Royal Giants come of age in school football

Tournaments like the USSSA Boys Football are meant to prepare its participants for the real deal, its triumphs and adversities. Royal Giants Wabigalo in Mityana District got a glimpse of both at the annual schools’ tournament previously known as Copa Coca-Cola or post-primaries.

This year, they were the first team to qualify for the next round with a game to spare after registering their fifth win in a row on Saturday evening, a 1-0 victory of Fort Portal’s Westville at Eruba Primary School grounds in Arua City. This year, they seem ready to break out.

But this has not always been the case. Royal Giants have had to rise from nothing despite dazzling the cheering fans with their grit, flair and determination.

The mastermind is the baby-faced Frank Mulindwa, who started the football project at the school in 2014 after joining from Bujuuko High School, where he had been for three years.

The school, which started in 2001, was banned in 2007 and for seven years, they lived in pain and frustration. The school director, Benon Ntambi, a business studies teacher, went to the Gulu finals in 2014 for benchmarking and subsequently hired Mulindwa for the job.

The rebuilding process started with rag-tag players and only a handful remain active in football including Kakaire Wagoina (Tooro United), Hamza Koke and Reagan Mukwaya (Katwe United).

Royal Giants surrounded the momentum by becoming the most feared school in Mpigi Region. Yet the knockouts were elusive. The team failed to advance from the groups during the finals held in Hoima finishing third.

“It is pretty difficult to build a school team. Every time a player reaches the peak, he is taken by another school or he leaves for further studies. Therefore, you always have to work with what is available,” Mulindwa said.

0_Royal Giants school captain Issa Bugembe attempts a half volley during their game against Ibanda SS on April 24. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE

Despite building substantial players, it took the school five years to break the jinx and get out of the groups. During the finals in Jinja, the team was eliminated from the quarter finals.

“We did not give up. We believed in what we were doing and we realized the process was becoming more complete,” he said.

The turning point was in 2017 when the school partnered with Bright Stars to play as the club’s youth team for the Fufa Juniors League.

This status elevated the village team to national prominence finishing runners-up in the first two seasons.

“It was beneficial for us to usher players into the next step of their development. Bright Stars had set standards which helped us elevate as a school,” Ntambi said.

To give his players needed exposure, Mulindwa, who is a Masaza Cup coach with Busujju, used some of the players in the team.

In the recent finals, he had Ivan Irinimbabazi, who has since joined St Mary’s SS Kitende. In Arua, he has fielded polished players such as U17 star striker Issa Bugembe, Ronald Kaye and Elvis Sekajugo, central defender Samson Kasozi, Shamran Kamya, Shafic Kakande and reserve goal keeper Patrick Mubiru, who played in the U17 Cecafa in Gulu.

“Our players are now ready to compete. We have more experience and have corrected our mistakes,” Mulindwa, who targets the trophy, said.

Royal Giants technical team poses for a group photo after ensuring passage from the group stage. PHOTO/GEORGE KATONGOLE

Yet they now have grand plans. According to Ntambi, the immediate plan is to turn the Royal Soccer Academy, to preserve upstarts into a successful academy while building a club to play in the Big League or the Premier League.

“We want to be a complete package at the school. In the medium term, we want to build a strong club that can absorb our players,” Ntambi said.

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