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Rangers Int’l Football Club(4): First international trophy

The 1977 Africa Cup Winners’ Cup Champions

Rangers did not only ravage Nigerian club sides, they also went on a demolition expedition across the border. When they overran Senegal on their own soil they drew the ire of Senegalese and were mobbed. Find out how it happened:

Former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon in handshake with Emeka Onyedika. Behind is Rtd. Inspector General of Police, Kam Salam

THE Rangers race to win 1977 Africa Cup Winners Cup debuted in 1976. The maiden edition of the Cup Winners was won by I.I.C.C. Shooting Stars of Ibadan. It was the second year after Rangers had lost the prestigious and highly coveted Africa Club Champions Cup in 1975 that the race for the memorable Africa Cup Winners Cup began. A lot of reorganization had already taken place in Enugu and the Club was a direct beneficiary of those reorganizations.

First, was the creation of States in February 1976 in which East Central State was split into Anambra and Imo with Enugu retaining the Capital of Anambra State, and Owerri emerging as the Capital of Imo State.

Secondly, some Rangers Players and Officials moved to Imo State and they included coaches Dan Anyiam, Pauline Nzerem and Isaac Nnado. The Players were Kelechi Emetole, Harrison Mecha, Ikechukwu Ezidimma etc.

Thirdly, the introduction of Godwin Achebe, first Rangers Captain, as the new coach of the club paid off. Godwin Achebe was not into women and had no grouse whatever with his players. He had completed a coaching course abroad and returned on the eve of the state creation. He took over the mantle of leadership as Rangers coach and the bad luck which trailed him as a player turned to good luck as he changed his “playing garment” to “coaching garment”.

As the team moved from one tough match to the other, the players and the officials got hardened for the task ahead. They knew that to win the trophy was a “bloody task”, and they all volunteered to sweat and possibly shed their blood if it came to that point in order to prove that they were better than the I.I.C.C. Shooting Stars that clinched the trophy a year earlier.

When the matches became tougher, the prayer of the supporters of both Rangers International FC and the I.I.C.C. Shooting Stars FC of Ibadan was that the two teams should not meet till the Finals. Each team progressed from its group and by Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) fixtures, the two teams must meet at the Semi-Finals stage. Rangers mowed down Al Tripoli of Libya 1 – 0; hacked down in a humiliating form Electric Sports of Ethiopia on aggregate of 6 – 0, that is 4 – 0 in Lagos in the first leg and 2 – 0 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in the second leg.

It was in the Quarter Finals against Police FC of Senegal that Rangers saw war and shed blood. In the first leg in Lagos, Rangers played goalless draw with the tough team from Senegal. Many factors hindered Rangers from scoring in the first leg in Lagos. There was that phobia of “Police Arrest,” and Rangers fell for it. There was also the gapping humiliation of Electric Sports of Ethiopia, the previous month, and Rangers players felt they had hit their scoring skills and took the Senegalese for granted.

The most technical explanation for the barren draw in Lagos was the tactical approach the Senegalese adopted in the first leg. They played 4.4.2 formation on the defensive side and had planned a goalless draw against Rangers in Lagos. They amassed their defenders and midfielders within their own half and occasionally took Rangers on the counter. Rangers FC players who were more effective from the flanks had no easy ride through the flanks. The Senegalese perfected that defensive role and succeeded in holding Rangers down to a barren draw.

The second leg in Dakar Senegal, in a fortnight shocked the Senegalese. They opened up when battle was joined and came all out to attack Rangers. Their guests, who had perfected penalty kicks in Nigeria, shocked the Senegalese by replicating the Police team formation two weeks earlier. The match progressed. None of the teams could score and the first half ended in a barren draw. For inexplicable reasons, the Senegalese dropped their defensive formation and attacked Rangers from all angles.

In the second half, coach Achebe replaced Emeka Onyedika at the right wing position with the sprinter, Samuel Onyeaka. His inclusion in the 15th minute of the second half changed the game. Within 5 minutes of inclusion, Sam Onyeaka had broken through the defence of the Senegalese and face-to-face with the Senegalese goalkeeper, Sam, took a thunderous shot which the goalkeeper parried into his net for Rangers’ first goal.

In the history of the club, Rangers hardly scored an away goal and failed to defend it, especially if it scored first. Rangers’ bench erupted in celebration and a pin drop silence enveloped the stadium. The Senegalese did not know how to cope with the tragedy that hit them right in front of their home supporters. They picked up their pieces, reorganized and tried to launch a frontal attack. They were repulsed by Rangers central defence, ably commanded by Christian Chukwu. Then they fanned out through the flanks but were cut to size by Rangers half liners.

To further compound their problem, Samuel Onyeaka collected another long pass from Christian Chukwu, tore through the defense of the Police team, close to the spot where he had first rattled the goalkeeper. He replicated the same type of shot that gave Rangers the first goal. The Senegalese goalkeeper punched the shot direct to the oncoming Chimezie Ngadi who saluted him and rammed the shot into the net for Rangers second goal.

After these two goals, Senegalese fans attacked Rangers Wingers with anything they could lay their hands on. Rangers temporarily abandoned the wings and concentrated on defending the two goals advantage. In a compensatory feat, the Referee awarded the Senegalese a penalty which they converted and the final score stood at 2 – 1 in favour of Rangers. Senegalese fans after the match descended on Rangers players and gave them the beating of their lives with Sam Onyeaka almost maimed in the field. In a rare display of Statesmanship, General Olusegun Obasanjo, then Military Head of State of Nigeria, directed that an Airforce Hercules be flown to Dakar that night and evacuated Rangers FC back to Lagos.

Advantage of fan-base

Rangers FC battle for the Semi-Final ticket was against I.I.C.C. Shooting Stars of Ibadan, and it turned out to be the most controversial match ever handled by the Nigeria Football Association. The first leg in Lagos ended goalless, with Chimezie Ngadi’s goal cancelled by the Referee for inexplicable reasons. The second leg elicited the intervention of Nigeria Supreme Military Council headed by General Olusegun Obsanjo who directed his Chief of Staff, General Shehu Y’aradua to arbitrate.

The second leg was then moved to Kaduna, as a neutral venue based on Rangers protest that Lagos gave I.I.C.C. Shooting Stars undue advantage of fan-base since the distance between Ibadan and Lagos was less than one-hour drive. It was in the second leg that Rangers confronted I.I.C.C. who were armed to the hilt with players like goalkeeper Best Ojedengbe, Moses Otolorin, Kunle Awesu, Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal, Sam Ojebode, Taiwo Ogunjobi etc. Rangers paraded Emmanuel Okala, Mike Ogbodudu, Ignatius Ilechukwu, Christian Madu, Christian Chukwu, Francis Nwosu, Ogidi Ibeabuchi, Chimezie Ngadi, Nnamdi Anyafo, Nwabueze Nwankwo, Aloysius Atuegbu, Forster Ikeagwu etc.

The second leg played at Ahmadu Bello Stadium Kaduna ended goalless and in the ensuing penalty Kicks, Rangers qualified 4 – 2 through kicks taken by Christian Madu, Ignatius Ilechukwu, Chimezie Ngadi and Christian Chukwu.

 

To be continued…

 

Edwin Eze and Emma Okocha (2017) Rangers International Football Club: History of a People. Gomslam International Limited: Enugu.


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