By Louis Amoke
My recent encounter at Agubuowa, in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State, where I attended the funeral rites of late Mr. Thomas Ezenwa Anibeze, elder brother to Onochie Anibeze, Saturday Editor of Vanguard Newspaper, was not only nostalgic but also a memorable one.
It was a day I had the rare opportunity of meeting an array of ex-Rangers International Football Club players, who gathered at the ancestral home of the Anibezes in Ozom, Agubuowa, Ezeagu L.GA. to sympathize with them over the demise of their brother, Thomas.
The encounter was a worthwhile experience as it pulled my memory back to the glorious days the pride of the Igbo man was tied to the anthems of the Enugu Rangers International Football Club.
The club’s performances then brought tremendous joy and excitement not only to the fans of the club, but also to the Igbo man who appreciated the commitment, zeal and tenacity of the players.
When I arrived at the venue of the event, I sighted the ex-Super Eagles player and Coach, Christian Chukwu, seated with other guests in a canopy adjacent to the entrance gate of the family compound of the Anibezes.
His presence drew my attention to the canopy. I exchanged pleasantries with him and had to occupy a seat there. Apart from Chukwu, I was not familiar with any other person in the canopy, until the Master of Ceremony (MC) started the introduction of dignitaries.
I was amazed to realize that the group of people seated in the said canopy were ex-players of Enugu Rangers International Football Club. I was thrilled when the MC recognized Arthur Egbunam. As I eagerly looked around, I saw as he stood up beside me and greeted the crowd. When the MC announced the presence of Sylvanus Okpala, I anxiously peeped through the crowd and equally saw him standing up to greet the crowd.
The rest of the episode continued the same way until I was able to have a glance of a legion of the ex-Enugu Rangers football players, such as Harrison Okagbue, Francis Nwosu (German War), Stanley Okoronkwo, Mike Ogbuodudu, Fancy Ewulu, Dr. Johny Egbonu, Godwin Nosike among others including Louis Igwilo who later visited.
I appreciated their presence and the opportunity to meet them on a face value. The reason was not only because they brought dignity to the Igbo man through their outstanding performances that lifted Enugu Rangers to an enviable height in the country and beyond, but also for their unifying roles that brought joy and unity to the entire Igbo nation. They gave the easterners a sense of belonging and left footprints that were worthy of emulation by the new generation footballers.
One can only appreciate the strong union that has kept these great warriors together and the secret of their success story. One can equally appreciate the joy the ex-players brought to families, among peers and friends, even enemies each time they played and won their matches.
While seated at the event with some of these gallant warriors, I remembered vividly those days of my tender age when my dad would happily analyze Rangers matches at the end of each day, with our neighbours. They would engage the entire compound with sensational analyses of the matches, echoing their voices to the mountain of Kilimanjero in appreciation of the impressive performances of the Rangers players, such as Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Ernest Ufele, Amaechi Igwobi, Felix Emordi, Nnamdi Nwokeocha, Louis Igwilo, Arthur Egbunam, Sylvanus Okpala, Francis Nwosu, popularly called the German War, Mike Ogbuodudu, Dr. Johny Egbonu, among others.
These names have not left my memory and one could imagine how I felt when I saw myself seated with some of these great players at the event. My heart was thawed and I couldn’t hide my feeling as I devoted most part of my stay appreciating their presence. I saluted their gallant efforts towards the success story of the Rangers International Football Club, during their time. I appreciated God for keeping them healthy and together as one strong and unified family with all the attributes of statesmanship.
I left the venue of the funeral ceremony a fulfilled man but saturated with so many worries in my heart concerning the club’s fate since the departure of this set of players over 30 years ago. Rangers have suffered tremendous neglect but Gov. Ugwuanyi’s administration has started moves to reposition the club and return it to its original formation of winning glory. The governor has shown interest in the progress of the club and has demonstrated his commitment towards its success. One appreciates the interventionist moves he made shortly after his inauguration when he resolved the dispute between the management of the club and its players over the non-payment of their salary arrears and other incentives. He made sure that they were paid. And as the new football season kicked off few weeks ago, Rangers have, through their performance so far, shown the spirit and character Ugwuanyi wants them to display throughout the campaign. Although they have not won any silverware recently they remain the club yet to face relegation. They have faced challenges but their dignity is still in tact.
Amoke is the Senior Special Assistant to the Enugu State Governor on Media