and it is the reason why I still look healthy and play football at 74 years,” he said. The father of four said that during their time, national team players were selected on merit, unlike today when capable players are sidelined because of reasons best known to the national coach.
“We need to have local coaches guide the national team, for example Peter Okee was a local coach who guided the Cranes to the finals of AFCON 1978,” he said. He added that if the local coaches are given the required resources, there is no reason why they will not perform.
About the current crop of players, Kiirya said they are averse to advise and it is the reason many of them have failed to make it in football. Bossa Caleb, one of the players Kiirya coaches, said the former start has made him love the beautiful game.
“Coach Kiirya is like a father to us and gives us undivided attention and inspires us to stay focused,” Caleb said. Another player under his guidance said Coach Kiirya gives them time to learn whatever they need.
One of the former footballers who was in school when Kiirya was at his peak, Bright Dhaira, said Kiirya was a natural and gifted 11. “Kiirya could dribble and was very fast with the ball. In fact, during his era, its people of good quality like Denis Obua who could make him not start,” Bright said.
Meanwhile, Kiirya appeals to any stakeholders to help him with more playing equipment so that he can continue passing on skills to the youngsters. The former dribbler advised those concerned to renovate and upgrade stadiums like Bugembe, Mbale City and Abby Dhaira (Former Tobacco) stadium, among others, to help Eastern Uganda regain its past football glory.
He has no kind words for people who have embraced English Premier League at the expense of our local league. “People nolonger have passion for our local clubs. In fact, even if you told people to go and watch a local football game for free, they will not if there is an English Premier League being played at the same time,” he lamented.
He still remembers some bad moments during his career and ranks the game against KCC FC at Nakivubo as his worst game when they lost to KCC FC by one goal to nil. “The referee was biased against NIle FC and I wondered why,” he said.
The former player who attends daily training at Abby Dhaira staduim has great memories for their game against Nytil FC in 1980 at Bugembe stadium when Nytil FC scored in the first minute of the game. “As we were down by one goal, Mike Diku told us to settle and concentrate then in the fourth minute, I scored to make it 1-1,” he remembers.
“I remember making an assist in our second goal for the match to end 2-1 in our favour. In fact, I was voted man of the match that afternoon,” The player who tried his professional ranks with Kenya