The 2nd leg of Friday Night Lights’ (FNL) Season 9, went down on Friday with an electric showcase at Lugogo Hockey Grounds.
The second leg was probably the best witnessed in Uganda sports and many revellers confessed as much. Right from the entrance the high impact walk-in tunnel and photo wall – which the fans later turned into their own court – made a statement for devotees to reset their expectations of what Basketball in Uganda could look and feel like.
Upon entry, the Castle Lite branding, lighting, audio visuals (AV), sound and pyrotechnic gerbs (fireworks) were of a quality and glitz only seen at concerts and such festivals. Without a doubt the event team at Qi Sports Management and its production partners at ATS had established a new benchmark. And true to its tradition of mashing up basketball with showbiz, the stars came out for FNL in force.
Crysto Panda led Team Iman onto the court to the tunes of his monster hit ‘Empele’; grabbing the mic from the evening host and without dropping a beat declaring, ‘Owakaabi mmu’bakaabi, Panda ntusseeee…”. The crowd did not disappoint, responding in unison “…fumiita fumiita embozzi…”
Iman’s opponent, Team Afande more than matched their entrance with perhaps the most memorable walkout in local sports, where the captain Henry Okoth – a serving UPDF officer – led his troops out in an amazing lightshow and pyrotechnics, flanked by bodyguards in full combat uniform.
Let’s just say the UPDF gets major PR points for looking this cool in a fun, relaxed environment. The icing on the cake was the rare presence of BigTril of the ‘Parte After Parte’ fame on Team Afande, who got the fans on their feet with his hit ‘My Guy’ – a collaboration with Fik Fameica. It was fantastic to see him back up Crysto Panda on the mic and then play against him afterwards in the true spirit of FNL.
No slouch once the game started either, a fan was soon overheard to comment, “That guy (Big Tril) is a hooper!” Meanwhile NRG radio brought all the heat with DJ Beats, the NRG dance crew and host Sheila Saltofte aka Sheila Salta joining perennial FNL fan favourite Allan Musoke to maintain the vibe throughout the evening.
On court, it was dribbles, shimmies and dunks keeping fans on their toes – more of the same please. In the 1st Leg on December 8, Team Melo beat Team Soro and Team Ekon saw off Team Drileba in Pool A. In Pool B, Team Iman overcame Team Wazee while Team Afande beat Team Comfort.
Melo and Iman picked up their second wins in the 2nd Leg over Drileba and Afande respectively while Ekon beat Soro as Comfort subjected Wazee to its second loss, this Season. The semifinals will pit Ekon against Melo (Pool A) and the other will see Iman taking on Afande (Pool B). Both the semis and final will be played on the same day.
However, with FNL being more about showbiz and basketball, the results are just a footnote, according to Tom Ocamringa, the event’s Team Leader. “At FNL, whoever participates is a winner because it is all about fun, engagement and interaction between league players, entertainers and their fans,” he said.
With the last full season of the event having taken place in 2019, Ocamringa was positive that the energy was picking up again. “The enthusiasm from the fans of FNL is noticeable and yet this was only the 2nd Leg of Season 9. I believe even more will come through when we resume next month, after these December festivities,” he said.
Qi Sports Management, the current stewards of FNL, promised a greater experience for fans and even more razzmatazz at the Season 9 Grand Finale in early January.
On his part, Crysto Panda had this to say: “I honestly had a good time playing and engaging with the players and fans. FNL is going to be a big thing again. I encourage more artistes and entertainers to come through and showcase their basketball skills.”
While Sheila Salta noted: “FNL is hip and cool; the kind of space I feel comfortable in as I hangout and catch up with my friends. It’s definitely a must attend for anyone who just wants to have a good time.”
With a Castle Lite bucket containing five (5) bottles going for as low as UGX 15,000 and a single bottle selling for only UGX 3,500, fun was guaranteed whether one was there for the basketball, the music, the people or the nyama choma.
Mountain Dew kept the players refreshed, while giving away goodies to the fans as well. Castle Lite beer is the headline sponsor under its new Unlock, Refresh and Enjoy tagline. NRG, the leading youth-centric radio in Uganda and FNL’s vibes partner plus Mountain Dew, are the other partners.
The grand finale of FNL Season 9 is scheduled for Friday 5th January, pending confirmation.