BY OSA AMADI
In 1970, Rangers played their last Match in Lagos with the Nigerian Army team to pick the ticket as Nigeria’s representative in 1971 Africa Champions Club Cup Competition. A week before the match, the Army team had been fully kitted and motivated to represent Nigeria, as their handlers had presumed that Rangers Football Club would be routed having just registered to feature in the knockout series few months after surviving the war.
Dominic Nwobodo who was hero of the match remembers it with great emotion: “I played many tough matches, but the toughest in Nigeria, I think, was the one against the Nigeria Army XI FC. The significance of this game is that it was between Rangers FC which was made up of ex-Biafra soldiers and the Nigeria Army XI FC. I remember our coach telling us to ‘go into the pitch and show them that you are better soldiers. Chief Jerry Enyeazu, founder of Rangers, also ordered us to ‘win this match and bring the Igbos back into Nigeria politics.
“Motivated by the ‘Rangers Spirit’, we demolished the Nigerian Army XI by 2 goals to 1. For the Igbos, that was a watershed. The victory on the football field reversed the defeat suffered by our people at the end of the war,” Dom Nwobodo explained.
“We were prepared for the Army team. We knew some of their players like Paul Hamilton and Willy Bazuaye, and they also knew most of us especially before the war….The Lagos media was hyped in favour of the Army team but had also warned them to be careful with some of us….They mentioned me specifically.”
Austin Ofokwu who followed Football in Lagos for over 5 decades as a player and later as a coach, captured the scenes thus: “The match was too bad for we Lagosians….None of us gave Rangers any chance….When Nwobodo scored with all the marking by the Army team, we Lagosians went to bed too early.”
“I was marked out of contest,” continues Dominic Nwobodo, “but I fought like a soldier in a melee. I was hit on the head and had a deep cut…I was stretchered out, had the cut stitched, bandaged and ordered to go in and complete the match…It was a suicide mission and not even the blood that gushed out of my head dampened our resolve to deal with the Army team.” I scored one of the goals. Immediately I entered the field after the stitching and bandage round my head, I heard loud shouts of “Alhaji” “Alhaji”, because my head was turbaned like Alhaji and that instantly became my nick name. Till date Sports fans still call me “Alhaji Dominic Nwobodo. With that defeat of the Army team, Rangers automatically qualified against all odds to represent Nigeria in the 1971 Africa Champions Club Cup Competition.
The 1971 Amachree Cup Competition
CONQUERING THE ARENA
Okey Anyichie, in his book, Football in Nigeria, the Coal City Connection (page 54-58), wrote: “The 1971 Amachree Cup Competition started on the 1st of March 1971 at the City stadium, Onikan, Lagos, with seventeen football clubs participating. The opening match was between Vasco Dagama FC of Enugu and ACB FC in Lagos. ACB defeated Vasco Dagama 4 goals to 3.”
“In modern football it is not supposed to happen that a team leading by three goals should in the end lose. But it did happen yesterday at the Lagos City stadium when Vasco Dagama after being 3 goals ahead up till the beginning of the second half let ACB, a Lagos 2nd Division side, push them out of the final stages of the Amachree competition” (See Daily Times, 2/03/1971).
“After Vasco Dagama fell by the way side in the competition, Rangers Football Club, another side from Enugu, held on courageously. It would have been a disaster if the two sides fielded by Enugu had fallen by the wayside in the competition.
“Rangers Football Club of Enugu began the campaign in the second Amachree cup competition against WNDC Football Club, one of the oldest clubs in Ibadan, capital of the Western Region. WNDC was one of Ibadan clubs that came into existence in the 1950s, and Football team from that ancient city of Ibadan that won the Challenge Cup a record nine times from 1945 to date. WNDC, according to Chief Lekan Salami, won the Ibadan city Division One League soccer competition in an unbroken period spanning from 1960 to 1972. With all these in their favor, WNDC (which later became IICC and SSC) faced the one year old Rangers Football Club of Enugu on March 3, 1971. The encounter began with Chukwuma Igweonwu scoring two goals while Mathias Obianika scored one goal to make the score two-one. WNDC of Ibadan scored two to leave the full time score at 3-2 in favor of Rangers.
“The next football club to be eliminated by Rangers was ACB Football Club of Lagos, the club that kicked out Vasco Dagama. Will ACB dismiss the two football clubs from Enugu? No! Rangers FC was in no mood to let go off victory no matter the side not even a Lagos team playing on their own ground.
But that victory over the Lagos side by Rangers nearly took the shape of quicksands. Rangers FC was leading 3-0, when ACB leveled up to 3-3. It was during the extra time that Dominic Nwobodo scored the only goal that made a lot of difference which brought the score to 4-3 in favor of Rangers. That was how Rangers shot into the semi-final of the tournament!
“The next opponent was the Army Football Club of Lagos reputed to be the most expensively equipped soccer outfit in Nigeria then. Besides being well equipped, the club paraded a bunch of football stars like Mohammed Lawal, Inua Rigogo who kept the goal for Nigeria for many years, Paul Hamilton, Sam Opone, Kenneth Olayombo and Segun Oladimeji.
“Nigerian Army, hot favorites to win the Amachree Cup square up to Rangers of Enugu in the second semi-final of the contest at the City Stadium, Onika afternoon. Everything pointed to a victory for Army authority in the final on Monday. But the preview was flexible enough to observe that “the men from Enugu cannot be expected to be mere stepping stones. They intend to fight every inch and win, and they have as much material for the job as the Army” (See Daily Times, 13/03/ 1971).
The Daily Times observation turned out to be right. Rangers, with their unique material for victory, defied all predictions to overwhelm Army Football Club of Lagos by 2-1. It was a great victory which some football analysts called ‘the final before the finals’ of the competition.
After that herculean achievement, the next opponent was the Ports Authority Football Club of Lagos – the first winners of the Nigerian Challenge Cup competition in 1945 when it began. In that first year of the competition, Ports Authority was known as Marine, and the Lagos Football team beat a fellow Lagos club, the Corinthian Football Club, by a lone goal to win the Challenge Cup. And so this competition saw the Enugu side squaring up to Ports Authority parading great ball jugglers like Bobo Mordi, Tunde Agbaniko, Edet, Ohiri and Dangerman Okonji.
The least match of this 1971 Amachree Cup competition between Rangers and Ports Authority was played on Monday 15 March 1971 at the Lagos City Stadium Onikan, Lagos. Before a capacity crowd of football fans at that local ‘Wembley’, Rangers Football Club of Enugu made no mistake about victory. They pumped in three goals into the Ports Authority’s net without giving the marine boys any chance whatsoever. The Daily Times Newspaper report of that epic 1971 Amachree Cup final clash found a hero in Rangers’ Kenneth Abana with the caption:
Abana is the hero : 3-0
Rangers of Enugu will carry Nigeria’s Challenge in the Club’s Championship this year, thanks to an explosive display by Abana, the lad who originally came as a team substitute. Six-footer Abana who got this chance when Nwobodo was injured in the match against WNDC of Ibadan, had a hand in all Rangers three goals (he scored one himself- against Port Lagos, in the Amachree Cup final at Lagos City Stadium yesterday 15th March 1971. It was Abana, a clever dribbler and as deadly as a snake who broke the even exchange in the 21st minute with a fantastic dribbling run through three defender before being pushed off the ball by a ports defender for referee Woghiren from Mid-West State to award a penalty. Skipper Godwin Achebe whose reflexes were razor sharp gave Agbaniko the goal-keeper of Ports Authority no chance from the spot.”
Although the Times newspaper report flattered Kenneth Abana, all members of the Rangers Football squad in the 1971 Amachree cup final were indeed heroes.
It was while representing Nigeria in the Africa Champions Club Cup Competition in 1971 that Rangers FC defeated Sector 6 of Niger Republic both home and away and automatically earned additional accolade of “International”. Kenneth Abana, Rangers deadly striker capped that match thus:
“Our match with Sector 6 of Niger Republic was very tough… it was also a Military Football Club from Niger Republic and our away match had ended goalless in Niamey, Niger Republic. In the return leg, two weeks later, we outplayed them and I scored the only goal of the match which qualified us to progress to the next round against Asec of Ivory Coast….My first goal against Sector 6 was earlier disallowed before my second blinder which the goalkeeper tactfully avoided…after that victory, we now became known all over Africa as Enugu Rangers International instead of just Enugu Rangers,” Kenneth Abana submitted.
From all available records, the victory of Rangers over Nigeria Army XI in 1970 was officially, the Club’s first League victory, and it should be so recorded. When the League was later expanded and played on home and away in 1974, Rangers International clinched it as another maiden trophy which it retained in 1975 and 1976 for keeps. The three trophies, the G.K. Amachree Cup, the Challenge Cup and League trophies are today all in Enugu, in Rangers Chest Box. Rangers International Football Club became the first Clubside in Nigeria to clinch the League and Challenge Cup trophies for keeps.
Only three clubs: Rangers and IICC (now 3SC) Football Clubs, and later the Enyimba, have won continental football titles for Nigeria.