•What happened before and during the final
•We were written off by the press
•Recalls how he longed to keep his jersey in his debut but was denied
By Onochie Anibeze, Jacob Ajom
He was like a playmaker but operated from the left-wing of the AFCON-winning Green Eagles squad of 1980. His speed and dribbling abilities set him apart in a squad made up of hugely talented stars like the Mathematical Segun Odegbami, late Muda Lawal, Chairman Christian Chukwu, Felix Owolabi, David Adiele, Okey Isima, Tunde Bamidel, Alloy Atuegbu, Ifeanyi Onyedika among others. He played his role so well that even before the games late Ernest Okonkwo had named him Chief Justice (He was a law student at the University of Lagos while playing for the national team), and the name stuck till date. Adokiye Amiesimaka was to become the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Rivers State, long after the ace broadcaster had gone.
Last weekend marked the 40th anniversary of their historic feat and in our effort to always serve you stories of our heroes, we present to you ‘Chief Justice of Nigerian football, Adokiye Amiesi-maka specifically on that 1980 Nations Cup victory. It was Nigeria’s first time of winning the most prestigious soccer trophy on the continent. Read on as we also present the drama of the interview.
When we called to speak to him, he didn’t want to talk.
Adokiye: No, Jacob, I have commented on that a few days ago. I am not saying anything again. Enough has been said on it already. I made some comments on it a couple of days ago. I think that is enough
But you did not talk to me and I did not get to read your comments.
Adokiye: Find out then, today is the 26th and it is belated.
Onochie Anibeze, Saturday, Editor, wades in and takes the phone. CJ, please, please, talk to us.
His tone softens. Onochie, how is the family? It is good to hear from you. How are you doing?
It’s belated now. It’s stale news.
Onochie: Yeah. But all we want to know is how you felt when you won the AFCON, to relive those great moments. What it was like, I still picture the atmosphere.
How I felt when we won? Is that the question?
Onochie: Yes it is one of the questions; how you felt, the level of preparations, the mood. Just to capture your feelings, what happened in the final and after
Adokiye: Onochie, I know you as a thoroughbred professional, why are you asking these questions belatedly?
Onochie: No, last week marked 40 years anniversary of that Nations Cup triumph, so that is what we are celebrating. I was of the opinion and I supported Segun Odegbami when he wrote advocating that government should recognise and honour your set of Green Eagles to mark 40 years of that great feat. In other countries where we have normalcy, where we have brains running these things you people should be brought together and be celebrated because that was the first time we were winning that cup.
I travel a lot and when I go out there, I still read about when England won the World Cup and they celebrate their heroes.
Adokiye interjects: That’s correct. But you said it all. Those things happen in normal places. (laughter).
Onochie: In our own little way, let us still capture some moments. I was telling Jacob, I can remember, right full back was David Adiele, he is in America now, left full back was Okey Isima, he is dead, in the central defence were Christian Chukwu and Tunde Bamidele, Bamidele is dead; Okpala was there in the reserve. In the midfield, Mudashiru Lawal and Alloysious Atuegbu both are dead., on the right was Odegbami and on the left was CJ, your humble self. Ifeanyi Onyedika was central striker, Even if it is four or five people we get, let’s talk to them and do a good story.
Adokiye: You are right. Yes, and there was also Felix Owolabi. On that, I think on that premise I can agree to go ahead with this chat on the Nations Cup victory in 1980.
Those things happen in normal climes. One of the few things about us in this part of the world is that, so exposed and so enlightened though we may be, we still have not developed the consciousness, the desire and the will to make us among the elites of the world. We seem to be satisfied to be third grade.
You know, individually, we can be exceptional in any part of the world. We can readily fit into any society, no matter how developed, no matter how modern, individually we can be exceptional. We can even be more modern than those that are said to be from the developed world. But as a people, we still have not been able to get our acts together. I think it’s a leadership problem because we are not able to harness our resources, both human and material, I think that is the problem.
Once basic example is, there is no justifiable reason for not having constant power supply but we are not able to do that and one reason we are not able to do that is that we allow the manufacturers of generating sets for instance – as far as they are concerned, the status quo should be maintained – we are not able to overcome that pressure group. A group exists, we must not deny that fact.
Onochie: It still comes down to the problem of leadership. If not, why would importers of generators obstruct the government’s effort to stop the importation of generators? Like when they were trying to get trucks and tankers off the roads, they said they were owned by some powerful individuals, it’s a leadership problem.
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Adokiye: It’s a leadership thing. It is one of the challenges of our country.
Going back to our subject matter – all I have said is just my way of extrapolation – you can readily understand why things are the way they are even in sports because you talked about recognition. I thank God. I am very grateful to God for His Grace, I am very grateful to Nigerians, and all that showed such extraordinary appreciation to us for what we actually saw as our duty. The response of every Nigerians, no matter the ethnicity, no matter the religion, no matter the sect, no matter the age; it was extraordinary. I don’t think we have ever had such experience before, where there was unanimity, expression of joy in unison. That was one moment that every Nigerian was happy to be a Nigerian. It is a moment one can never forget, a moment one always cherishes.
Incidentally, I believe probably more than half of the population now hadn’t been born at that time.
Talking about our expectations before the tournament and preparations. Don’t forget that the team was put together by Father Tiko in 1976 and he did a good job. We did not win the Nations Cup in 1976, we didn’t win in ’78 and Nigerians became worried and anxious and lost faith in Father Tiko and wanted another coach and they brought in Otto Gloria. Essentially, he maintained the core of the team.
By 1979, the press descended on us, saying we were not good, Chukwu was too old – the same Chukwu, who at the end of the tournament was declared the player of the tournament, they said he was too old, they should get another player, we had no chance of winning the tournament in 1980 and Algeria were tipped as favorites. So from the press point of view, we were written off, we had no chance but the average Nigerian football fan so believed in the team and that was very inspiring.
Beyond that, our preparations were not bad at all. We engaged in very many practice matches. We spent a period of time in Brazil and we were exposed to their style of play, the psychology of the game from the Brazilian point of view, we had a Brazilian coach who encouraged us to develop confidence in our ability and ourselves and so on. We also knew a thing or two about our opponents which was vital.
I think our preparation was not too bad compared to what happens now, we were better prepared then than our national teams are now.
Adokiye: In terms of the response of Nigerians generally, we didn’t even think that even if we won the cup we were going to be given so much. We were discussing that if we won, maybe the match bonus would be $2,000 or maybe a Volkswagen car. We never knew that could happen. So that tells you our expectations were not high. Don’t forget, the Naira was stronger than the American Dollar then.
Onochie: So you were talking about the equivalent of N1, 600?
Adokiye: Don’t forget that not too long before then, the match bonus was about N50. Incidentally, I am very happy to say, though very modest about it, I was responsible for it being much higher than that. I took it up with the late Isaac Akiyoye who was in charge of the National Sports Commission and challenged him that it was not good enough that they were paying national team players a paltry sum of N50 per win. He hearkened to my plea and from that point, we started getting N500, N1000 per win.
So for the Nations Cup itself, we were not expecting too much. We only thought of winning the Cup for the nation for the first time. I remember, in my debut, in my first cap for the national team, which was on the 14 of February 1977, against the Republic of Benin we thrashed them 7-0 and it was probably one of my best matches.
All I asked for was a shirt, which I was denied. I didn’t ask for the match bonus. I wanted to keep that my jersey. Not that we didn’t like money, but somehow, the way things went, there was more pride in wearing the Nigerian shirt than in money. The motivation was not money, the motivation was being privileged to play for Nigeria. Of course, if they gave us money we would not say no but that was not the focus.
In terms of the game itself, especially the final, let me tell you the strategy and how we won the way we won. The Algerians were tournament favourites, we knew they had individual stars and collectively too, typical of North African teams, they keep possession of the ball like they were the Arsenal of Africa. We knew they were no pushovers. We decided that from the blast of the whistle, we were going to go all out at them, deny them possession of the ball and whenever they had the ball, we would swarm on them and take back possession of the ball.
That is the Brazilian style. If you watch Brazil, they try to keep the ball away from you and as soon as you take it away from them they will crowd around you and regain possession of the ball. If you remember, our first goal was in the 2nd minute and it was from a throw-in I took. As soon as the ball went out of play before the Algerians could settle in their defence, I quickly picked the ball up and threw it to Odegbami and before they knew what was happening the ball was in the net. Go back and watch the clip that was what happened in the second minute.
That was in line with our strategy, not to give them space, we pulled the carpet from under their feet. Immediately the ball went in, in the second minute, the crowd rose to salute the goal. Initially, maybe because of the negative comments by the press reports, even though the average supporter was behind us, they were not too sure. But as soon as the first goal went in, the crowd was solidly behind us. And of course, the second goal came in the 42nd minute and then 5 minutes into the second half, the third goal came. Then we knew at that point that the game was won. The rest we did was to contain the Algerians. That settled it.
Onochie: Fantastic. You have made my day. Sometimes, if you read Vanguard, you read how we interview our past heroes for the younger ones to learn and be encouraged. Stories like this thrill.
Adokiye: You are doing fantastically. I read the other day that the current Sports Minister wanted to host and honour the 1980 squad but the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the plan. We are hoping that after now, something would be done about that 1980 squad. I think that would be a very good thing
Every member of the 1980 Nations Cup team was given a house at FESTAC and a 504 Peugeot car by the government of Shehu Shagari who watched all the matches, cheering the Green Eagles.