By Emeka Obasi
Year of Independence, 1960, brought with it a harvest of achievements for left-back, Fabian Duru. While Salaudeen Akano of the Navy lowered the Union Jack for Nigeria’s Green-White-Green, the footballer changed from red to green jersey.
The national soccer team was known as the Red Devils until October 1960 when a new name, Green Eagles, was adopted. Duru captained the team against Black Stars of Ghana on September 10, 1960. In October, he led the squad to the West African Games, the first time green jerseys were worn.
It was in 1960 that the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) lifted the Challenge Cup for the first time. Duru captained the Lagos Electricians to achieve that. It became a five-year deal as the team won again in 1965 and made it again in 1970.
ECN were on course to grab a fourth Challenge Cup in 1975, with one dangerous striker, Segun Adeleke, propelling the attack. That ambition coincided with the glory years of Enugu Rangers. Both teams met in the semi-final. Sam ‘404’ Onyeaka made a lot of difference. The Flying Antelopes coasted home to victory.
Duru ended the year 1960 as Sportsman of the Year. It was the first time a footballer would win the award in Nigeria. He was fully involved in the Roma ’60 0lympic Games qualifiers although Nigeria could not make it. One player who shone but left midway was Chris Ohiri.
When I met Duru in 1992, he was proud to inform me of his 1960 accomplishments. Last captain of the Red Devils, first skipper of the Green Eagles, captain of Challenge Cup champions, ECN and Sportsman of the year.
Duru never forgot the 7-0 humiliation Nigeria suffered in Ghana in 1955. Keeper Carl ‘ Gentleman’ O’Dwyer was made to look so ordinary. NFA Secretary General, Effiom Okon and his assistant, Oyo Orok Oyo, never forgot that game until they passed on.
The defender also had reason to celebrate in Ghana. Nigeria won the Nkrumah Gold Cup right before President Kwame Nkrumah. The Osagyefo handed over the trophy to Duru. Nigeria relied on away goals rule after a 1-1 draw. Right-winger, Baba Yara, captained the Black Stars.
All through Duru’s captaincy, Ghana did not have it easy with Nigeria. In their last game as Red Devils, the hosts were forced to a two-all draw. Godwin Nnamoko and Dejo Fayemi scored for Nigeria. Edward Acquah’s brace saved the visitors.
The Nigerian team comprised: Clement Andre in goal, Cletus Onyema, Duru, John Onyeador, Godwin Achebe, Dan Anyiam as defenders. In the middle were Godwin Nnamoko and Amusa Shittu. Fayemi and Boniface Okoro completed the list. Reserve goalie, Ezekwe, warmed the bench with Elknah Onyeali and Emenako.
Ghana had keeper Dodo Ankrah, captain Baba Yara, Ben Simmons, Emma Oblitey, Mamah Ankrah, Addo Odametey, Joe Aikins, Wilberforce Kwadwo Mfum, Acquah, Edward Aggrey Fynn and Mohamodu Salisu.
The referee was Kurt Tschenscher from West Germany. Ghana’s coach, Joseph Ember, also handled the Nigerian national team later. Keeper Ankrah once served as Sam Ibiam’s reserve at Accra Hearts of Oak. The Black Stars later won their first African Nations Cup in 1963.
Duru was nicknamed ‘ Mechanic’ because of his ruggedness. He regaled me with tales of his outstanding display against visiting Dynamos of Moscow in a Lagos friendly. Again, the game was played in 1960, a remarkable year.
He said: “In 1960, during a friendly with Dynamos of Moscow, I stopped a goal-bound shot with a sliding tackle and the following day there was a newspaper headline, ‘Duru bites the dust’. I also got a miniature Sputnik with the other Nigerian players.”
In 1961, he left for further studies in the United Kingdom. Duru had trained as a teacher in Kafanchan but went for Engineering at Liverpool University. To make ends meet the player replied o…