By Emeka Obasi
I feel so proud of the NFF for the carnival I watched on television Monday night. The Award night clearly showed that soccer, if properly packaged, attracts as much glamour as Nollywood and music.
It is unfortunate that government has failed to grab the opportunity offered by sports to move the country forward. Maybe, our politicians do not give a damn about our feelings. They love drinking the blood of innocent Nigerians. I guess that is part of their oath of secrecy.
In football, compatriots do not talk of geo-political zone or state of origin. There are no herdsmen ravaging the field. You do not find militants brandishing assault weapons. It is unusual for tribe and tongue to differ. Football is the language of One Nigeria.
Monday night, Segun ‘Mathematical’ Odegbami, told the world that he was speaking on behalf of the veterans because his ‘Chairman,’ Christian Chukwu, ordered him to do so. It was fun. In politics, someone would start a war over that. Why should a Yoruba man speak when it was the duty of the Igbo to do just that.
FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, was there. I saw governors Akinwunmi Ambode and Ifeanyi Okowa. I was so excited that such splendid event could be put together by the trio of Amaju Pinnick, Seyi Akinwunmi and Shehu Dikko. Of course, they could not have done it effectively without the support of sponsors, AITEO.
The old and not too old were there. I saw the stars of today and story of tomorrow. Jossy Dombraye and Emmanuel Okala were part of the Golden Eagles of the 1973 All Africa Games. Chukwu, Odegbami and Okala won Nations Cup gold in 1980.
The two Austins, Eguavoen and Okocha, brought the Nations Cup home from Tunisia in 1994. Ann Agumanu-Echiejine may have lost count of all the Africa Women championships she won as a goalie, even as a mother. They were all there.
Kudos to the awardees and organizers. I give them full marks. We need events like this to keep going. Our past heroes will be happy anywhere they are. A nation that forgets heroes is not worth a name.
However, there is room for improvement. There is one name that we must never forget anytime we talk of Nigerian sports or football. Jeremiah Amadi Enyeazu, deserves special recognition and we must not only pacify his spirit, Nigeria must honour this great administrator.
Enyeazu is credited with the birth of Enugu Rangers in 1970. With the financial support of his friend, Chief A.W. Ibe and backing of Chief Bernard Nzenwa, the Ngwa man assembled a crack bunch of ex-Biafran soldiers to shake Nigerian football like never before.
Rangers won the informal National League, the Amachree Cup, in 1971. They were on the way to lifting the first organized National League in 1972 before the Edwin Kentebbe led NFA robbed them of celebrations in favour of Mighty Jets of Jos.
The Flying Antelopes won the National league in 1974 without losing a match. They retained the trophy in 1975 and to cap it all, grabbed it for keeps in 1976. Till date, that record is still intact. Heartland became the first to win the National League thrice consecutively in 1990.
As East Central State Director of Sports in 1971, the Academicals won the Adebajo \Manuwa Cup for secondary schools in the country. The team comprised some great names that would later play for the Green Eagles. Stars like Christian Chukwu, Patrick Ekeji, Dominic Ezeani and Keneth Ilodigwe .
The others also did well playing for clubs. Skipper Godwin Ogbueze,Damian Odoh, Johny Azinge and Chike Ikebuaku chose Rangers. Obed Ariri, Ahamefula Umelo, Tony Uzoka, Innocent Nwokeji, Paul Agu and Chukwuma Nwankwo joined Vasco Da Gama, Enugu. The quartet of Obi Nwobi, Frank Nwosu, Moses Nweke and Emma Chimezie played their part too.
General Yakubu Gowon was so impressed that he appointed Enyeazu, the first Director of the National Sports Commission in 1972. A year later, the Eagles won the soccer gold of the Second All Africa Games in Lagos.
Before Enyeazu left Enugu for Lagos, he set up a united East Central soccer team, Spartans. The squad won the Soccer gold of the First National Sports Festival in 1973. The same team retained the soccer gold in 1977.
With the creation of Imo State in 1976, Governor Ndubuisi Kanu wrote a personal letter to Enyeazu to abandon his big job in Lagos and come back home to help the new state. Enyeazu founded two clubs for the new state: Enyimba of Aba and Spartans of Owerri[now Hearland].
At the third National Sports Festival, Kaduna ’77, Imo State soccer team, Trojans, captained by Harrison Mecha, ex-Rangers, ex-international, won gold. Trojans, led by Kelechi Emeteole, ex-Jets, ex Eagles, retained the gold medal at the fourth National Sports Festival, Oluyole ’79. The Imo Boys were on the way to winning yet another gold two years later in Benin but lost on goals difference to Ogun in a new league format .
Nigeria did not win the CAF Champions League until Enyimba did in 2003. The Aba Elephants retained the trophy in 2004 and were Africa’s Super Cup champions for both years. Rangers had won the Africa Winners Cup in 1977.
Rangers remain the only team that refused to be relegated in 46 years of the top league. Enyimba and Heartland were relegated but bounced back. Today, these three teams founded by Enyeazu are in the Premier Legue. Clubs like Shooting Stars, Insurance are in the lower league.
It is significant that all three teams set up by Enyeazu have played in the finals of the CAF Champions League. Rangers lost in 1975, Heartland lost twice, in 1988 and 2009. Enyimba were successful twice.
Such a man, should not be forgotten by the NFF. This piece has not said it all.