Nantanda relishing in her dream to empower women through footballBy Andrew Mwanguhya, The Daily Monitor March 04, 2015
She is neither intimidated by the piercing eyes as she makes her way up the stairs of a coffee shop at Game, Lugogo nor is she bothered by the egos that dominate the sport she chose to pursue.
Majidah Nantanda not only chose to play it. She played it to the point of captaining the national women’s football team – the Crested Cranes – for five years; and coaching it.
The 33-year-old knew in her early teens it was football she wanted to play, and it never occurred to her that it was a predominantly ‘male’ sport.
“I grew up knowing football was for all,” she enthuses to Daily Monitor at the coffee shop table; her trademark smile giving way.
“Although my mother would at times discipline me and my brothers for playing too much football, she never told me that ‘because you are a girl, you should not play football.’
“Actually I got inspiration from my brothers (four). I used to play with them at home in Makindye.
“There were days when other boys would refuse to have me (a girl) on their teams but the moment I played, the next day all teams wanted me. They even started making me captain.”
Nantanda, knew that right midfield was her best position. When girls were called from the different self-styled clubs in Mbale, Entebbe and Kampala to prepare for a friendly against Kenya in 1998, Nantanda, went to the camp.
“Coach Paul Ssali (Crested Cranes coach then) asked me which position I played,” she says, “I told him nsamba musanvu (I play number seven)”
Number seven tale
Unknown to Nantanda, the right midfield ‘belonged’ to the untouchable Oliver Mbekeka, the captain. “The coaches and girls around whispered: ‘That one will never play football.’ “I eventually missed the final list to Nairobi but Mama Baker (Crested Cranes coordinator then) called me to the side and asked: ‘Can’t you think of any other number?’ I said no.
“But she told me to continue training and come back after two weeks when the team has returned from Nairobi.”
Mama Baker played a key role in the development of women football in Uganda and is credited for having started the Kampala Women team.
Mbekeka had also sought her out about her preferred position and the skipper had advised Majidah to continue training as she waited for them to return from Nairobi.
Majidah did as asked. She was given a role in her proffered position in the return leg, with Mbekeka moving forward.
The rest is history.
Before meeting Daily Monitor, Majidah had just met a team from the Cable News Network (CNN), who are in the country to film her for the African Voices programme.
She talks about her competitive debut for Uganda in the 1998 Africa Women Championships qualifiers against Egypt, and a missed opportunity to go professional.
Her competitive debut against Egypt in Alexandria, where Uganda drew 1-1 before losing the return leg 1-0 in Kampala, was Majidah’s second game after the friendly against Kenya. She impressed in both.
“I had a chance to go professional,” she reveals, “After the game against Egypt here, the Egyptian captain walked to me and put a paper into my hands. It read: ‘Come to Fairway Hotel.’
“I was young and I feared. I gave the paper to Olive. Olive and I later went to Fairway and met the Egyptian manager and she told me: ‘Majidah, I want to take you to Egypt.’
“The mistake I made when they asked me who they should contact is ‘the federation’ (then under the late Dennis Obua).”
Nantanda adds: “So when I attended the Fifa Symposium in South Africa in 2011, the same Egyptian lady identified me and asked what went wrong. I was shocked when she told me they had asked the federation to send me to Egypt 12 years earlier.
“On following it up I was told that the federation was reluctant to release me because they feared losing me but I later discovered there could have been a disagreement between my coach (Ssali) and Fufa on who should receive transfer money. I confronted coach Ssali and he just kept quiet.”
A single mum of one, Nantanda – who regularly travels across Africa, Europe, the USA doing coaching courses and programmes on women sport, wants to use football to empower women.
“I’m what I am because of my professional football misfortune and because of that Egyptian lady’s example,” Nantanda, who was also key in forming the new women league, says.
“I don’t want these girls to go through the same. I’m interested in the growth of the girls beyond football not just dreaming of playing for the national team once in three years. I want to teach them to use football to attain other life’s dreams.”
Madijah at a glance
Captaincy: She was named national team captain by then coach Sam Timbe after the finals in SA, replacing Mbekeka
Retired in 2007, the same year she attended a Fifa Youth Coaching Coarse with Rachael Kakaire (also played rugby), Fufa’s Hadijah Namuyanja, Christine Wanyana and Mbekeka. She later became a coach (assistant) player.
• Project Officer at TackleAfrica (women in sport)
• Director at Growing the Game for Girls
• Coach and Instructor at International Sport Connection
• Crested Cranes & Under 20 coach