Kampala, Uganda | AGNES E NANTABA | Andrew Stewart Tamale, also known as Andy Skillz, is a 22 year old freestyle footballer who reigns as two time East African free style champion. Freestyle football is a sport in which athletes compete to perform various tricks using a football.
The game remains a rare and unique sport although it’s growing worldwide. This explains why Tamale is the only known Ugandan who plays the juggles the ball left right and centre.
Tamale says that the sport involves doing short performances of about three 30-second performances or a single minute-long performance depending on the stage of competition and the competition’s structure. In other countries, it’s played in teams but not in Uganda or east Africa because it’s very hard since it’s largely self-taught.
“Evaluation is based on difficulty, originality, all round skills, trick execution, mistakes, and variety,” says Tamale,
“Players are not allowed to touch the ball with the hands or arms”.
For the last four years, Tamale has been performing for crowds and has starred in company advertisements, opening school games, and entertaining guests at corporate parties and weddings.
Tamale initially played ordinary soccer in 11 and seven positions until he chose to specialise in freestyle. For him, watching Youtube videos featuring famous soccer players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zinedine Zidane sparked off his love and training for the game. The videos showcased players performing tricks that Tamale never believed would be possible to pull off but was pushed to replicate. And so during his primary seven vacation, his mother Josephine Kirabo (RIP) bought his first ball and boots. Even when his father, Prosperous Ssentongo (RIP) never believed that he would craft a career out of the game, he still pushed on and has since never looked back.
“My father wanted me to focus on pursuing formal education,” he says,
“I stumbled a lot trying to replicate the tricks for a long time until I grasped.”
His brother Isaac Mwesigwa who also doubles as his manager took on to pushing the passion and prides in Tamale’s achievements. He boasts in his favourite skill, ‘around the world’ trick which he uses to balance the ball on the bridge of the foot, flick it up to knee-level, loop the leg round the ball as it falls, and allow it to land back on the bridge.
To him, freestyle football is more of a talent which is largely self-taught and grasped out of passion.
Tamale is the last born of his parents. He went to Kiwatule Parents School for primary education. He joined Kyambogo College School where he completed ordinary level but the environment couldn’t allow him explore his talent.
“Fellow students and teachers only got to know about my skill in the media like newspapers and TV,” he says.
It was during his advanced education at Rise and Shine High School that he had greater opportunity to explore his skill. During advanced level, he started signing contracts for the game including with soda giants Crown Beverages and the latest being digital TV service provider GOtv. Tamale has participated in several national and international tournaments and received his first award three years ago as Talented Youth Star of the year for two consecutive counts. He is also a two time champion for East Africa; a title that he holds to date.
In Uganda, Tamale says that the sport is less developed and lacks competitions to up the skills and interest more people. He, however, has plans of rolling out competitions locally so that more young people can get to know about the sport.
Tamale has plans of keeping within the sport for the next five years and quit at a time when more young people have taken it up.