A few months ago, a book was released about Belfast boxer Eamonn Magee. In the opening paragraph Magee details the drug and drink abuse, the tragedy and beatings by paramilitaries that have hounded his life, and at the end of the paragraph Magee states “My life is not a book. It’s a fucking movie script”.
That quote also perfectly sums up the life of former St. Patrick’s Athletic player Charles Livingstone Mbabazi.
While Joseph N’Do remains the most famous African to ever play in the League of Ireland, before N’Do ever set foot in Ireland, there was another African who lit up the League of Ireland and who still holds a special place in the hearts of St. Patrick’s Athletic fans, 15 years since he last played for them.
Charles Livingstone Mbabazi became a fan favourite at Richmond Park almost immediately, his four year stint at Pats was shrouded in controversy, heartbreak and a cruel ending.
With the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic sweeping eastern Africa in the nineties, with Mbabazi himself having four siblings diagnosed with the disease, this made Mbabazi even more determined to escape his native Uganda and go and become a professional footballer in Europe.
How Mbabazi got to Europe is an interesting place to start this story, as it involves a man who was synonymous with Wimbledon’s notorious crazy gang.
Inspired by fellow Africans George Weah, Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha who had made their names in Europe, Charles was determined to make the move to Europe in order to kick start his career.
However, his footballing CV was rather unspectacular, with stints in various teams in Uganda, such as SC Villa, KCC and Express FC, a spell with Ivory Coast side Asec Mimosa and his biggest move to Egyptian side Al Ahly SC. Mbabazi never stayed more than one season with any team.
Sometime in the late nineties Charles came into contact with former Wimbledon player John Fashanu, who began working as his de facto agent and tried to secure him a move to England.
Fashanu tried to get Charles a move to West Ham, however, difficulties arose over a work permit, putting an end to any hopes of a move to England.
Then, in late 1999, Charles was recommended to St. Pat’s by a Northern Irish solicitor who was connected to Fashanu. After protracted negotiations with the Ugandan Football Federation over his international release, Charles had secured his move to Europe, and he arrived in Dublin in the winter of 1999.
Arrival in Dublin 8
After initially struggling to adapt to the colder climate and the culture of Dublin 8, Mbabazi started to make waves for Pat’s.
As a versatile player who could play either on the wing or as a striker, still only 19 he quickly became a fan favourite after he scored his first goal for the club against Longford Town at Richmond Park, a few weeks after making his debut.
Sadly family heartbreak was to rear its head yet again for Mbabazi as both his father and brother would pass away in quick succession, however, only four days after their deaths Mbabazi would score at home to Bray Wanderers.
Controversy & European Success
Charles had become a mainstay of the St. Pat’s team of the early 2000s and they enjoyed cup success under manager Pat Dolan, winning the League of Ireland cup.
While all that cup success was welcome, the club’s supporters wanted to once again challenge for the League of Ireland title, like they had done so in the late nineties. Pat’s began the 2001/02 season in a rich vein of form and were top of the table, before controversy struck.
St. Pat’s were found to have fielded ineligible player in Paul Marney during the first three games of the season and were subsequently deducted nine points. After much arbitration this punishment was revoked. However, Shelbourne who were in a battle for the title with Pat’s appealed the decision, with the case eventually going to the High Court who dismissed the case.
The controversy did not end there however, as it was then discovered by Shelbourne chief executive, Ollie Byrne, that Charles wasn’t properly registered by St. Pat’s for the first five games of the season.
This discovery left the FAI with little choice but to punish Pat’s who were deducted 15 points, three for each game, and saw Shelbourne crowned league champions ahead of Pat’s by ten points.
While he had been indirectly involved in St. Pat’s failure to register him, Charles remained beloved by the fans in Richmond Park. The fans appreciation for Charles would only continue as Pat’s began their UEFA Intertoto Cup campaign. While Pat’s have had a long record in European competition they had so far failed to win a game in Europe.
That changed in June 2002, as St. Pat’s secured their first ever European win with a 1-0 victory over Croatian side Rijeka, thanks to a goal from Charles which saw them through to the second round of the competition, where he scored again as Pat’s were knocked out by Gent on the away goals rule.
Charles continued playing for Pat’s into 2003 and remained a stalwart in the team until October 2003 when his entire life would be turned upside down.
On October 17th, one day before his 23rd birthday Charles collapsed on the pitch while playing a league match against Bohemians.
Earlier that day he had suffered chest pain, but thought little of it as he was determined to play that evening. After Charles collapsed he was rushed to St. James hospital, as his breathing became troubled he was given sedatives to calm him down.
As the weekend drifted by and Charles began to slowly recover, Pat’s manager Eamonn Collins came to visit him on the Monday. Charles was keen to tell him that he would be able to play that night against Cork – with the FAI Cup final only two weeks he was keen to be involved.
Later that day Charles was brought for an angiogram, where doctors quickly identified an irregularity called Kawasaki disease, which relates to the enlargement of the veins leading to the heart. Charles was advised to never play football again.
Charles was devastated, his dream was taken from him so abruptly it didn’t seem real. The prospect of returning to Uganda was not exactly enticing and he would remain in Dublin for the next year trying to figure out what to do next.
Eventually Charles decided to return to Uganda, but before he left Ireland a testimonial match was organised for him, where St. Pat’s would take on a Brian Kerr XI. Charles would play a small part in the match and got to say a final farewell to the fans at Richmond Park who had supported him ever since he arrived in Ireland.
Life since retirement
Since leaving Ireland, Charles has had more triumph and unfortunately suffered more heartbreak.
Three years after retiring from playing Charles returned to professional football, resuming his career in Vietnam, playing for Ha Noi ACB and Binh Duong FC.
It was when he was playing in the Far East in 2010 that more tragedy struck, back home in Uganda Charles wife Olive deliberately poisoned herself and their two children, the children survived but Olive did not.
Charles would return to his native Uganda after this incident and finished off his playing career as player/coach with Wandegeya FC.
After a few years of training underage teams in Uganda, Charles became the manager of Bright Stars FC who play in the Ugandan Premier division, he was sacked after only one season in charge. In 2015 he was appointed as the head coach of the Somalian national side, however, again his tenure in charge was brief and he was replaced in early in 2016.
As of October 2018, Charles Livingstone Mbabazi is currently in charge of City FC in the Ugandan Premier Division and they currently sit in seventh position in the table in the early weeks of the season.
While Charles is now making a name for himself in management throughout Africa, he never got the chance to achieve what the likes of Kanu or George Weah did in Europe, however, in his all too brief career time in Dublin 8 he became a cult hero, and while he has had endured a lot more tragedy than the next person, he is still going strong absorbed in his love for football.