*Says no seriousness in Nigerian league anymore
By Ime Bassey
Rowland Ewere is an ex-International born on April 28, 1963 who captained Bendel Insurance Football Club of Benin for many years. After his Secondary School, Ewere pitched tent with then P&T Rocket in 1979/80 before he finally joined Insurance in 1982.He also plied his trade with traditional clubs in the Nigerian League like Shooting Stars of Ibadan, El-Kanemi Warriors of Maidugiri, New Nigerian Bank of Benin and Julius Berger of Lagos. Married with four kids, Ewere who packed great shots in his feet is now the chief coach Insurance of Benin.
He spoke with Saturday Vanguard Sports after the Dream Team’s victory over perennial rivals Ghana in the ancient Benin City. Excerpts:
How was it like when you joined Insurance of Benin?
It was one of the biggest clubs at that time. We were very happy to play for Bendel Insurance then, because during our school days, we usually go to the stadium to watch them play at training. We were calling ourselves names of the best players then. Names like Sebastian Brodericks, Felix Agbonifo of blessed memories, Peter Egharevba, etc.
Can you recall your rise from Bendel Insurance to lime-light?
I started playing from day one as a regular when I joined the team. I was one of the highest goal scorers then because I started as an attacker. I won many laurels for Bendel Insurance, like the Challenge Cup, CAF Cup and WAFU Cup. I did not win the league during my days at Bendel Insurance but I did with Julius Berger.
Let us into your feelings on how it was like not winning the league with Bendel Insurance after all the years and efforts?
I took it as my fate. We came close to winning it the season before Iwuanyanwu Nationale had their plane crash. We were first on the log before they protested against us for fielding a wrong player by name, Tom Alabi (now late). The board deducted three points from us and we came second to them. If not for that protest, we would have won the league that year. This was the season we played in the CAF Cup.
How did you move as a player then in the league in terms of clubs?
I signed for Bendel Insurance in 1982, left for El-Kanemi Warriors in 1987 because of monetary issues with the club as we were not given anything then as players, especially we the indigenes of the state. When I realized that some of my colleagues were making money and we were lagging behind, I just had to move. Luckily for me then, El-Kanemi came calling and I had to join them then for N25,000 and same amount for a car loan.
What was it like in Maidugiri with the Warriors?
It was okay for me because anywhere I found myself as I player, I played the game with the team. The weather was hot but there was nothing I could do as I needed the money. For me, I do not have anything to regret about playing for El-Kanemi Warriors since I was happy with the team. I only signed for one season, so towards the end of the season, the team won the Challenge Cup. I did not play because I had a clash with the coach and I left.
After El-Kanemi, I came back to Benin and signed for New Nigerian Bank, NNB FC which had money then, but unfortunately for me, the team was disbanded three months after I joined.
With this, Bendel Insurance came calling again and I had to sign. This was in 1988/89. It was not that I did not like Bendel Insurance then, but there was no money in the club. In all the years I played for Bendel Insurance, there was no money. Most of us that played for the club then did it for the love of the club and the fame attached to playing in the club. The only time the team was buoyant enough, was during Chief Lucky Igbinedion’s era when Chief Oyuki Obaseki was the chairman of the club, money went round. But after that period, the club went back to its former state of lack of funds.
Were you fared well during your return to Bendel Insurance?
That was the time we won the CAF Cup and WAFU Cup. I stayed in Insurance till 1992 before I left for Shooting Stars. I left 3SC after three months because there was this issue of clubs not being able to sign players except with the consent of the entire club management, so I had to come back to Benin again and settle down. We had a good spell during my return to the club but in 1997, I left for Julius Berger because there were words in the air that I was old and tired. I had to prove them wrong by moving to Berger where I played another active four seasons before coming back to Insurance to round off my career.
How was it like winning the league with Julius Berger after many attempts in Bendel Insurance?
I was very happy with myself as people did know why I was very happy that day. My footballing career would not have been complete without winning the league after years of toiling in the Nigerian League.
What was the experience like in Julius Berger besides winning the league?
It was fun and I enjoyed it. I came to JB with an agreement that I will be given the captain’s band but on arrival, I met a former team mate who was the captain then, Ikpowonsa Omoregie. We were very close when he was in Bendel Insurance. He too left for ACB because of monetary matters, then he joined Julius Berger. So I just allowed things to be. Later, the captain’s band was given to my assistant captain in Bendel Insurance, Alhassan Mohammed, who Insurance also said is old like me. We both left Insurance for JB the same year.
We had some games that we played well but did not come out tops, most especially in the Cup Winners Cup final against JS Kabylie of Algeria in Algiers. It was a very difficult game for us after playing a score draw at the National Stadium in Lagos. In Algiers, we played well but we could not get the desired victory.
After Julius Berger, you returned to Bendel Insurance, what was it like for you?
Home is home you know, when I came back, they received me well. That is the joy I have here in Benin, anytime I leave and return, I am always welcomed. I played almost two years before I went for coaching course at the National Institute of Sports.
Nigerians will like to know the problems of Insurance of Benin, can you tell us?
It is too big that only God can intervene in it. I am telling you the truth as the chief coach of the team. I do not believe that human beings will solve the problem of Insurance of Benin. I am sure the team will not go down to amateur division not in my time as coach but Insurance has a big problem.
What were your feelings like when you played your last competitive game?
Unfortunately for me, I did not know I was playing my last game that day. The game had become tiring for me as it was no longer interesting the way it was in the 70s and 80s. I just played the match that day like every other game and threw in the towel. People were asking me to organise a testimonial match but I told them it was of no use. Because of some politics behind the game here, some people will not appreciate your effort.
You never had a stake in the national team of the country, was it okay for you?
I have no regret about my career in the national team. I see it as destiny. During my time in the national team, there was a lot of politics from coaches about players they select. I am a coach now, so I don’t want to criticize anybody but if those coaches were still in the national team, the same players they fielded then will still be the same that will be playing today. They did not have any believe in us most especially those of us that were home based. That is why I always tried to prove myself when I am playing for any of the clubs I played for.
I was invited to the national team on various occasions but never held a permanent shirt and did not play at the National Stadium wearing the Green and White colours. The three times I played, they were away matches. Against Sierra Leone, Liberia and a team cannot remember now. These games were not regular.
Did you ever play outside the shores of the country?
Yes but it was about when I was rounding off my career. This is because my parents were not keen on me traveling abroad as I was the only child of my mother. I even played football by reason of sneaking out of the house when I was small. The issue of my mother’s health actually contributed to my playing most of my football in Bendel Insurance more.
I was in Hong Kong for trials which I passed. I and Chimeze Nwanaga were selected out of six Nigerian players that traveled. But the money was too low as it was better for me to play in Nigeria than to play in Hong Kong, this was when I was in Julius Berger.
Which game can you say is your most memorable game?
I have many memorable games. One of them is in 1983, a league game between Bendel Insurance and Rangers in Enugu. I scored the winner for Insurance with a wonderful goal which was used for advert for months then. I cannot forget that game in my life.
What is the difference between the Nigerian league you played in and the one of today?
There is no seriousness in the league now compared to then. Most of the players now believe that they must win all their home matches. That is why they fizzle out when they go for away matches with the thought that the referee will help the home team. Then in the league, even when your team is losing as an attacker, you will want to score to improve your goal tally and the crowd was always full capacity. In our time, stadiums like the Ogbe Stadium ( in Benin) got filled up to capacity before 12 noon but the story is different today as you cannot even find 10 percent of what we used to have then.
There is also the issue of officiating. The referees are not helping matters. Two years ago, as an assistant coach to Edema Fuludu with Bendel Insurance, we played a game in Onitsha. We scored a goal and the net returned the ball, one of the defenders of the home team just continued the game as if nothing happened until we rushed into the pitch before the referee reacted. It is shameful that even the players are aware that the clubs want to cheat. In another game in Enugu, we were playing against 12 players on the pitch unknown to us until I counted and went to the fourth official before he removed one of the players.