By Paul Bassey
Onochie Anibeze and Tony Ubani, Group Sports Editor and Sports Editor of the Vanguard respectively accepted my apology for not being able to write during the Nations Cup.
Today’s apology therefore goes to you the reader, especially those faithful ones that have, through text messages and calls tried to find out why my silence has been so deafening.
One of the reasons why I could not write as explained to my bosses was that the duty of a General Coordinator in a Nation’s Cup is as demanding as it is taxing.
Whereas on match days, you enjoy a bit of respite although you do not get to leave the stadium till about midnight for a match that kicked off by 20,00hrs, it is even on non match days that you face all the challenges of preparations, technical meetings, security briefs, availability of balls and flags, media and accreditation demands among others.
As the General Coordinator of the Franceville centre I want to seize this opportunity to appreciate my fellow country men who contributed immensely to my success in the centre.
Although Dr Bolaji Ojo-Oba was appointed as CAF Security officer his experience as General Coordinator was put at my disposal. Also in Franceville were General Dominic Oneya, member of Nations Cup Organising Committee and Chief Adegboye Onigbinde who headed the Technical Study Group of the centre.
We kicked off Franceville with Ghana, Guinea, Mali and Botswana. Right from the first match when Ghana managed to beat Botswana 1-0 to the cracker involving Mali and Guinea, this was really the centre to be and we were really proud when our group produced two teams out of four in the semi finals.
I can safely talk about the Gabon-Equatorial Guine Nations Cup from the Franceville centre, that sleepy little Gabonese city of less than 100,000 thousand people who struggled to fill a 20,000 capacity stadium except when the Panthers, the Gabonese national team came calling.
Franceville was an experience in duty, will and determination to fulfill the ambition of country. Some call it Patriotism.
Franceville was a story of a group of people anxious to please, who bent over backward to make sure that all operations in the group were successful. Of Professionals who shared their wealth of experience with the CAF team and came out better for it. Of drivers who were always at their duty posts,( I will always remember the Nigerian driver who was to take President Hayatou to the airport from his Eko Hotel abode.
After a frantic search for him, he appeared and sneered “ If person drive CAF President he no go piss?” when President Hayatou asked what he had said we told him that the driver said “he was sorry”.
Franceville at the outset presented some challenges as regards infrastructure. It was the centre that had to quarter its teams far from the town. At first the teams complained. They cherished a hotel atmosphere. They decried a camp like situation and this was documented immediately after the draw ceremony in Malabo when the teams had to take a facility tour of their centres.
However, by the time Franceville finished with the four teams, they wished they had stayed there for all their matches of the competition.
Mali and Botswana stayed in a place called Bongo Ville, forty minute from the city centre. It is a facility to behold given its luxurious setting that can equal any five star hotel in the world.
During our initial visit to Bongo Ville,( Incidentally the birth place of the Gabonese President,) I remember telling Dr Ojo Oba that the facility was ideal for a serious camping by the Super Eagles for any African Competition within the same geographical setting
Twenty minutes down the road at a city called Ngouni, Ghana colonized a facility complete with a brand new stadium.
At Moanda, forty minutes drive from the West of Franceville , Guinea lodged, also complete with a brand new stadium.
You can then imagine the atmosphere of success that enveloped teams so comfortably secluded from the maddening crowd and all the attendant distractions, with a training pitch just a walking distance away.
On the pitch in Franceville, we had hope. Yes the news media were agog with the belief that with the absence of Nigeria, Cameroun and Egypt, the cup was going to be won by either Senegal, Cote D’ivoire and Ghana. We had Ghana, so we had hope. But Chief Onigbinde was not tired of informing us that from what he saw of the Ghanains he was not very impressed and that they needed to do something extra to be able to win the cup. Most times we took him on. We wanted to know more, how a team of superstars that had beaten all opponents in sight was not going to win the cup!
The story of the just concluded Nations may start and end with Zambia, but it was also a story with a lot of paragraphs dedicated to Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon and the growth of African football.
It is the success story of CAF and President Hayatou who have given the “ smaller” countries of Africa the opportunity of developing their infrastructure and human capacity. Given them hope and belief in themselves. Please visit these two countries after the Nations Cup and you will be pleased you did……roads, airports, communication, hotels, awareness….windows open to the world of tourism, hospitality and business….
I have been asked, I have read and heard about the “lessons” of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea 2012 and most times my answer has always been “ What lessons?” must we wait for Zambia to win the cup for us to be reminded that there is more to a football match than inviting twenty two bloated individuals from abroad and promising them twenty thousand dollars each for an ephemeral victory?
In addition to the feet, football is now played in the head and in the heart. Attitude counts, dedication matters, purpose is outlined.
In the coming days I will take a closer look at the events that shaped the nations cup 2012 without laughing at those who believed that we would have won it IF WE HAD QUALIFIED……..Yes we have to qualify first that is why I want to congratulate Coach Stephen Keshi in advance for what may turn out to be a glorious experiment in Kigali thanks to the presence of some HUNGRY FOOTBALLERS in his squad.
Again, the League…..
I will also take space out to talk about the league that has now been put on the front burner by the Nigeria Football Federation thanks to the support given to Keshi to take an inward look at the domestic game.
Two weeks ago I was called to duty in Enugu and I must confess that the positives for me were more than the negatives, especially on the field of play where Heartland gave me hope of a credible outing in Africa and the youngsters of Rangers paint a picture of a glorious future supported by past legends of the famous club.
I crossed over to Uyo where Chairman Isong Isang of Akwa United is leading a revolution. The natural grass at Uyo stadium is something to behold while the brand new club house celebrates indigenous stars like Charles Bassey, ( MON) James Etokebe and Vincent Enyeama while also honouring J.J Okocha and Nwankwo Kanu.
Professionalism is now the watch word.
See you next week.