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  • Sunday November 22nd, 2020 @ 21:26

OTD In 2004

On This Day in 2004 a testimonial game for Charles Mbabazi Livingstone was played at Richmond Park.

The game featured a Brian Kerr XI and a team managed by then Saints' boss John McDonnell. You can read a short match report here.

Livingstone was forced to retire in tragic circumstances after suffering a heart attack in 2003 FAI Cup semi-final against Bohemians.

You can read more of his story here (which appeared in the Irish Independent that the time):

Heartbreaking end of career fails to shatter remarkable spirit

THE smile of Charles Mbabazi Livingstone lights up a large, cheerless drawing room in Deepest Inchicore. He is sitting in the terraced house on Richmond Road, out of which St Patrick's Athletic do their business. Sitting maybe 70 yards from where he fell on October 17.

Through the cage-protected windows, you can see the corrugated main stand of the 'Stadium of Light.'

Charles looks healthy. He's just back from a week in Uganda and club staff sporadically stick their heads in to greet him, most dispensing playful admonishments. Goalkeeper, Chris Adamson, tells Charles that he "looks like a pimp."

He is dressed in a two-piece charcoal suit and open-neck lilac shirt. "Some work-experience in town," he explains.

Charles is 24, dad to four-year-old Siobhain and partner to Olivia, who is expecting their second child at the end of the month. A small African family, living in a flat in Thomas Street.

He comes from Kampala but, right now, his relationship with home is complex. Dublin, for all its rain and wind and cultural strangeness, feels warmer. So he sits in this tatty, red-bricked house and refers to Pats as "my other family."

On a Friday night last month, Charles collapsed during a game against Bohemians. Minutes earlier, he had complained of feeling chest pains. Play continued after he went down and Charles' abiding memory is of hearing the Bohs' supporters celebrate a goal as he was taken to the dressing room.

Minutes later, he was in an ambulance speeding towards St James's Hospital. To begin with, he was terrified. The pain intensified across his rib-cage and his breathing became troubled. It felt serious.

Sedatives brought calm and, ultimately, irritation.

The better he began to feel, the more Charles craved his freedom. Cup final week was coming. Pats had a Monday night game against Cork and Charles felt it important that he played. He kept saying so to Saints manager Eamonn Collins. But the weekend drifted by and Charles was still lying in a hospital bed. On that Monday morning, Collins visited him again.

"I'll be alright to play tonight," Charles told him. "Don't know what time they're gonna let me go. But just keep me in your mind."

Collins nodded sheepishly, confirming that he'd check back.

That afternoon, they brought Charles down for the angiogram. It took them no more than two minutes to identify an irregularity. It's called Kawasaki Disease and relates to an enlargement of the veins leading to the heart.

The specialist was unequivocal. "We would advise against you ever playing football again," he said.

The rest is a gloomy blur. He phoned Collins and, within half an hour, the manager was by his bedside.

Looking back, that image startles Charles. The fact that just hours before kick-off against Cork - and in Cup final week - Collins cared enough to return to St James's.

"At that moment I just felt like . . . dead," recalls Charles. "I mean, what more could I do if I wasn't going to be playing football? I have a family to look after in Ireland. I have a big family to look after back home.

"That moment was so difficult for me. After this sad news, the only thing I wanted in my life was to move away from Ireland. To forget about anything connected with football or St Pats. I didn't want to see the players, I didn't want to see the manager, I didn't want to see Andy (O'Callaghan), the chairman.

"To begin with, I even felt I didn't want to see my family anymore. When they told me, I just wanted to book the next flight back home."

Collins rebuked him with the positives. He reminded Charles of his importance to the club. Of the feelings people had for him. Actually, the manager's compassion pulled Charles around.

Livingstone was released that Wednesday and went straight to the Saints' training in Baldonnel. Collins recalls watching him collect the training cones, as though nothing had occurred.

Charles just immersed himself fully in the Cup final preparations, vowing to keep his bad weather to himself. Indeed, immediately after training, he drove to Richmond Park and told the girls there that he was fit to play against Longford.

Whenever discussion turned to his predicament, Charles Mbabazi Livingstone made light of it. But he was hurting. And the dam broke on his emotions the night of the Cup final.

Longford beat Pats 2-0 and, afterwards, Charles was inconsolable. He cried incessantly.

"That was one of the most difficult nights that I've ever faced," he remembers. "Everything just came in on top of me. I kept thinking that game would be my last involvement with St Pats."

The club was thinking differently. They wanted Charles to stay. And, right now, they are in the process of defining a new role for him. Already he is active in their schools' programme and, with Inchicore such an ethnic melting pot today, the club believe that their Ugandan striker can help build cultural bridges.

Livingstone himself, though, is still thinking as a footballer.

He talks of getting "a second opinion" on his health. He cites the experience of Arsenal striker Kanu, who overcame an equally plenary prognosis on his heart problems to play on.

Pats have set up a trust fund for Charles. If this condition can be treated, who knows?

It's a long shot but, then, Charles' life-story has been a necklace of long shots.

Four years ago, he was recommended to Pats by a Northern Ireland solicitor connected to John Fashanu.

Charles' CV was unspectacular. He had played for little-known clubs like Sc Villa, Express FC, Asec Mimosa, Al Alli and KCC. Worse, he had never remained more than one season with any of them.

Fashanu had been trying to get him a deal in England with West Ham but difficulties over a work permit made it impossible. So this African kid arrived in Dublin, settled into lodgings in Inchicore and submitted himself to the peculiar charms of an Irish winter.

His own recollections are stark and unromantic. Every day brought rain and that rain turned the training ground into a brown river. The football was hard and frantic. He craved an extra touch. At times, it felt like his dream of professional football was dying a muddy death.

Collins sensed his reticence and shyness. Charles could speak English but he struggled to keep pace with the quirks of an Irish accent.

The manager recalls: "It was extremely hard for him to begin with. He was struggling to mix. But he always did his talking on the football field. You could see his talent straight away."

The encouragement came from people like Collins, Pat Dolan and Martin Russell. And that was important. Because Charles sensed only doubt among his team-mates.

"None of them knew me and it felt like none of them had faith in me," he remembers. "I knew that they weren't sure about me. Except for maybe a few. And that was hard because I had just come through some difficult times personally."

He prefers not to elaborate on those times but it is fair to say that Charles Mbabazi Livingstone has travelled a longer road in his 24 years than most people manage in a lifetime.

Charles was inconsolable. He cried incessantly He has lost two brothers to AIDS, and two of his sisters have been diagnosed with the disease. He has been disowned by the Ugandan Football Association because of a decision not to play in an African Nations' Cup qualifier against Ghana in September of last year. When he travelled home to Uganda last week, he did so furtively, venturing out only after dark.

Oh, and there was the misfortune of being the player whose name will forever be associated with Pats being docked those 15 points that cost them a certain League title last year (the club had not properly registered him for their first five games).

In four seasons with Pats, Charles played 104 games, scoring 21 goals. He has been described by Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr as "probably the best foreign player in the National League in recent memory."

He is loved unequivocally at the club. Collins says: "We just couldn't speak highly enough of Charles. He's a lovely, compassionate man with a very dry sense of humour. It's actually difficult to put into words what he means to us all."

But, in Uganda, it's a different story. When news of his heart attack reached home, an extraordinary official statement from the national football association read: "FUFA does not know and does not wish to know."

Charles is disdainful of the national federation, suggesting that "jealousy" has played a part in their dealings with him. Indeed, Livingstone accuses the federation of owing him something close to EUR20,000 in unpaid allowances and flight tickets.

Their relationship collapsed when he refused to play against Ghana in September of last year and Charles is happy to explain the circumstances. "I was always told to buy my own ticket because they didn't have a way of sending money to me. So I did that five times. And they'd always say 'We'll pay you after the game.' After the game, everyone disappears, but I still kept coming because I have such love for Ugandan football.

"So it came to the Ghana match and they told me to buy my own ticket. So I did but I told them: 'This is the sixth time. If you don't pay the price of this ticket, I won't play.'

"They thought I was just kidding because I had already flown over from Ireland. They said they'd bring the money at ten. They didn't bring the money. Then they said they'd bring it on Monday, knowing I was flying back to Ireland on the Sunday.

"The kick-off was at 4pm. At 1pm we were about to leave the hotel and I still had received nothing, so I just packed my things, went straight to the airport and flew back to Ireland. I just lost patience."

The federation immediately called for a lifetime ban to be imposed on Livingstone, but FIFA demurred.

Charles insists that the stand-off was about principle, not money. Indeed, he has publicly requested that anything owed to him by the Ugandan FA be put towards preparations for their next World Cup qualifying campaign. He has even expressed a personal desire to set up a soccer academy in Uganda.

But his name is blackened.

Charles believes that some have been feeding lurid rumours about him within Uganda. He has heard a story repeated that Charles Mbabazi Livingstone never even set foot in Ireland, let alone played football there. That he is actually based in Nairobi, smuggling goods between Kenya and Uganda.

The rumours leave him incredulous. And vulnerable.

"When I go home, I have to go into hiding," he says. "I can't live peacefully in Uganda. I can't go anywhere. Some people understand my point of view, some people don't.

"I mean, if you're invited to play for the Ugandan national team and you say you're not coming, some people will hate you. People who don't know what's between the federation and me. They say that, because you play in Europe, you think yourself bigger than anyone else.

"But they don't know what's really happening. That's why, when I go back home, I have to get a taxi from the airport straight to my home. And lock the door. I can't go out during the day, only during the night. I mean, last week, I went to see my family and after that went straight to the airport and back here."

From this side of the lens, Africa is a distant and different place.

In one Nations' Cup qualifier last year, Ugandan officials halted a game against Rwanda to check their opponents' goal for evidence of witchcraft. When Uganda were struggling to score in the re-match, they repeated the search. Both games were held up for half an hour.

"That type of thing is killing African football," adds Charles.

No matter, it's not his concern any longer. To him, home is Dublin. Pats are family.

He stands to leave, gently mouthing a prayer that medication will allow him play again. If not, he will survive.

Just this week, Collins had to discourage him from joining in a training ground jog. Old instincts are still stubborn. But Charles Mbabazi Livingstone is alive and he is thankful.

"If I can't live in Dublin, I don't know where I can live," he says. "This is where I belong. I owe Pats everything. Kampala is still a special place for me even though I had a poor upbringing there. My family survived on the equivalent of one euro a day. But I am Ugandan.

"And, if I don't play again, maybe in ten years my enemies in Uganda will have forgotten about me. And I might go home and live peacefully there."

This life of his has taken stranger journeys.

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Founded in 1929 the 'Saints' play in the Premier Division of the SSE Airtricity League at Richmond Park, in Inchicore Dublin 8, Ireland.

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