I was holidaying in Port
Harcourt in 1962 when I had the rarest of opportunities to meet the great soccer legend, Albert Onyeanwuna at the Port Harcourt City stadium. This was my second year at the Ibo Union Grammar School, Kano, the elite college which the Igbo merchants of Kano had established and modelled on Britain’s Eton College primarily for their children to attain the highest levels of education in those days. The college was special enough for the Premier of Northern Nigeria the late Sir Ahmadu Bello to send one of his relatives, Sani to attend the college. We were both in Class 2B.
Staying just across the road from the stadium at No. 10 Takoradi Street, Port Harcourt, with my in-law, Francis Uzoenyi, I was not necessarily a soccer addict but as an avid newspaper reader, I knew by their names all the soccer stars of that generation such as Thunder Balogun, Albert Onyeanwuna, Elkanah Onyeali, Dejo Fayemi, Godwin Achebe, Fabian Duru, Augustine Oduah and others. I had never watched a major football match before this one and I was very excited. The Red Devils of NPA, Port Harcourt, was playing ECN of Lagos and the three Onye’s – Onyeador (Green Eagles captain in the early sixties) Onyali and Onyeanwuna were on the team sheet.
The Red Devils were in action and Onyeanwuna scored a brace and the excitement I had was simply too much for me to put up with that I had to write a report of the match and sent it to the Eastern Nigerian Guardian newspaper of Port Harcourt which had its offices close by Takoradi Street on Bathurst Street. I had no inkling that the report would be published until the Monday following the Saturday of the match when the Editor ran the report under my byline Anthony Amadi. It was my first ever printed article and I felt like a million dollars.
Onyeanwuna lived at Lagos Street, Port Harcourt, just a stone throw from my Takoradi Street residence and I used to hang around his No 30 house hoping to see and adore him. A few kids like me used to loiter around as well to see the famous man and he used to honour us with his presence by coming out, his trademark haircut which he wore with a pattern that had a straight line cut on the left side of the massive hair was copied by many soccer buffs in the area.
On the national stage, Onyeanwuna was a sensation and proved a continental threat to defenders of his generation. He always found a way to wriggle through the massed defence, whether it was Lagos teams or international teams clashing with the Nigerian sides that he played for. In the days of the Black Stars of Ghana, Onyeanwuna was probably the only striker that was an antidote to the deadly defenders of the Black Stars. On a major soccer date against the Ghanaians, Lagos used to freeze when they touch down at the Ikeja airport as it was known in those days. They come with their deadly strikers like Agreey Finn, Gyamfi and the rest of them that I cannot remember their names. But Onyeanwuna and the Green Eagles were always going to give a good account of themselves, even though there were days that Ghana gave us a good thrashing.
Looking back, I doubt if Nigeria could ever produce great players like those of that generation. The passion exhibited in those days by players was certainly greater even with the general state of penury that marked the fate of footballers of the fifties and sixties. Onyeanwuna and his generation served Nigeria with more zeal. They still maintained their day jobs at NPA (Nigeria Ports Authority) or ECN (Electricity Corporation of Nigeria) unlike footballers these days that play professionally.
If Onyeanwuna was a British citizen, the premiership we all adore today would hold a series of events in his honour. Matches would not start before at least a one minute silence before is observed in his honour across the country and his name would have become Sir Albert Onyeanwuna MBE (Member of the British Empire).
What is the Federal Minister of Sports, Dr Tamuno Danagogo, waiting to send Onyeanwuna’s name as well as other great footballers that brought immense glory to Nigeria to the National Merit Award for appropriate posthumous honour? What is the Rivers State Government waiting to rename one of the stadiums in Port Harcourt, after Onyeanwuna or at the least, build a monument after Onyeanwuna at No 30 Lagos Street, Port Harcourt or even rename that street after this great man who lived most of his life there in the Garden City to the glory of Nigerian sports.
Thank God that Anambra State is doing something about honouring Onyeanwuna by the string of events penciled down for his burial programme on the 19th of this month at Abatete, his home town by the Action Governor Willie Obiano and his vibrant Commissioner for Youths and Sports, Chief Tony Nnachetta, who is a guru himself in the arena of Nigerian Sports. What makes the new governor tick is simply that he is fixing round pegs in round holes and not placing dummies around him to confuse him the more.
In a News Agency of Nigeria report on September 5, 2014, the Anambra Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Tony Nnacheta, confirmed that the state would immortalise the late football legend, Albert Onyeanwuna, who died on April 22 in Lagos. Nnachetta inaugurated a 15-member burial committee in Awka to plan and execute the burial, and promised that Onyeanwuna would be buried on September 19 at Abatete in Idemili North Local Government Area of the state in recognition of his contribution to Nigerian football. He said the state government had also constituted a 30-man national committee comprising top football personalities across the country, assuring that the late soccer hero would be given a befitting state funeral.
According to the Commissioner, “This is in remembrance of his contributions to the growth and development of the game in Nigeria.” He described the late footballer as an illustrious son of the state, and added that the Anambra State Government would continue to appreciate any son or daughter that brought the state to limelight. He said that burial activities for the football legend would hold in four Nigerian cities — Lagos, Port Harcourt, Awka and Abatete.
He expressed optimism that the events would be hitch-free one of the activities included a novelty football match last Sunday between Lagos All Stars and Lagos SWAN at the Eagle Club, Surulere, Lagos.
Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos and his Anambra State counterpart were expected to have been part of the match.
Nnacheta said Rivers State football coaches Association would also play a friendly with Port Harcourt ex-professionals at the Sharks Stadium, Port Harcourt, tomorrow and the final football match on September 18 would be played at the home town of the legend between Enugu All Stars and Onitsha All Stars, at Notre Dame College pitch, Abatete.
The late Onyeanwuna would lie in state at the Women’s Development Centre, Awka on September 18 and would be laid to rest after a funeral mass at the St. Dominic Catholic Church, Agbaja, Abatete on September 19.
Onyeanwuna was one of the biggest players of his era, a master dribbler who debuted for the Red Devils, as the Nigerian senior football team was then known, on October 30, 1955. He was a member of the Eastern Region’s Spartans Football Club that won the National Golden Cup for keeps in the 60s.
Looking back to the glory years of Nigerian football, it is necessary that sportsmen are given their due recognition for these are the men and women who made Nigeria proud and the reason that Nigeria is today a great country in the comity of nations. In football Onyeanwuna, Onyeali, Onyeador, Thunder Balogun, Dejo Fayemi, living legends like Segun Odegbemi, Christian Chukwu, Kanu Nwankwo, Austin Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Stephen Keshi and the current Eagles sharp shooter, Ahmed Musa must never be forgotten in a hurry.
Footballers mentioned above were never the type that failed to train or threaten boycott because of pecuniary issues. As we mourn the departure of Onyeanwuna, let us hope that the Ministry of Special Duties that compile national honours would not fail to put his name up to be immortalised Onyeanwuna with a major national honouror name one of the stadia that dot the country after this illustrious sone of Nigeria.
May the soul of Albert Onyeanwuna rest in perfect peace.
Amadi writes from Port Harcourt
‘Super Eagles Coach Lacks Class’
Former Nigeria international, Victor Ezeji, has slammed Gernot Rohr, describing the German as a coach who has not improved the Super Eagles, with reference to their style of play and talent management.
Rohr recently helped the three-time African champions qualify for the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon after their third-place finish at the 2019 tournament in Egypt.
Despite the team’s success, the former Enyimba striker said the tactician, who has been at the helm since 2016, has not impacted the Super Eagles with a particular style of football and he lacks the class to co-ordinate the players.
Ezeji expressed his frustration after Rohr’s men failed to score a goal in their twin friendlies against Cameroon. They suffered a 1-0 loss against the Indomitable Lions last Friday before playing out a goalless draw on Tuesday.
“I have never been a fan of Gernot Rohr but the truth is, sometimes it is not even about the result and sometimes, your team can play very well and lose, people could say they lost and there is prospect for the team,” Ezeji told news men.
“But in the case of this Gernot Rohr’s team, they are not playing very well and they are not winning; so, people will definitely complain. We have known our Super Eagles to have flair when playing, but that has not happened under him, whichever way he wins his game.
“There is no flair in their game, I think he is done with the team if you ask me because he is not showing anything, no class. We’ve got the players but I think what we lack is who co-ordinates them.”
Last year May, Rohr agreed on a two-and-half-year contract extension to remain as Super Eagles coach with the target of guiding the country to the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar and also win the 2022 Afcon.
Ezeji argued that the former Bordeaux manager has not been a success in Nigeria and he recalled how indigenous coaches Christian Chukwu also led the country to a third-place at 2004 Afcon before Stephen Keshi’s side triumphed at the 2013 edition in South Africa.
“I don’t know what his contract with the NFF looks like but personally, I don’t think he has achieved anything because even our indigenous coaches got to third at Afcon and we became the continent’s champions,” he continued.
“In his own case, third-place is not enough at all with the kind of personnel and abundant of talents we have in Nigeria presently, he should do better. As I stated earlier, it is not about winning the cup but it is about playing good football and there are ways you do that.
“Remember Imama’s [Amapakabo] U23 boys’ game against Libya in Asaba [U23 Afcon qualifier in March 2019], we needed three goals to go through but after the first-half, everybody was like even if they did not get through we are satisfied with their performance but the boys got the result and advanced.
“We need to start seeing that kind of performance in our Super Eagles, nobody has any confidence now that even if we play market women they will win. We need to have that confidence in our team and be rest assured of good football against any opponent.”
350 Golfers Set For IBB Golf Captain’s Tourney
No fewer than 350 golfers and 50 tennis players will be competing in the inaugural IBB Golf and Country Captain’s Tourney in Abuja.
The tourney which is expected to tee-off from Friday, June 10, to Saturday 11, 2021 at the IBB Golf and Country club which will see professional golfers battle in the Handicap 19 to 36 event while the amateur will clash in the Nest event.
According to the Chairman Organising Committee of the 2021 Inaugural IBB golf Captain’s club, Olabanjo Obaleye said preparations are in top gear to host a successful tournament.
He also noted that the golfers and officials would be in adherence to all the COVID-19 protocol towards ensuring the safety of all Stakeholders.
“This tournament is to usher in the new Executive Members of the IBB golf and Country, which is done after every new executive Member is elected.
“We have gotten some sponsors for the tournament and I can tell you that they would be mouthwatering prizes for the winner and consolation prizes for best loser.
We will also have a dinner on Saturday where the prizes will be presented to the winners.
“Also we have put some modalities in place to ensure the safety of all players and Officials for the tournament.” Olabanjo said.
HiFL: UNIBEN Royals Tackle UNICAL Malabites
Pace Sports and Entertainment Marketing Limited, the organisers of the Higher Institutions Football League (HiFL), has released the draws for the round of 16 games at an event held in Lagos. The games are scheduled to be held between June and September 2021.
In Week 1, AAUA Luminaries will play OAU Giants in Ondo, FUTA Tigers will tackle UNILAG Marines in Akure, LAUTECH Hunters will attempt to hunt down the FUTMINNA Transformers in Ogbomoso while KSU Steelers engages UNILORIN Warriors.
For the week 2 games, Uniben Royals will play defending champion UNICAL Malabites, IAUE Minders will tackle UNN Lions in Port Harcourt, ABU Nobles will confront UAM Tillers in Zaria while BUK Stallions slugs it out with UNIMAID Desert Warriors in Kano.
Speaking at the draws, Director, PACE Sports and Entertainment Marketing Limited, Sola Fijabi acknowledged the efforts of all participating schools and encouraged them to maintain their sportsmanlike conduct as the games go on. “We are now at a very exciting stage of the league. What was witnessed during the qualifiers was the tip of the iceberg. The schools are ready and what we assure lovers of collegiate sports is double excitement. We appreciate the support of NUGA and our sponsors Nivea Men and Minimie for their trust in HiFL and as we deliver value to all our stakeholders,” Fijabi said.
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