By Segun Odegbami,
Do you know that one of the most famous names in the history of Nigerian football, described as one of the best strikers ever, scored only two goals for the national team of Nigeria?
Do you know that a certain famous Nigerian player captained the national team, yet played only once for the country in his entire career?
Do you know the first Nigerian player to score 4 goals in a single match for the country?
Do you know that many famous Nigerian football players only ever played once for the national team?
This article should interest you.
I was reading Dayo Oke’s book on the history of Nigeria’s national team, ‘From UK Tourists to Super Eagles’ again early this week, published some 20 years ago. I took my time to digest and enjoy the well-written historical documentary.
I found out some very interesting things about Nigerian footballers that made me start to take down some notes.
At the end of my exercise, I found myself staring at some awesome revelations that deflated so many myths, legends, and assumptions, and birthed new facts and understanding that should tickle all those interested in a technical forensic of football players that have represented the country in 50 years, from 1949 to 1999.
In 1949, it was a hurriedly assembled team of Nigerian players that toured the UK and participated in the first international football engagement of the Nigeria Football Association. Yet the players cannot be listed amongst those that played for the national team. The 9 matches played during that tour were against amateur clubs and not against any national team in the United Kingdom. They do not count, therefore, as full international matches, even though they represent a milestone in Nigerian football history.
After that tour, however, Nigeria started to play international matches, mostly against the Gold Coast (Ghana) and neighbouring countries on the West Coast of Africa.
The following facts derive from Dayo’s detailed documentation and record and do not cover any player in the period from 2000 to the present.
Meanwhile, I invite readers to read, enjoy and digest just as I did.
Do you know that:
1. The first Black national team to play in England was the Nigerian selected XI of 1949. They played against 9 amateur clubs during their one-month tour of the UK. They played 9 matches, won 2, drew 2, and lost 5.
2. Nigeria’s first full international match was against Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1951. It was played in Lagos. Nigeria won by 5-2. Nigeria’s first international goal was scored during the match by ‘Diamond Toe’ Peter Anieke. The first Captain of that match was winger Titus Okere. That was also the last match he played for Nigeria.
3. 4 years later in 1955, captained by Peter Anieke, Nigeria recorded their first heavy loss to Ghana. Played in Accra, Nigeria lost 7-0.
4. Despite being described as one of the greatest players and goal scorers in Nigeria’s football history, Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun, only scored 2 goals for Nigeria during his entire career. He scored both goals in a single match against Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1954.
5. Elkanah Onyeali was the second Nigerian to play in the UK as a semi-professional.
6. The only player that ever Captained the national team on his debut match was Godwin Achebe in 1959
7. In November of 1959, in a match against Dahomey (Benin Republic) in Lagos, Nigeria’s Elkanah Onyeali became the first Nigerian to score 4 goals in a match. Nigeria defeated Dahomey by 10–1
8. The first Nigeria to score an on-goal (against Nigeria), was Isaac Nnado in 1959.
9. The first time the Nigerian team wore their new national colours of Green and White and became known as the Green Eagles was against Ghana on October 9, 1960. That was Ghana’s first win over Nigeria on Nigerian soil.
10. The first Junior International football Nigeria ever played was against Ghana in 1961. Two Nigerian players from that squad were later invited to the senior national team and they became amongst the first set of schoolboys to represent the country at a full international match – Johnny Egwuonu and Mike Nwokedi (The first student-player was Jonathan Nwaiwu in 1955 against the Gold Coast). The Nigerian junior team lost to Ghana in Accra by 5-1.
11. Johnny Egwuonu was the first schoolboy player to score a goal each in three consecutive matches – against Cameroon (twice) and Dahomey.
12. During the Africa Cup of Nations preliminaries in 1967 in a crucial away match against Ivory Coast in Abidjan, Tunde Disu, a student, played his debut match for the Green Eagles. Nigeria lost by 2-0 and were ousted from qualifying for AFCON.
13. The Green Eagles that went to the Olympic Games in 1968 had 12 players from Stationery Stores, the only club to achieve that feat in Nigeria’s football history. In the team’s best match at the Olympics, against Brazil, 9 of the players in the starting line-up were from Stores. The two ‘outsiders’ were Kenneth Olayombo of Lagos Railway, who was substituted later in the same match by another Stores player, Clement Obojememe, making him the 10th player from one team, and Ganiyu Salami from Leventis FC of Lagos. The team played a deserved 3-3 draw against Brazil!
14. The first player to score a goal against the Green Eagles when the new National Stadium in Lagos was opened was Ghana’s Kwesi Owusu during the first Nigeria/ Ghana Sports Festival in 1972.
15. Haruna Ilerika, one of the most celebrated players in Nigeria’s football history played 24 times for the Green Eagles but scored only 3 goals during his entire career for the national team.
16. Sunday Oliseh, played 35 times and scored only 2 goals during his entire career in the national team.
17. Richard Owobokiri, a goal-scoring machine in Europe club football, played 7 times for Nigeria and scored only 1 goal against Zambia.
18. There have been very many great players in Nigerian football that made a name mostly playing in the domestic league and/or junior national teams, but only appeared once in the colours of the Green Eagles. The following are just a few amongst, otherwise, legends in their own right:
i. Niyi Akande – WNDC, Ibadan, 1972, against Guinea
ii. Dehinde Akinlotan, Abiola Babes, 1984, Morocco
iii. Amir Angwe, BCC Lions, 1989, against Zimbabwe
iv. Sunday Atuma, Jos Highlanders,1962, against Ghana
v. John Benson, Leventis United, 1984, against Malawi
vi. Tajudeen Disu, Abiola Babes, 1984, against Liberia
vii. Arthur Egbunam, Enugu Rangers, 1978, against Zambia
viii. Rufus Ejele, Airforce, 1978, against Uganda
ix. Samuel Elijah, BCC Lions, 1991, against Togo
x. Godwin Ironkwe, Lagos Railways, 1955, against Ghana,
xi. Yomi Bamiro, WNDC, 1973, against Ghana
xii. Joseph Ladipo (Jossylad), WNDC, 1966, against Dahomey.
xiii. Christian Madu, Enugu Rangers, 1976, against Sierra Leone
xiv. Stephen Musa, Saarbrucken, Germany, 1998, against Iran
xv. Jonathan Nwaiwu, Port Harcourt, 1955, against Ghana
xvi. Alex Nwosu, Enugu Rangers, 1976, against Egypt
xvii. Taiwo Ogunjobi, IICC, 1984, against Morocco
xviii. Chris Ohenhen, Compostela, 1997, against Kenya
xix. Titus Okere, Railways, 1951, against Ghana.
xx. Mike Okotie, Sharks, 1974, against Ivory Coast
xxi. Pius Oleh, Bendel Insurance, 1989, against Gabon
xxii. Anthony Ottah, Bendel Insurance, 1973, against Ghana
xxiii. James Udemba, Vasco da Gama, 1981, against Kenya
xxiv. Duke Udi, IICC, 1998, against Burkina Faso
xxv. Ernest Ufele, Enugu Rangers, 1970, against West Germany?
xxvi. Zakari John, Abiola Babes, 1983, against Morocco