By Paul Bassey
Friday, June 25 was the final of the GT Bank sponsored Masters Cup Season 4 at the good old Onikan Stadium, Lagos.
On the invitation of Bashorun Adeyinka Augustine DC and Ifeanyi Njoku President and Secretary General respectively of the Saint Finbarrs College Old Boys Association, I set out with some pride to cheer my school to victory against old foes St Gregory’s College.
I drove to Onikan with a lot of emotions flooding back, of the old Onikan, top class secondary football competition, glory and legendary names who made football thick at academicals level in those days.
On arrival at Onikan , I was pleased with what I saw, of the attempt by GT.Bank to bring back us the era where football had its roots in schools. Powered by Media Vision as consultants I appreciated the large turn out of students who had taken time out to relax and cheer their schools to success…..just like old times.
The sight of old boys from all the institutions was very lifting, especially the very vocal St Gregory’s Old boys whose pre match swagger and confidence I knew we were going to deflate, after all we were Saint Finbarr’s, the Conquerors, unarguably the greatest football playing school in Nigeria one that has written several pages in the football book of our country, thanks to the immortal Irish Reverend called Dennis Joseph Slattery.
Winners of the Principals Cup for three consecutive years from 1971-1973 in addition to other triumphs. I remember those years very well because I was admitted in 1971 and when I left in 1975, 40 years ago this years, mine was success stories unlimited. Let me pause and mention those players that Finbarrs has given, donated to this blessed country and you will be marveled. In no particular order, Stephen Keshi, Nduka Ugbade, Samson Siasia……get the emphasis?
Godwin Odiye, Henry Nwosu, Emilio John, Tarila Okorowanta, Marcellus and Cajetan Obinatu, Fatai Amao, Tony Eyo, Senaya Bernard, Obe Adedeji, ( Oberege) Peter Egbiri, Patrick de Adinkwe, Raymond King, Oyibio, Amayo, Gerald Ibe, Paul Okoku………I could go on and on.
The Principals cup in Lagos was about Saint Finbarrs College, yes and Igbobi College, CMS Grammar School, Zumratul Islamiya, Ahmadiya College, Kings College, Methodist Boys High School, Baptist Academy….
Isaac Ibhafidon I know to be an authority in the football history of this country. His knowledge retentive capacity and precision as regarding dates and personae is uncanny and I thought he was the one I should call to relive those days the Principals Cup was not just a schools affair in Lagos. Isaac came alive.
Yes he said, I can afford to subjectively sing the praise of Saint Finbarr’s, but for him, the success story of the Principals Cup in the past is one that should make us bury our heads in shame.
He also remembers how every Principal cup fixture was like a cup final and thirty minutes late to kick off could not guarantee you a seat at Onikan.
Isaac takes over. “…..You are talking of Finbarr’s, are you aware that Adokiye Amesiemeka was discovered while he was in CMS Grammar School? Yes he was. Now let us go to Baptist Academy where Maxwell Yebufra and Newcombe Egbedi ( Texen) were their star players. Emmanuel Okaro, Frankling Howard, Okumagba, were all stars of that school.
“Cross over to Igbobi College and you had the legendary Tunde Martins. There was a popular saying then that If you beat Martins, you beat Igbobi. He was invited to the national team even when he was in school.
“I also remember that despite Martins solidity at the defence, they made a lot of final appearances but never won and were nicknamed “ soroye” saw but never conquered.
“Earlier you mentioned some schools that made Principals Cup thick, but it will not be complete without the likes of Gaskiya College, United Christian, Eko Boys High School and so on.
“From Ahmadiya College, fine footballers were on exhibition..Muyiwa Oshode, Edward Akika, Empire Kanu and Tunde Disu
“Haruna Ilerika was the most famous ambassador of Zumratul, but we also had Emmanuel Igbeka, Aziz Ajalla, Edema Bensonand Tajudeen Ajagun who was the twin striking partner of Haruna.
“Sam Owo in Gregs, Ricky Manuwa in Kings College and Sunday Oliseh from Methodist Boys High School are just some of the players that held sway then” Isaac added.
He also informed that some of the best coaches in the land then pitched their tents with the schools as the legendary Eto Amaechina took time off his ACB team to coach Finbarrs, Laloko was also on the Finbarr’s and Gregs bench, Tony Obi tinkered Baptist Academy while Mike Malagu coached Ugbade in Finbarr’s.
How come we had so much quality then and not now? I wondered.
Back to Onikan. I come awake as the two finalist teams ( Finbarr’s and Gregs file out with old boys ringing out school songs at the top of their voices. The match kicks off……not the standard of old…….can I spot any potential U-17 player here? I struggle to find one as Gregs put pressure on my Alma mata…….suddenly against the run of play, we are one goal up…” With our grand old team to play for us…tralalalallallaa if you read the history….its enough to make your heart to cheeeeeer for we do not care whether we win or lose or draw….…..” I stop singing as Gregs equalize…..go on to add two more and carry away the cup….”
……It can only happen in 2015, not in those good old days.
I leave satisfied, grateful to Guarantee Trust, and to all those in the vanguard of returning sports to schools. therein lies the foundation of our growth. No short cut to victory.
See you next week.