By KATE OBODO
Remember Etim Esin? That stylish Nigerian ex-international who waltzed his way into the hearts of millions of football lovers in this country following his ingenious style of playing which was similar to that of the ex-Argentine football star, Diego Maradona whom he was nicknamed after.
He was one of the finest footballers this country ever produced in the early 90s. Hi-Groove caught up with him recently where he shares the story of his misfortune in the field of soccer, and why he’s called a rebel by his family members.
I’m from a polygamous home, my father married four wives. Hailing from a famous aristocratic family, most of my siblings are lawyers by profession as wellas successful businessmen residing in Europe. My late father was an adviser to Clement Isong, governor of the old Cross River State. My family saw me as a rebel because of my decision to become a footballer as against their desire for qaulitative education.
I started my soccer career in the 1980s with Calabar Rovers. Later I joined the defunct Flash Flamingos and Iwuayanwu Nationale, now Heartland of Owerri in 1987. Despite the frustrations I faced in the cause of my career, I still count myself as being a lucky guy. And because of my talent, I was able to go professional. Soccer exposed me to the world and made me what I’m today.
Soccer in place of education
As a child, I used to escape from classroom to play football. Although my parents wanted us to be educated but I was the odd person out in my family because of the passion I have for football. Today, all my siblings are graduates but my love for football ruled me out of that dream. So, I can say the price I paid for choosing to become a footballer was my education.
There were many problems that worked against my career as a footballer. First, I was involved in a drug case after which I was also shot by armed robbers during the preparation for the Junior World Cup.
It happened that I was going to park my new 505 saloon car given to me by Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, when armed robbers attacked me in Surulere. But later, those robbers sent an apology letter to me while I was still on admission at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH. They said they never knew I was the one they attacked. And since God preserved my life, I had to forgive them.
Another problem that worked against my career was racism. Till date, there is still racism in football and my generation were among those that suffered colour- discrimination in Europe. The rape case I had in Belgium was in the early ’90s.
It was a racial treatment- from a white family called Pedofiles. I was dating one of their daughters unknown to me that her father was also having a sexual affair with her. But because I was a black man dating a white lady, my girlfriend became mischievous.
What happened was that she got pregnant and by the time she gave birth to the child, he was a light-skinned child. But she knew I wouldn’t marry her. That was how I got into trouble. In fact, the late MKO Abiola was determined to get me out of the trouble.
He sent lawyers from Edewor Chambers to defend me and paid the fees. At that time, he was in the middle of his presidential campaign. So, he told me that I should be patience. That was how I waited and waited until I got the news of his death. Apart from my ordeal, there were other black players who suffered similar problems in Europe. Unfortunately, FIFA cannot stamp out racism in Europe. I can only urge emerging players to learn from my mistakes.
If I was married then, such evil wouldn’t have happened to me. So, I could be right to allude that my inability to marry early affected my career. But I thank God today that I am married to a wonderful woman. For me, my life is like a movie, from the drug case, to allegation of rape and later, shot by armed robbers before I travelled to Chile. But in all, I thank God that I’m still alive.
Lifestyle as a footballer
I played topflight football with style but it was shortlived due to my indiscipline. I was always different from my colleagues and everybody knew this claim. As a footballer then, I had many nicknames such as ‘powerful,’ Maradona’, ‘Superbrat,’ ‘Adidimba,’ etc. Back in the days, I was among those who brought styles into football in this country.
I remember when I bought a 505 saloon car in the 1990s. It inspired many footballers as they were motivated to continue pursuing their passion. This also attracted a handful of rising footballers to consider the option of going into professional football.
In fact, many of them also travelled to Belgium. And if you look at the story of most Nigerian footballer stars today, you’d notice they all started from Belgium. I think Belgium provided Nigerian stars a platform to become who they are today.
Memorable and sad moments
My happiest moment was when I led Nigeria to qualify for the World Youth Championship in Chile, South America, in 1987.
While my saddest moment was when I was playing at the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, in a World Cup qualifying match against Angola in 1989, and my great friend, Samuel Okwaraji, slumped and died on the field of play. I could not stand it because we were too close. He was fond of calling me Maradona and I used to call him Ruud Gullit. We shared similar dream of taking Nigeria to the World Cup in 1990. But his death shattered the dream.
My Kind of Dressing
I have been fashion crazy right from my days in the pitch. Then, whenever I wear any dress, my colleagues would be envious of me. They used to think I’m a proud person because of my glamorous dress sense.
My mood also affect the way I dress. Sometimes, if you don’t know me too well, my dressing could be deceptive; that you might think I’m a musicians, or an actor. Sometimes, people look at me twice so as to ascertain my true identity. I am creative in the way I dress.
Women and I
I think my good dress sense attracts female admirers to me. I was once rough with women but my focus now is on my family. In anything I do today, my family comes first.
Meeting my wife
Meeting my wife was not love at first sight. Her name is Mariam, a Fulani woman from Mali. She was the only woman who stood by me when the going was tough. Despite all the troubles and humiliations I suffered,God blessed me with a good wife.
Our marriage is blessed with a beautiful daughter. May be, if I have all the money in the world, I might not get the kind of woman I have today. She is loving, tolerable and easy-going. She believes so much in me,and not what she will benefit from me.
I like riding bicycle. I also like washing cars.
Smoking and Drinking
I smoke at my convenience but I want to stop smoking. For drinking, I’m not a drunk.
Foods and Fruits
I like the Malian food called Kuskus. Also, as an Akwa Ibom man, I live to eat Edikaeko, Afang etc. For fruits, I eat a lot of banana,oranges and others because fruit is good for every sport man.