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Fauzia Najjemba: My first love was cricket but football won my heart

 

  • Cricket was my first sport
  • Football has now taken over my heart
  • My parents were divided over my choice to play  football
  • Hasifah Nassuna is my local football role model
  • I want to help Uganda U17 Women Team make history
  • Scholarships have given me opportunity to progress with my studies
  • Najjemba is the Vice- Captain of the Uganda U17 Women Team
  • She features for Kampala Queens in the FUFA Women Super League

Uganda is a country endowed with football talent. The fans that thronged the StarTimes Stadium on 14th March 2020 at Lugogo for the FIFA Women U17 World Cup Qualifier, were left mesmerized by the performance and adeptness of the Uganda National team when they annihilated Tanzania 5-0 to advance 6-2 on aggregate to set up a clash with Cameroon.

The game rewrote history with Uganda managing its first ever win against Tanzania in Women’s football, at least reading from the recent history. Besides, the stadium was filled to the rafters, arguably the biggest crowd to watch a Women’s football game in Uganda.

The stands were buzzing as fans rallied behind the girls who returned the favour with a scintillating performance, demolishing their nemesis.

Fauzia ‘Fau’ Najjemba, donning jersey number 13, playing on either wing left the Tanzanians puzzled with her set of skills. And considering that she had also scored against the same opponents away in Dar es Salaam, they knew exactly what she can do, but had no solution to stop her. No wonder she got on the score sheet with a superb free-kick.

Fauzia Najjemba evades a challenge from Tanzania’s captain Irene Kisisa

FUFA Media team caught up with the lightening fast forward yet down to earth  captain of Kampala Queens in the FUFA Women Super League. She takes us through her football journey.

FUFA Media: Who is Fauzia Najjemba?

Fauiza Najjemba, the new kid on the block

Fauzia Najjemba: I’m the last born in a family of 7. My parents are Hajj Zubair Kivumbi and Hajjat
Namulondo Hawa of Nakifuma, Mukono District. I’m a student at Mukono High School in Senior 5.
I’m a footballer who plays for Kampala Queens FC in the FUFA Women Super League where I’m also the
captain. I play for the Uganda U17, U20 National women football teams and Senior Team-Crested Cranes.

FUFA Media: How did your football journey start?

Fauzia Najjemba: It is interesting to say that football was not my first love, cricket was. I started
playing cricket in primary four while at St. Joseph Primary school, Naggalama and it was the only game I
played and enjoyed as I won so many medals until that moment when I tried to play football in P6.
We had a sports teacher, Mr. Fred Mpanga who introduced me to football. One day he organised a
football match between the school cricket team and the school football team. I featured in the cricket
team. He was impressed with my abilities and the things I could do with the ball despite not playing the game before. I could receive, control, turn, run and pass the ball much to his surprise. Important to note was my interest and love because I enjoyed the game so much in that I wanted to literally do everything; take all corners, free kicks, goal kicks among others.

Fauzia Najjemba taking on Tanzanian defenders

It marked the start of my relationship with the beautiful game. I picked interest in the game from that
moment as I started training and playing with the school football team. Later on a football gala was
organised at school where I won myself a ball for the outstanding performance. I took it home and used
to play alone kicking it against the wall, running with it, dribbling among other things.

FUFA Media: What was your parents’ reaction when they found out you were playing football?

Fauzia Najjemba: My parents always knew I played cricket but when they finally found out that I had
started playing football my mother was not pleased despite having my 3 brothers also playing the game. You know many people or society looks at football as a men’s game and seeing a girl playing is always treated with suspicion.

I remember in Primary 7 we went for a tournament three weeks before the final exams (Primary Leaving
Examinations-PLE). My mother was not impressed at all. She was very bitter. But the good thing, I always had the support of my father on the other hand. He loves football and was very happy to know I had started playing. He encouraged me to play and actually bought me playing boots when I was joining senior one at Nakifuma High School.

In the beginning, I decided to quit because I never wanted to annoy my mother but something always kept me telling me to go on. So when we had Inter-House competitions, I saw girls play football and really wanted to be part of it but on the back of my mind I knew it would annoy my mum if she found out so I sat out and watched my house play. I was sad to see them lose.

However, the urge to play finally overcame me. I decided against my mother’s orders and played for my
House in the second game in which I scored two goals as we won the match. Our sports teacher was
impressed and promised to take me to either Mpoma High School or Mukono High School which were
actively involved in girls’ football programmes.

Fauzia Najjemba with the ball after scoring a hat trick

We regularly visited Mpoma High School to play matches and one day, when we faced Mukono High School, they showed interest in me. During holidays, they came home to talk to my parents, offered me a bursary to join Mukono High School in second term of my senior one. My mother has since then changed her mind is she is happy and proud now that I am even playing for my country.

FUFA Media: How was life upon joining Mukono High School and how has the school helped to shape your career?

Fauzia Najjemba: The school has greatly defined my career. What I am today definitely has been moduled at Mukono High School. I found a star studded team with several talented players and I had to push myself to fit in. Players like Rukia Namubiru, Vanessa Karungi and Cissy Nantongo among others inspired us. They came from other schools as stars.

There was our group who were in lower classes but we managed to lift our stands. Players like Moreen Afoyo, Margaret Nalubega, Shamira Nalugya and Gloria Ayikol were also very important under coach John Ssemuli(RIP). We formed a great team that lifted the 2017 Girls’ National Secondary Schools Football tournament, breaking the dominance of Kawempe Muslim.

FUFA Media: How did you then end up at Isra Soccer Academy?

Fauzia Najjemba: Isra Soccer Academy was playing in the Kampala Regional League and wanted players to feature for them. So because Yasin Mubiru was close to the teachers and coaches at school, they reached an agreement for many of us who had not signed for any other team join them. Actually, the team was largely composed of two schools, that is Mukono High School and Gadhafi Integrated Academy. We played well and won promotion to the FUFA Women League.

I appreciate the management of Isra, because they gave us a platform to play when many thought we were not ready for the competition in the top league. I scored 7 goals in the first season before adding 14 in the next season.

FUFA Media: How is the feeling now with your involvement in football as a player?

Fauzia Najjemba: I feel so good because never at any one moment did I ever imagine playing for the
national team. I remember my first call up to the national team was when the Crested Cranes was
preparing to play Kenya in the AWCON 2018 qualifiers away in Machakos. I was very young, shy and
timid but very happy with the call up despite not making the final squad. Uganda lost the game 1-0 and
the return leg ended goalless a result that saw the Kenyans advance.

Najjemba jumps high to head the ball in the game against Ethiopia

FUFA Media: How has playing football impacted on your school life?

Fauzia Najjemba: Besides the scholarship, football has made me a star and to put it right-a celebrity of
some sorts at school. I remember the first time I boarded a plane last year when we travelled to Ethiopia, coming back to the school, I attracted a lot of attention as many students and teachers wanted me to tell them the experience.

Fauzia Najjemba aboard a flight for an away game

I am a naturally a quiet person who loves keeping a low profile and was only known by a handful of
students especially those that do sports but I couldn’t imagine many outside this circle came looking for
me. My teammates started teasing me and making fun of it saying; ‘Oh Fau…..she is a celebrity’.

However, for now I feel its normal because I don’t want to get carried away. At school I’m a student not a national team player. I have to perform well in class and thus when it is time for books, I give full commitment.

FUFA Media: How is life when you are away from school?

Fauzia Najjemba: At home life is no longer the same. I no longer move freely to run errands people
are always coming to me to say ‘hello’ while you hear the rest saying, ‘that is the girl who plays
football, did you know we have a celebrity in the village. She plays for the national team.’ Some are even
brave enough to come to our home and say ‘Hajjat we want to see your daughter, the one that plays
football.’ Then I am called out to greet them.

I’m never bothered at all. I am only happy that football is taking me places and for that I am thankful to
Allah. Playing for the national team especially has come with lots of benefits from FUFA, my School, fans
and friends.

FUFA Media: Where do you draw your inspiration and what are your targets for the future?

Fauzia Najjemba: The wish to play professional football one day. It is one reason that pushes me now to
work harder. Uganda as a country we have not had many chances but my prayer is if Allah can bless me
with such an opportunity. I want to continue making my parents and country proud. Of course, there are many agents and people coming around telling me about different opportunities but for now, books first. We can think about the rest maybe after High school.

FUFA Media: How did you feel when Uganda won the COSAFA Women Championship, finishing the tournament as 2nd top scorer and a few months later the CECAFA U17 Championship where you emerged MVP?

Fauzia Najjemba: I felt so good but winning COSAFA U17 title in Mauritius wasn’t easy because this was
our first tournament and playing together as a team and for that I want to thank FUFA and the President Eng. Moses Magogo for the opportunity for girls to play. Emerging second top scorer was a bonus but most importantly we succeeded as a team.

Fauzia Najjemba (CECAFA U17 MVP), FUFA President and Daphine Nyayenga (CECAFA U17 Best keeper)

Winning the CECAFA U17 Women Championship was an icing on the cake and personally being
voted MVP was really exciting and inspiring. I was also nominated in the Airtel FUFA Awards alongside my sisters Juliet Nalukenge and Hasifa Nassuna.

FUFA Media: Talking of Juliet Nalukenge, how have you been able to pull off this chemistry with her because your duo seems unstoppable given the fact that you have scored a combined total of 50 goals for the U17 National team?

Fauzia Najjemba: We are friends off the pitch despite going to different schools and playing for different clubs. I think it is that great understanding that we carry even on pitch.

We complement each other. And by the way this runs through the entire squad. We are one unit and a happy family.

Uganda U17 Women Team capatain Juliet Nalukenge (left) celebrating her goal with Fauzia Najjemba

FUFA Media: And how do you manage to be an ambidextrous player? You play with your left foot the same way as you do with right. You have the speed, a good dribbler and good at free kicks. How do you get to know all this?

Fauzia Najjemba: Laughs…. Hmmm. Definitely, I must give glory and honour to the Almighty Allah because he blessed me with this talent. I also appreciate the coaches that have handled me since I started. I don’t want to mention names because I may leave some out.

FUFA Media: What do you think of the level of women football in the country presently?

Fauzia Najjemba: We are not where we want to be but going by the look of things FUFA is very
interested. It is very promising and the efforts being made by FUFA point to a great future. With
improved competitions locally and better preparations and organisation for the national teams I believe
we will be good enough to match up against the continent’s best sides.

FUFA Media: Who are your idols?

Fauzia Najjemba: Locally Hasifa Nassuna, back at Mukono High School I admired Rukia Namubiru and when she left, I took on her jersey number 13. Internationally, World cup winner Alex Morgan of USA. She also inspired me to keep donning jersey number 13.

Najjemba’s trademark jersey number 13
Hasifah Nassuna in action against Burundi

FUFA Media: If it wasn’t football which other sports would it be?

Fauzia Najjemba: Definitely cricket. I am still in love with the game and once in a while I play whenever I
get the chance.

FUFA Media: 13. The Covid 19 Pandemic has hit hard and interrupted the fixture between Uganda and Cameroon U17 women World Cup Qualifier. How do you rate the team’s chances? What are you doing to keep in shape as we wait for the fixture to be s rescheduled?

Fauzia Najjemba: We have a very good chance despite this being our first time. It is only a matter of
when we shall play the two matches. As a team we are ready to clear the Cameroon hurdle and make
history. I work out twice daily. I do runs in the morning and ball work for 1 hour in the evening.

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