He was the mainstay of Uganda’s ‘golden’ generation of the seventies; he also captained the Cranes at the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations, held in Ghana. An elegant sweeper, Jimmy Kirunda was famed for his outstanding technique and tactical insight.
He admired Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer so much that he emulated him in all aspects of the game; from the sweeping position to captaining the national team.
And for all the great things Kirunda did on the pitch, he is best remembered for the late winner against Ethiopia in 1977, a result that sealed Uganda’s berth at the 1978 continental showpiece.
The ‘Kaiser,’ as he was fondly known, had an explosive ten-year career at KCC FC, holding down a permanent spot for the City giants those days. His consistency and insatiable appetite for the game was great.
Ahead of the Cranes return leg against Madagascar in Kampala in this weekend’s AFCON first round second leg, Kirunda narrates the way they struggled to make it to the finals and also takes on the encounter.
Cafonline.com: How was the experience of taking Uganda to the finals of African Cup of Nations in 1978?
Jimmy Kirunda: This is what has kept me a true legend for all these years and believe it can happen soon, we were a great team and played good football, when you want to be a champion you have to win big games.
This has been a problem for Ugandan football if the boys can win the big games then it can be well. It was team work and aggressiveness that we overcame the likes of Egypt and Morocco of those days and we did it on merit.
Cafonline.com: How was this possible with no foreign-based player at the time?
Jimmy Kirunda: Football has changed and there are no professional or local players now, all players are experienced and they can get all kind of tips that can knock any one down in football. We were local players majorly but as well the opponents we faced, but this was because all of us had played for a period of time and it was easy to coordinate and know each other.
Most of our opponent knew little or nothing about us. We played according to instructions and this was the only way we could penetrate into the giants of Africa football to the finals.
Cafonline.com: How did playing in the final change your life?
Jimmy Kirunda: Life changed immediately we qualified for the final as the entire country was behind us and the Government at the time and this encouraged us. Though we lost the final, we made our country proud.
The whole team shared the same spirit. I told the team lets win and celebrate for the rest of our lives.
Cafonline.com: What do you think has been the missing element in Ugandan football afterwards?
Jimmy Kirunda: Luck is the only missing thing for Uganda to make it again. When you look at the players they are good and experienced but we have nearly missed on either goal difference, penalty shootouts or narrow losses.
We will make it with an element of luck, though I have a feeling that this is our time and it will start this weekend if we eliminate Madagascar.
The team has done the best, won away games, made the home ground difficult for all opponents [even Senegal recently struggled to get a point in Kampala]. I believe the sky is the limit and we are about to cross into the ‘promise land’.
Cafonline.com: Its long since 1978 finals, how do you rate the competition then to today?
Jimmy Kirunda: The competition is greater than in the 70`s. A lot has changed, prize money, playing tactics, and scientific aspect of the game. All these make the game so different than when we used to play.
Cafonline.com: What basic things should the Uganda Cranes look at before the campaign of 2015? You are now in football development where do you see Ugandan football 5 years from now?
Jimmy Kirunda: They should focus on wining only because it’s the mentality we should create with our team they have a faced a narrow misses. We need to forget the past and focus on the future because this is the only way we can get success.
In the next five years, it will be a different scenario. The recent CHAN Championships gave me a great impression that our boys can make it despite the difficulties and believe me if the regularly get to CAF Stages at different competitions, it will be a different Uganda come 5 years from now.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) News