Kampala, Uganda | AGNES NANTABA | He is the only goal keeper and the first Ugandan to achieve the feat of African-based Footballer of the Year, to which he was voted in January 2016. The final tally saw Dennis Onyango pick up 252 votes, compared to 228 votes for second place Khama Billiat. He was also ranked as the tenth best goalkeeper in the world in list for 2016 compiled by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics. Even with such heights, 33 year old Mamelodi Sundowns and Uganda Cranes goalkeeper maintains a low and humble character.
“I was raised in a very poor family so we earned most things through other people’s kindness,” he says, “Football is like any other occupation that requires discipline and respect of other people because you bank on their support.”
At a young age, Onyango picked on goalkeeping after admiring then great goalkeeper Sadiq Wasswa who is now a coach. At the time, Onyango started playing for Sharing Youth Centre.
He says although footballers are still famous today and support for the game is big, it is nothing like it was in the past.
“Back then people would even leave work early to go and support their teams,” he says, “I also wanted to be famous.”
When big teams like Express FC, KCCA, Villa and others were playing at Nakivubo Stadium in Kampala, Onyango would be among the thousands of spectators. Eventually his persistence paid off for then young goal keeper as football earned him bursaries and scholarships. In primary seven, Onyango left Railways Primary School and joined Greenland Islamic Primary School soon after being spotted as a talented sports boy. Sports soon affected his academic performance but he did not give up. His father, who saw education as the only path to success was always negative about the football, but Onyango had an uncle and mother who supported him.
He hopped to Kitante Hill School for a year and then Ntanda College School. By Senior Four, he was again spotted while playing for Nsambya Old Timers by the Late Lukwago to join SC Villa. It was a dream come true the youngster.
“I dint know that I would even ever get a chance to play but Coach Micho had seen great potential in me,” he says.
It is here that Onyango started to get opportunities for the national team and under 20s. He, however, kept in school at Kampala Citizen’s College School and later joined Makerere University Business School until he dropped out to go play for St George in Ethiopia. Then he moved to South Africa for Super Sport Mpumalanga Black Ace and on to Mamelodi Sundowns. Onyango says he has matured in attitude as a player at Sundowns and achieved a lot. He is considering a coach career when he retires from active playing.
He maintains that Ugandan football still lacks building foundations through soccer development academies that can help feed into the many soccer clubs.
“It is good to mould and train our own material rather than just picking up mature players because clubs are demanding but also the passion of football must be worked on not only for the national team but for all clubs and teams,” he says. He is married to a longtime friend, Barbra Namubiru with whom they have four boys.