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Eke, YSFON And Grassroots Football

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I have not seen any Nigerian dead or alive, who had painstakingly devoted his entire life to the development of youth football than Tony Eke. He was excellent and elegant, a complete football aficionado of extraordinary savvy. He combined a rare administrative ingenuity in football management with patriotic fervor in raising the standard of football from grassroots level and became an apostle of youth soccer development in the last five decades in Nigeria.
No one could fault Tony Eke’s genuine love for youth football development programme right from his childhood days in Ajegunle, the cradle of modern day footballers. He got involved in football matters as a teenager in 1965 when Youth Sport Federation of Apapa (YSFA) was formed by Chief Israel Adebajo, who was also the founder of the famous Stationery Stores Football Club of Lagos as a breeding ground for the would-be Lagos darling club.
Tony was in his early 20’s when the likes of Avi Awotoro and Sam Nwobum were being urged to sign for Stores, but it was only petit Awotoro that was preferred to the bulky, stout and lanky Nwobum. At that period, YSFA was firmly under the supervision of former Nigeria national team manager, Major Ibikunle Armstrong, an indigene of Ilaro in Ogun State, whilst millionaire business Kano-born Garba Nautan Hamza was the chairman. Patiently but painstakingly, Tony Eke learnt the ropes and became a popular figure in football circles in Lagos State, making Ajegunle his base for youth soccer revolution.
At the age of 19 in 1970, Tony Eke had already become familiar with some top brass of the Nigeria Military like Col.Sule Apollo, Major-General Joseph Garba and General Benjamin Adekunle, who had been keeping the youth club going, since the death of Mr Israel Adebajo in 1969. The trio formed a remarkable partnership with Garba Hamza from early 1970 till 1976 when the military coup that toppled General Murtala Mohammed began to have adverse effect on the day-to-day running as financial straits crippled the activities of the body.
Imbued with a burning patriotic fervor, Tony Ossai Eke, a young Nigerian of Delta State extraction, born in 1950 in the heart of Ajegunle, in Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Government of Lagos State, took up the challenge to expand the financial base of YSFA when he approached the management of VONO Nigeria Ltd to sponsor the first RAMAT Cup in Lagos State in 1977. The request was granted and Lagos was privileged to host the maiden edition of General Murtala Ramat Mohammed U-16 Boys soccer championship at St. Gregory’s College, Obalende, where Chief M.K.O. Abiola, a personal friend of Murtala Mohammed replaced the trophy and took over sponsorship of the yearly RAMAT Cup till 1994, even while in detention mid-way.
It would be pertinent to recall that Tony Eke was the brain behind the transformation of a local football outfit to national spotlight when YSFA (Youth Sport Federation of Apapa) became YSFON (Youth Sport Federation of Nigeria) in 1980.
For the first time, the RAMAT Cup was played in Kano and had eight (8) states from the Federation participating at Sabon Gari Stadium, Kano, it was during that tournament that Tony Eke mooted the idea of changing YSFA to YSFON in order to reflect national outlook. It is also of interest that Tony Eke initiated the moves that culminated into the appointment of Prince Dokun Danquah Abidoye, business mogul and owner of KODA Sports as the National President of YSFON on March 26, 1980 at the Central Working Committee of YSFON meeting held at Tony’s family house at 18, Olowojeunjeje Street, Ajegunle, which served as interim secretariat of the body.
I can also attest to the fact that Tony Eke was the one that first launched Nigeria into global honour when he registered the Nigerian youtyh to take part in a competition organised in Goteborg, Sweden in 1980. Tony Eke singularly recruited a crop of talented youngsters like Tajudeen Disu, Tarila Okorowanta, Paul Okoku, Dipriye Tebowei, Christopher Anigala, Alphonsus Akhahon, Femi Olukanni, Mutiwa Oshuntolu, Felix Egogo, Patrick Udoh, Monday Onyebuchi, Monday Oyarekhua, Gbewuro Amatere, Roland Onyemechi, Lawrence Akufe and Ali Kadri and kept them under the supervision of a football technocrat and former Red Devils goal-poacher “Diamond-toed) Peter “Baby” Anieke of Nigeria’s 1949 U.K. Tourists fame.
Led by the President of YSFON Prince Abidoye and seven other officials, Ben Ekpo, Isaac Eke, Patrick Akpavuerhe, Kayode Abiade and my humble self (the writer of this piece), we arrived Goteborg in Sweden to play against the best Europe could offer in terms of youth soccer. We were simply unstoppable as Tarila Okorowanta and Felix Egogo tantalised and taunted their opponents with sizzling football artistry to win Nigeria’s first soccer laurel at international U-16 stage.
Tony Eke’s record as a football administrator and pathfinder of Youth soccer revolution would be uncompleted without an illusion to the fact that he was truly a national soccer icon who touched all corners of the county, staging soccer contents to immortalise or celebrate those who made the game famous at their time.
For instance, Tony Eke regularly staging football competitions in honour of Kano Ado Bayero, Oba of Benin, U.J. Esuene, M.K.O. Abiola, Lekan Salami, Joe Audu, Dominic Oneya, Muda Lawal and recently the ALL STARS Cup which was his last assignment in October 2018, shortly before his sickness of almost nine years took a dramatic turn.
I would like to recall Tony’s last moments on earth with an agonising feeling. As a friend, colleague and confidant for almost four decades, Tony Eke had been the one always inviting me to his house on issues pertaining to football in Nigeria and other West African countries. In fact, he had told me in September, 2018 that we should arrange a football match to celebrate Chioma Ajunwa’s birthday and also mark her recent promotion by the Police on 25th December, 2018, but for his sickness which relapsed in the early part of December. He called on phone and I noticed that his voice was incoherent. When I got to his Oluwalose residence in Ikotun, Lagos on February 1, 2019, I noticed that Tony Eke was in his last days on earth and I quickly called his lawyer daughter Anthonia, who answered my call from Abuja. However, Tonia later told me she was making arrangement to take her father to their village in Delta and wanted to know whether I would be able to go with the family, which I unhesitatingly gave my nod.
Maybe we procrastinated because it took Tonia another three days to get back to me, and when she did, it was to break the sad news that her father had passed on in the early hours of February 16, 2019. I was devastated.
Meanwhile, the remains of Tony Ossai Eke will be buried on Friday, 1st March, 2019 at Ikoyi Cemetery. There was a wake-keep on Thursday, 28th February (yesterday) at Navy Barracks, Ajegunle, Apapa.

Segun Adenuga

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Ghana Legend Names Okocha Africa’s Best

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Ghana star, Mohammed Kudus has named Nigerian legend Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha as his greatest African footballer of all time, drawing parallels between Okocha’s style of play and his own.
Kudus, currently plying his trade with West Ham United, praised Okocha for his exceptional skills and entertainment value on the pitch.
Okocha’s illustrious career includes numerous achievements such as winning the Goal of the Year award in Germany in 1993, multiple Nigerian Footballer of the Year titles, and being named the BBC African Footballer of the Year twice.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Kudus expressed his admiration for Okocha, emphasising the lasting impact of his creative flair and ability to entertain fans. He highlighted Okocha’s unique style of play as a source of inspiration for him as a young footballer.
”I will say Jay Jay Okocha. I will say explaining from my lens how I see creative players and entertain. That can never be washed away and the fans can never forget that,” Kudus told our source.
Despite joining West Ham United last summer, Kudus has quickly established himself as a crucial player for David Moyes’ side.
With stellar performances throughout the season, Kudus has garnered attention for his impressive contributions on the pitch. In his debut season, the midfielder has netted an impressive 13 goals in 38 appearances, solidifying his role as a key player for the club.

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HFN Sets Deadline For League Registration  

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The Handball Federation of Nigeria (HFN) have called on teams that will participate in the Ardova Handball Premier League 2024 to complete all documentary registration on or before May 4, 2024.
The Ardova Handball Premier League 2024 kick off with phase 1 to hold in Benin City, Edo State from May 12th to the 25th , 2024 and the HFN said all teams must document all their registration regarding player registrations, loans and transfers as soon as the 4th of May 2024 according to a statement addressed the officials of the twenty two participating teams by the Secretary General of the Handball Federation of Nigeria (HFN) Mr. Almu Umar Lambu.
“A total of 25 players and 4 officials shall be registered for the Season as there shall be no more registration in the Second Phase and all participating clubs should note that documentary registration of players, transfers and loans shall be completed on or before 4th May, 2024.” Mr. Lambu said.
Mr. Lambu also revealed that the HFN will hold an anti-doping seminar for players and officials during the course of the first phase of the Ardova Handball Premier League 2024 in Benin City, Edo State.
“Also Clubs should note that there will be Anti-Doping Seminar during the league to be organised by the HFN Medical and Anti-Doping Commission” Mr. Lambu concludes.
The top tier Handball league which is the biggest handball event in Nigeria, was to begin on April 28 through to May 11, 2024 but has now being shifted by two weeks by the Handball Federation of Nigeria for effective preparation in tandem with the sponsor Ardova PLC and will now hold from May 12 to 25, 2024.
Teams are expected to arrive Benin City on May 12, 2024 while hostilities will then begin the next day, May 13 through to May 24, 2024. Departure is May 25, 2024.

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Athletics: Ofili, Nathaniel Qualify For Paris Olympics

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Favour Ofili and Ezekiel Nathaniel have booked their places to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Ofili won the women’s 200-meter event in day one of the Tom Jones Invitational on Friday, hosted by Florida at James G. Pressly Stadium in Gainesville.
The Port Harcourt, Nigeria, native blazed out of the blocks and clocked an event-winning time and No. 4 time in the world of 22.33 seconds (+1.4 m/s).
She defeated Anavia Battle who came through in 22.56s and Ida Karstoft in a new National Record of 22.60s
Her time dips under the Paris 2024 Olympics’ standard of 22.57 seconds, punching her ticket to the Olympics in her first season after turning pro.
It is her fastest time outdoors since 2022 where she set the Nigerian National Record of 21.96s the same year.
Nathaniel on his part shattered the Nigerian 400m Record at the Tom Jones Invitational, running a brilliant 48.29s.
The feat has seen Nathaniel automatically qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympics, surpassing the Olympic standard by almost half a second.
Chris Robinson of the United States won in a time of 47.95s ahead of Clement Ducos, who ran 48.26s.
Meanwhile, in the Men’s High Jump event, Nigeria’s Erhire Best won clearing a Season’s Best (SB) of 2.21m.
He defeated Riyon Rankin on countback, having needed just one attempt to clear the winning mark while Rankin took three tries. BJ Jennings was 3rd with 2.13m.

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