By Onochie Anibeze
Sylvanus Okpala can’t believe that Okey Isima is gone forever. Okpala’s savouring of the Nations Cup glory was halted Monday by the news of the death of the man he adored in their days at Onitsha and who was to become his bosom friend and room mate throughout their days in the Green Eagles.
Isima died in Abuja at the weekend few years after he returned from the USA where he lived after retiring from football.
He was a member of the 1980 Nations Cup squad and played from the left back position where he scored the only goal that beat Egypt in that
tournament in Nigeria.
As far back as 1982, Isima and Okpala hit Europe to play professional football, marking what the media was to term the exodus of Nigerian players to Europe. However,this became prominent when Stephen Keshi led a train of Nigerian players to Europe much later.
“I can remember Isima for many things,” Okpala said yesterday while mourning the fallen star.
“He was my senior in football. We used to carry their boots at a popular play ground in Onitsha. It was a play ground that had up to five football fields at Fegge area of Onitsha. It was called Government Field. Football was serious during holidays and we all gathered there to watch them.
“They had the likes of Christian Nwokocha who was the elder brother of Nnamdi Nwokocha, Sam Igwenagu, Nwachukwu Onyekwere called Macbeth etc. Later I was to join them and Isima and I became good friends. When I joined Rangers he was my room mate and we shared the same room in the national team too. Even during World Cup qualifying matches, Isima was my room mate.
“At the 1980 Nations Cup, coach Otto Gloria converted him to the left back. Before then, he was a midfielder who could play defensively and offensively. He was more of an attacking midfielder in Rangers.
“In 1982 we moved to Portugal. He went to Beleness and I went to Maritimo. Later two of us played for Uniao. It was on Monday that I heard of his death and I’m still troubled. It is a big shock. I have lost a dear friend and a brother. Nigeria has lost a gem in football.
I still remember his Nations Cup goal against Egypt. It was a good one and he overlapped from the back to score. Isima worked hard in everything he did. He had just started football business, trying to raise an academy before death struck.
He wanted to do a lot for Nigerian football by raising footballers in the academy. That is unfulfilled now but it’s left for us all to ensure his dream does not die.”