The events that unfolded during the two games played between West Nile and Acholi provinces have been mouthwatering, to say the least.
This is particularly for those that watched the two-legged tie climaxing on the 16th June at Pece war memorial stadium, in the heart of Gulu town.
This fixture ideally was to be a game of less significance, indeed West Nile, last year’s finalists were at the brink of an early unexpected exit if they lost the game at Pece but other than that, one would have easily considered the game as one of those many group games of the FUFA drum.
However, as it turned out, the Acholi West Nile tie was arguably the most populous game of any near history, especially for a FUFA drum game. Thousands of fans from across the country and some from South Sudan braced the chilly conditions to catch a glimpse of the Pece game.
Although the result of the game after 90 minutes was one-zero in favour of the West Nile, there was much more to the occasion than just the football result.
Here are some of the winners and losers and why our team thinks so.
The West Nile football team
The West Nile team despite the absence of their key talisman Mohammed Shaban played their hearts out; Shaban could only watch the game from the substitutes bench due to an injury, Rashid Agau’s score was the result of a collective team effort.
Hitherto to this game, I had never seen Agau as active especially when he is chasing the ball, but this was a different case, he made tackles, won the ball a few times and in the end scored the all-important goal for the West Nile boys.
The West Nile fans
Hundreds of West Nile province fans travelled to Gulu in rather risky conditions, a trailer, a host of lorries and other open trucks, as well as motorcycles from different destinations and any loss at Pece, would have added another humiliation on to the travel risk to inflict utter embarrassment.
They had gone to revenge on the Acholi fans who took Arua by storm on the occasion of the first leg in which the visiting won by two goals to nil and for all their faith and support to the team, it paid them back with a win.
The Acholi leaders
A day after the game, Mr Bernard Atiku, the Member of Parliament for Ayivu constituency posted on the facebook page that Rt. Hon. Deputy speaker Jacob Oulanya had given the West Nile team 5million shillings. This was besides the dinner hosted by the Acholi paramount king in which all the leaders of both regions attended. What a gesture!
Indeed, one could have envisaged that the political polarization in the country might mean personalities like Democratic Party president Norbert Mao, national resistance movement party deputy secretary general Richard Todwong and other key politicians both in the ruling and opposition would not sit together.
But this was a different case, these leaders of Acholi people put aside all titles and political differences and hugged, cheered, laughed and even came to control the crowd when the security was overwhelmed.
This, in my opinion, was the biggest challenge to West Nile leaders, despite a number of them including veteran Kassiano Wadri, Maureen Osoru, Alioni York Odria, Bernard Atiku, Tom Aza all coming to cheer the boys on this day, the Acholi leaders were simply too united to deserve envy from their West Nile counterparts.
Gulu town businesses
Perhaps the biggest winners out of the highly billed game, Gulu was swollen with population, our Web team despite physically coming on the D-day was told that arrivals to Gulu began as early as Thursday; commonly referred among the fans as the advance team.
By Saturday evening, Gulu was having a spectacle never experienced before, all clubs including Smiling Panda, the main base for the West Nile team fans and DJ’s were filled to capacity.
Our arrival at about 9:30 am at Smiling Panda club on Sunday, empty crates of beer were being parked, an activity that was not yet finished by the time we left two hours later.
The same was said of the other hangout places all over the town; Apart from the booze, where did these thousands of people get their food, water, accommodation, fuel from?
By the time our team was leaving Gulu at 9:30 pm en route to Arua, scores of people speaking Lugbara, Alur and other West Nile languages were still littered either taking a drink or eating a snack in the town. Many did not make it home until the next day.
Basically, the business people made a fortune!
The biggest losers of the day without a doubt were the stadium organizers, the crowd made a mess of the stadium and it was embarrassing.
The King and a host of other prominent leaders had to leave the comfort of their VIP seats to appeal to the overwhelming crowd to push behind to allow the officiating officials, the technical benches and journalists enough space to do their work.
At this stage, the game was at the risk of being stopped due to crowd interference.
What would it take to put barriers even if temporary so that security people would find it less challenging to control the crowd?
At one moment the crowd overpowered the security at the main entrance and hundreds ran inside without clearance, did all this category have entry tickets? Even journalists were not given accreditation cards, one only had to see you with work gadgets like Cameras to guess whether you are a journalist or not.
Some spectators had to pay the price for such careless and lousy organization as security that was largely at the top of their service was left with no option but use force to push the advancing crowd off the lines.
FUFA should set minimum standards for the drum games which should be thoroughly inspected before kickoff. The Pece story should have been different save for the fans both Acholi and West Nile that were simply peaceful.
The game was a pathway to new things, the leaders sat and talked and have committed to opening up to each other on a wide range of other issues way beyond football, after all, if the people can freely interact and break barriers, why not their leaders.
With a well-paved road connecting the two upcoming cities of the greater north, Gulu and Arua seem to have found a new connection.
What football can do!