By Emeka Obasi
International soccer in Nigeria did not begin with UK Tourists of 1949. There was an inter colonial match with the Gold Coast in 1938 at Onikan, Lagos and the hosts were captained by, Shittu Ademola Fashola, of Posts and Telegraphs ( P and T).
It is therefore incorrect that Etim Richard Henshaw, skipper of the UK Tourists was the first captain of the senior national soccer team. Fashola had returned from the Second World War and settled down in Lagos when the Tourists set sail.
Nigeria defeated Gold Coast 3-1 with Lagos Town Council (LTC) providing four of the eleven starters. Strikers Pius Quist (Headball) and Olaleye teamed up with Oguntoyinbo (Spindle Shanks) and Alli who played as defenders.
Four of the players came from Marine Eleven which was until 1938 known as Harbour Football Club. Alexander Ade Oni (Poisonous), Esisi, Nsa and Ogbe made up the quartet.
Other team members were goalkeeper Benjamin ( Ceremonial) Williams of Police and school boy, R.A. Wilson, of Kings College, Lagos.
Fashola would later lead a team that included Henshaw when a Lagos Amateur Football Association (LAFA) Selected tackled a team of students around Lagos. The LAFA squad had Alex Pedro of Police as goalkeeper. Oguntoyinbo, Esisi, Ogbe, Alli and Oni were there too. That was in 1939.
Many Nigerians did not know this Fashola part. I was aware but recently, Works minister, Babatunde Fashola, shed more light on this member of his extended family. I knew Captain Fashola joined the Army, I got to learn that he even fought in the Far East.
What Fashola, who was also governor of Lagos State between 2007 and 2015 told me cleared a lot of doubt. He distinguished the Nigerian skipper from another Fashola who was also deeply involved in sports development.
The minister said : “ The footballer in the family was Captain Shittu Ademola Fashola, popularly known as Promising Kato, who led Nigeria against Gold Coast in the 1930s. His generation was ahead of Etim Henshaw’s. Skipper Fashola took part in the Burma campaign of the Second World War. His father was Alfa Bello Fashola.”
According to the former governor, the other Fashola, “Alhaji Abdullahi Bayo Fashola was a prominent Time Keeper in Athletics and Hockey referee in the 1950s. He was also the son of Alfa Bello Fashola.”
Governor Fashola’s dad, Alhaji Ibrahim Fashola, also bore Ademola as middle name. It is common for two members of the same family to bear the same name. In Yoruba families, twins have made this possible. Kehinde and Taiwo dot several households.
Maj. Taiwo Ogunjobi, national 400 meters Hurdles Champion in 1976 and Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi, a former NFA Secretary General who played for Nigeria and Shooting Stars, hailed from the family. The latter was Team Manager of CAF Cup winning Shooting Stars in 1992. The former died in the 1992 Ejigbo military air crash.
I did not meet Captain Fashola. His brother, Abdullahi, who bore same initials A.B. as their father, was Chief Time Keeper at the 41st All Nigeria Athletics Championships in 1987. The Track referee was Victor Odofin-Bello. Commonwealth Long Jump medalist, Kareem Olowo, was the Chief Starter.
That was the year Mary Onyali and Chidi Imo clinched the double in 100 and 200 metres and Maria Usifo added to her Hurdles haul. Fashola was honoured as Veteran alongside Jerry Enyeazu, Abdulkarim Amu, Jimmy Omagbemi, Smart Akraka, Violet Odogwu-Nwajei, Josiah Majekodunmi, and Olowu among others.
One of those who could have made the national team captained by Fashola in 1938 was Nnamdi Azikiwe. He had relocated from Accra the previous year and combined soccer with editing his newspaper, the West African Pilot.
In 1938, Zik set up the Zik Athletics Club (ZAC) which had three soccer teams, Bombers, Spitfire and Hurricane. In one of their matches, against Desalu Eleven, Azikiwe played as a left winger. In 1923, he was an inside left for Lagos Diamonds and one of his team mates was Frederick Baron Mulford.
What Zik could not achieve, stars who played for ZAC Bombers did. Dan Anyiam, one the UK Tourists would later captain and train the national team. Keepers Carl O’Dwyer (Gentleman) and Pedro, Herbert Allagoa, Charles Ohiri, Titus Okere and ATB Ottun ( Rock of Gibraltar) made it too.
Babatunde Raji Fashola plays football. He would have tried Captain Fashola’s luck but Law took him away from active soccer. The minister remains a strong supporter of the Eagles. In 2013, the team got 59 million naira from him for winning the African Nations Cup.
As governor, he captained the Super Eagles in Nwankwo Kanu’s valedictory outing, June 11, 2011. Members of his team were Finidi George, Daniel Amokachi, Okey Uche, Mutiu Adepoju, Ike Shorunmu, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, John Utaka, Kalu and Ike Uche, Obinna Nwaneri, Danny Shittu, Ogbonna Kanu and Waidi Akani.
As Minister, Fashola made Clemens Westerhof happy in 2019, redeeming a pledge made by Sani Abacha in 1994. The Dutchman got keys to a house for winning the African Nations Cup with the Eagles in Tunisia. Fashola took to the field in 2020 with Dr. Olusegun Obasanjo and Nollywood star, Taiwo Hassan ( Ogogo).
When next we talk of past national team Captains, Shittu Ademola Fashola, should come first. I can now understand why governor Fashola wanted to bring the Eagles back to Lagos in 2011. Soccer began in Calabar but blossomed in Lagos. And Etim Henshaw left Calabar for Lagos.