•Says I used to wash clothes for African Footballer of the Year
•My mother’s death was painful as she died on the day I returned from Sydney Olympics
By Nneka Ikem
As the Nigerian government continues to evacuate its nationals stranded in various countries as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, I look beyond the regular countries like Dubai, United Kingdom and United States of America where hundreds of Nigerians are currently being held up in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Airlines are currently laying off staff including pilots and grounding their aircraft, an indication that international and long haul air travels may not resume as soon as expected.
India is one of those countries that closed their airspace after the Corona virus pandemic took so many nations unawares. There are many Nigerians living in India but my focus was on Nigerian legend and former Super Falcons goalkeeper Precious Dede who was one of those caught outside the country as the pandemic broke out.
Dede is currently the goalkeeper’s trainer of the India U-17 team, a job she got shortly after leaving Nigeria’s Falconets as Goalkeepers’ Trainer. The national team is based in Goa, one of the popular cities in Incredible India as the CNN promotion commercial describes the country of love and flowers.
In a long no-holds-barred chat, ( yes, I was on my phone chatting with Precious Dede from 1pm to 1.10am) the 1’71 ft tall former international said everything happened so fast in India but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Coach Thomas Dennerby and I, were to leave on March 14, 2020 for the break period. They had already bought our tickets but because of the pandemic, they now asked us to hold on a while. We were now holding on until everywhere was locked down. We couldn’t leave again.
“The Swedes were lucky to move on April 1st because their government sent a rescue flight to pick their nationals. Coach Thomas and Mr Per left with the rescue flight. He didn’t want to leave because of me but I considered his age. I’m younger and I can cope but he is older so I told him to go. That was how I found myself all alone and the only guest in a very mighty hotel”.
As I spoke with Dede, I thought she was reliving a movie…
“They left only two chefs, one cleaner and gardeners in the hotel because of me. Already I was like a family with the hotel staff. The remaining guests left after coach Thomas left. They were couples from Britain. Their rescue flight also came and they left on April 5th”.
The former Super Falcons Captain revealed that she had never experienced so much love and gratitude like what the Indians have shown her.
“I can’t even imagine and never dreamt of the treatment I have received from the Indians since I arrived here. When I was left alone in the hotel, they now got me a well furnished two-bedroom apartment and asked me to move in so that I can feel at home.
“I just moved in on the 14th of April. They even went all the way to pay a chef to make my food three times daily, so you see the kind of love and care they are giving me. I wouldn’t want anything to make them feel bad about me. They call me everyday, including the players to check on me and to ensure that I lacked nothing.
Coach Thomas and his wife also do video calls with me everyday to be sure that I’m good”.
Precious Dede said she owed India the best of her output for all the love they’ve shown her.
“I don’t feel like sleeping. I just want to always go out and work. The Indians inundate me with calls to know if there’s anything they can do for me. If I tell them I need this or that equipment, before I even drop the call, the equipment will be delivered.”
The 99-capped international who appeared at four Women World Cups and three Olympic Football Tournaments is really precious to the India Football Federation and the people. She said she’s a household name now in India and I probed further to know how she coped emotionally, staying miles away from home and in a culturally different country.
“Everyone knows me but I still don’t have friends because I use every little free time I have to do some more work. I came to India to achieve results. I am here for a goal and I’m not resting on my oars or using my time for other things until that goal is achieved.
“My boyfriend is in Nigeria, my siblings don’t give me space to feel lonely. When I chat with them or do video calls with them, you just need to see how I laugh out loud like a crazy woman. It’s as if they’re here with me.”
Precious Dede’s best relaxation spot is her bedroom. When she’s not coaching the girls especially now that there’s Social Distancing, she works out on her own and also sends training programs to her teenage players online and through video conferencing. She also plays lots of games and watches movies in her spare time.
“I watch movies or play games. That’s why you see me not really getting bored because that has been my life. I play all types of games.
“I use my tab for Candy Crush, Temple run, Mario, Angry Birds .Pet rescue, jewel crush and bubble crush and use my PS4 for FIFA Games. However, my siblings make me happy. Anytime I remember I have them in my life I’m happy”.
Dede expressed her unreserved respect for former African Women’s Player of the year, Perpetua Nkwocha, the 4-time Confederation of African Football Award recipient in 2004, 2005, 2010 and 2011. Nkwocha was in the Super Falcons squad when Dede doubled as Captain of the team and goal keeper.
Dede and Nkwocha were roommates and the former goalkeeper who stands at 171cm said she was glad to do her laundry despite being the captain of the team.
“I was in the same room with Perpetua in our active days in the Super Falcons and I was doing the washing for her. I ironed her jerseys. I chose to do it because she’s nice to a fault. When I started as first choice goalkeeper, though she was an attacker, I’d always call on her to come back and defend and she would run back without complaining. Most players were my seniors so they’d usually complain at times or be reluctant to defend me. Perpetua was the only one who, whenever I was in a tight corner, I would call her once and she would leave her role and come to my post.
“You will never hear her complain or give excuses so, you see when I started respecting her person. I still see and respect her. If you ask for my best female player, I’ll give it to her. She has a great personality and she’s a leader. Even when I was the captain, I used to go to her for advice”.
Most embarrassing moment as Falcons Captain
The longest serving goalkeeper also spoke on one of her saddest days as the captain of the team.
“A sad moment for me was during the African Women’s Championship in 2012. We came 4th in Equatorial Guinea . Everything went wrong right from the day we arrived because even the Jerseys we used for the competition were borrowed from the players and were numbered with ink and plaster. I was the captain then.
“I had to borrow personal jerseys from the players. The team’s secretary pleaded with me to go round and get as many good jerseys from them as possible. They wouldn’t have listened to anyone or agreed to bring their jerseys if I hadn’t gone to them by myself”.
I asked her what happened to the original team’s jerseys for the competition.
“They told us that the Airline mistakenly took our kits to another country and that they would send it back as soon as possible. Till the end of the tournament… till today, we are still expecting the jerseys.
“However, my saddest moment was when I lost my parents. My dad first died in 1999 and my mum in 2000. Mum died the very day I came back home from the Sydney 2000 Olympics and that was my first outing with the Super Falcons. As I opened the door to her hospital room, she gave up…
“When I arrived from the airport, I only kept my bag and my elder brother rushed me to the hospital. She was just waiting for me to arrive. I wished she had waited a little longer to speak to me. I had rushed home to show her the dollars I made and also replace her gold jewelry which I misplaced but she couldn’t wait for me.
“My mum was so close to my dad. Since my dad died in 1999, she was always saying she couldn’t live without her husband oo. Ha! That woman followed my dad oo! She really loved that man. In fact, they both loved each other as they always stuck to each other like chewing gum…as if someone will steal the other person”.
She revealed that when both parents died, it was so difficult for the family. Dede was forced to temporarily quit the University of Uyo where she was a Diploma student in Theatre Arts.
“I stubbornly combined my education with football. That was why immediately dad left us I quickly left school and faced football squarely. That was how I was able to break into the National team. Things became a bit rosy again but not really without my parents. They ensured that all of us got sound education at the higher level but when they both died, I dropped out and faced football.
“It’s never too late to go back to school. I will and my friend is insisting I must go back to school in any country of my choice after the U-17 World Cup to be hosted by India.
However, no one is sure of anything now with Covid-19. Personally, I will not even leave football for anything entirely. I will make plans for both.
On the contrary, her happiest moment was when she lifted the African Women’s Championship trophy as the captain in 2010.
She recalled how she broke into the women’s national team at the age of 20.
“Coach Ismaila Mabo came to watch Bayelsa Queens against Rivers Angels at the National stadium Lagos in 1999. Then I was the Goalkeeper for Bayelsa Queens. Rivers Angels trounced us 9-1 but I was the only player Coach Mabo picked from Bayelsa Queens.
“Then, during camping in 2000, I was lucky to break in as a third choice goalkeeper at the age of 20 years behind Judith Chime and Ann Chiejine. By 2003, I was the first choice goalkeeper till I retired in 2016. When I retired , I went to play in Dubai.
“I never got tired of playing. However, I gave myself fifteen years to play football and when the fifteen years elapsed, I said it was time to move a step further because I had a plan for my career.
“I wanted to go into coaching and other things. I have certificates in Basic and Advanced Football Courses acquired from the National Institute for Sports. Since I finished from there, we have not done any CAF licenced courses again but Coach Dennerby is also making efforts to send me for CAF Coaching License courses.
“He was already guiding me on Goalkeepers Licenced courses online before he left for Sweden. He said I will get to the level he wants me to but with time. Same with Coach Ismaila Mabo and Barrister Isaac Danladi. They also call to see how I’m improving and they never get tired of guiding me”.
Her mentors, according to her are Coach Ismaila Mabo, Coach Thomas Dennerby, Barrister Isaac Danladi and Genevieve Nnaji while she equally likes to mentor young women, teenagers and youths.
Was there any ‘mafia’ in the Super Falcons team during her playing days?
“I never allowed such when I became the captain. I met the coaches alone if there was any complaint from the players. We were all sisters and no one was bigger than the other. However, my best players at the time were Perpetua Nkwocha, Eberechi Opara, Florence Omagbemi, Mercy Akide and Patience Avre. Others were good too but these were my favorites at that time”
Precious, like her name connotes is an amazing pleasant lady and very funny too. She revealed that if she wasn’t coaching or playing football, she would have been in the entertainment world.
“Aside football, acting and entertainment are my passion. Fashion and designing is a third choice. I am a comedian. Anywhere I am, they spot me easily.
“First time I traveled with the Indian U-17 team to Turkey for International friendlies, I didn’t know I was already acting and people started laughing out loud, clapping and gathering around me. They were actually struggling to catch a glimpse of me.
“It was at the airport where I went to pick my phone from were I plugged it . Then I started walking like an old man. More than 50 travelers at the airport gathered to watch me including my players who always want to be around me. I always make them laugh.
“Another time was when the team went to the beach. First time at the beach and I started dancing and everyone joined me immediately. Anytime Coach Dennerby wants the players to relax, he will ask them to go and dance with their mum. The players call me mum. You need to see them jumping and dancing around me because they love to dance with me”.
There’s no dull moment for Dede whose best food is Fufu (cassava pudding) and okro soup. She loves to cook her own food and doesn’t like eating out.
During my long chat with the 99-capped former international, Dede also spoke on the best dressed Nigerian women footballers.
“I really can’t say because I don’t fancy female players who dress like men. Even if you are wearing the best and most expensive clothes I don’t fancy it. I love girls to be girls. I will pick Francisca Ordega, Onome Ebi and Ngozi Okobi.
“For me, I love to wear skirts, short dresses and long gowns. I like clothes from Zara, H&M, Forever 21 and Marks & Spencer but most time, I buy clothes from my friends too. In Nigeria, I buy clothes from Mango shop, inside Shoprite. I can’t stay a whole week in Nigeria without visiting Shoprite. My best fragrance is Givenchy”.
The 40 year old elegant lady is the 6th child of a family of 7 with four brothers and two sisters. According to Dede, age in just a number.
“I’m not afraid of growing old and I’m not afraid of death because I try to make every second in my life count by doing everything that pleases God. In the next five years, I will like to be somewhere peaceful with my twin babies…by His grace. I love kids and pets to a fault and admire people who are verbally captivating.
“My dad told me that I’m the most beautiful woman on earth. He’s late now but since he told me that, I have always felt like Miss World. I don’t see any woman prettier than I am. My father has built so much confidence in me that makes me feel that I can do all things. As long as my father said so it means I am that and I can do all that I set out to do”, Dede said
The former Ibom Queens, Delta Queens, and Arna Bjona of Norway shot-stopper won the African Women’s Championship in 2010 and 2014 and retired from professional football in October 2016 after a meritorious service to her fatherland and a record of the longest serving player in the Super Falcons squad .