Former Flying Eagles and Greater Tomorrow star,, Emeka James tells JOHN EGBOKHAN that he owes his brief soccer exploits to Coach Kashimawo Laloko.
What have you been doing since your exit from international football. Any regret or joy quitting the game.
Since I stopped playing active football in 1986, I have been a practicing Civil/Structural Engineer in Nigeria before I relocated to United States of America. Presently I am a practicing Professional Licensed Structural Engineer in the states of New York and Massachusetts.
What was the experience like playing for Nigeria?
When FIFA came up with the idea of the U-20 tournament in 1977, hosted by Tunisia, USSR defeated Mexico in the finals on a penalty shootout. Two years later, in 1979, most of us in the Greater Tomorrow, assembled by NFA (now NFF); with the likes of Henry Nwosu, Franklin Howard, Sunday Benson etc., were drafted into the Junior Eagles (now Flying Eagles) with players from other State to make up the team with players like Humphrey Edobor, and Bright Omokaro from Edo State, Silvanus Okpala from Anambra State etc. The bulk of the team came from Greater Tomorrow.
Mind you, Lagos state paraded so many players that Greater Tomorrow had to be divided in to two teams. The other team comprised of Stephen Keshi (current Super Eagles coach), Dennis Echefu, Paul Okoku, Sunday Joseph, Semeon “Bremner” Alada, etc. We lost to Cameroon in the qualifying stage, though Algeria and Guinea represented Africa, in the 1979 u20 edition, held in Japan. Of course, Argentina defeated USSR 3 – 1, in the finals.
My stay in the Junior National team was very short lived, because when then I realized that I will have to devote a lot of time for this game which means I have to travel with the team all over the country in preparation for the game. Then I realized that the whole set up was going to compromise some of my principles (play soccer in Lagos only) then I was in my final year in secondary school which means I will miss classes for months. That was how I excused myself from the Junior National team.
What was the biggest challenge that sportsmen faced during your time and how did you people overcome it
In Nigeria then, sportsmen generally, didn’t have the opportunity of going to School and playing football at the same time, you only have one choice, you either play soccer full time or quit and face your studies. Then there was no much money to be made playing football full time. Most of the players then in top clubs like Rangers and IICC were paid graduate entry level salaries, GL8. I played for Julius Berger from 1979 to 1982 under a German Coach Gothlieb Gola who saw great potentials in me and he gave me that opportunity of going to school and playing for the club. Julius Berger was then the club which paid the most to players in the league
What was the secret for you and how did you ensure that it marked a turning point in your life?
The only way I was able to overcome it was to just play football in Lagos because I lived in Lagos with my parents and I went to school in Lagos because there was no way I was going to explain to them that I was going to leave School to play soccer in another state. In 1979 before I left ST. Finbarr’s College I was playing for National Bank FC with Nathaniel Ogedegbe. That same year I was recruited into Julius Berger by coach Gola and I told him that one of the conditions that would make me play for Berger was if my education was not compromised and the coach was very pleased with that and he made me train three times a week. At times, he will organize special training for me one on one just to be in shape with the rest of the team.
Of all the coaches that you played under while in Nigeria,, who was the best and what stood the coach out?
Like I said earlier, I was in the Flying Eagles team very briefly, but I played under some top coaches in Nigerian clubs. Coach Kashimawo Laluko was one of the first coaches who discovered my great potentials and he took me to the next level. He also discovered Henry Nwosu, Nathaniel Ogedegbe, Wakilu Oyenuga. Coach Gothlieb Gola gave me the opportunity to play soccer at a high level and time to pursue a career in Civil Engineering.