“Experience is a great advantage. The problem is that when you get the experience, you’re too damned old to do anything about it,” said James Scott “Jimmy” Connors, an American former world No. 1 tennis player, often considered among the greatest in the history of the sport.
The above quote almost certainly correlates to the Huye-based Mukura Victory Sports Football Club. It has never won a national league despite being the oldest club in Rwanda, at 81 years, but the club has never been relegated.
How were the club formed, exponential times and their rise to be one of the country’s most supported clubs?
Mukura are currently top of the Rwanda Premier League table standing with 29 points, ahead of perennial title contenders, Rayon Sports (third) and APR (fourth) as well as AS Kigali (2nd) and Police FC in fifth place.
Times Sport reporter Geoffrey Asiimwe linked up with former club vice president and secretary general, Father Wellars Mugengana in Ngoma Parish, Huye District.
Father Mugemana, 49, has been a key member of Mukura VS and has followed club since 1971, and embodies the history of the club better than anyone.
How it started
The year Mukura was formed is not precisely documented, according to Mugengana, but narrates that as early as 1935, the club, also by them known as ‘Loisirs’ or ‘Hobbies’ was already in existence.
The club was formed by two Belgians he only recalls by their first names; Father Litjens who was the head of Butare (now Huye) diocese and Sir Reisidorif who was the administrator of Astrida territory that combined the prefectures of Butare and Gikongoro (now Nyamagabe and Rusizi districts)during the colonial rule.
Based in Butare, the club was formed to create closer relationship between the white administrators and missionaries with natives.
In 1945, the club changed the name to Victoria FC, with Belgian Philemota as the head coach when the national championship was initiated, and was divided in two zones; the Northern zone and Southern zone, which were separated by River Nyabarongo.
The Southern zone had teams like Nyakibanda Seminary, Commune Gishamvu, Victoria, all from current Huye District, Amaregura from Nyanza, and current league side Amagaju FC from Nyamagabe while in the Northern zone, there were clubs like Rutongo FC and Nyakabingo Rulindo District and Byumba FC from current Gicumbi District.
“Victoria FC was by then the most feared team because it was composed of many white players, and besides, it had the best local players like striker Karoli Mazuru, who was lethal in-front of goal, right-back Joseph Gitera and goalkeeper Biroto Atanazi Shyirahayo,” narrates Mugemana.
However, during the 1959 revolution, Victoria FC went into oblivion. Football in Rwanda was resurrected after independence in 1962, hence the beginning of a new area.
Change of name
In 1963 after Independence, Commune Mukura was created from former four communes namely; Astrida ville, Cyarwa, Ngoma and Nyanza (later renamed Commune Huye in 1974).
It is then that the administration of commune Mukura together with other individuals, who were part of the defunct Victoria FC, decided to reform the club and renamed it Mukura Victory Sports.
Father Mugengana recounts that following the revival of the club, the board decided to incorporate former club name Victoria (Latin) into the new one hence including Victory (English) to become Mukura Victory Sports.
“Since then, Mukura has competed regularly in all national football competitions and has actually won several trophies and made quite a number of appearances in continental competitions,” he explains.
In 1970 following the recent formation of other clubs like Rayon Sports, Kiyovu Sports, Standard, Rutongo, Nyakabingo, Rwanda Motor FC, Mukura debuted in the first division football.
In 1974, Huye stadium their home ground that recently hosted the 2016 Africa Nations Championship was built with support of Butare diocese, under the expertise of Father Gratien Vanneste who was also a civil engineer by profession.
“Around 1977, Mukura was again a powerhouse in Rwandan football with foreign players, majority coming from Burundi including Etienne Nakabwa, Sudi Sakata and Gatama, who led the club to its first trophy, Coupe du 05 Juillet (now Peace Cup) in 1978 after defeating Rayon Sports 5-1 in the final,” Mugemana recalls.
Before the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Mukura together with Rayon Sports and Kiyovu Sports and army side Panthers FC, were the top clubs in Rwanda.
The 1994 Genocide
After the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, it was almost impossible to believe that Mukura would ever exist again due to the fact the club almost lost all players and staff during the massacre that claimed over a millions lives.
Among the staff that perished during the Genocide include, club president Paul Gakuba, secretary general Joseph Ndakaza and vice president Athanase Kayitakire.
Among the players killed were goalkeeper Theophile Rutagengwa, Jean Pau Musizi and Justin Alias Rudasingwa Katorira, Eugene Mugirwa, Janvier Rutiyomba and Martin Rutegaziga among others.
Father Mugemana says, “Of course when a club loses such leadership, getting back on the track can take so many years and we never thought we would ever see Mukura Victory Sports again.”
According to Mugengana, Mukura’s road to revival was a surprise, thanks to a life-long club member.
After the 1994 genocide, Jean-Damascene Gasarabwe, who was living in Kigali called for a meeting with all the surviving members and players and informed them that he received a communication from President Paul Kagame (then Vice President), asking him to try revive the club.
In 1995, Mukura was revived, under the full responsibility of Gasarabwe and was based in Kigali but playing their home matches at Huye stadium until 1997 when the club returned to its birth place.
Mukura, together with Rayon Sports, were the first Rwandan clubs to compete at the continental level way back in 1982 in CAF Cup Winners Cup and African Cup of Champion clubs (now CAF Champions League) respectively.
Mukura on the local scene
Mukura has won four Coupe du 5 Juillet (now Peace Cup) titles – in 1978, 1986, 1990 and 1992. The club also won the Easter Cup in 1981, Pentecost Cup in 1982, Ndagijimana Fraipont Cup in 1983, Kwibuka Cup (1998 and 2002), Supanet Cup (1999).
The club has so far made seven appearances in Confederation of African Football (CAF) competitions which include five in CAF Cup Winners Cup and two in CAF Cup.
Cup Winners’ Cup
Mukura debuted in CAF competitions in 1982 in the Cup Winners Cup, (now CAF Confederation Cup) against Tanzanian side Pan African FC that eliminated them in the first round on a 4-0 aggregate.
In 1987, they made their second appearance, this time playing Egypt’s Al-Tersana which also defeated them 6-1 on aggregate before their third outing in 1988 and were eliminated by Swaziland’s Mbabane Highlanders 5-4 also in the first round.
In 1993, Mukura made their fourth appearance against Tanzania’s Pamba FC which eliminated them in the preliminary round on the away goal rule following a 2-2 draw after the two legs.
The club’s last appearance was in 2001 when they were also eliminated in the same stage by Burundi’s Atletico on 3-1 aggregate.
The club made two appearances in a competition that was staged for clubs that finished second in their respective domestic leagues.
Their first time was in 1994 against DR Congo’s AS Bantous that eliminated them in the first round on a 2-1 aggregate and again in 2000 against Ethiopian Awassa City that also eliminated them at the same stage on an aggregate of 2-1.
Address: Huye stadium (Capacity: 10,000)
Home Kit colors: Yellow jersey and yellow short and black stockings
Head coach: Godfroid Okoko
Assistant coach: Canisius Nshimiyimana
Goalkeepers coach: Radjabu Muhabura
Team doctor: Richard Rwabuneza
President: Olivier Nizeyimana
Vice president: Abraham Nayandi
Secretary General: Sheikh Hamdan Habimana