Jerry John Rawlings: Ghana’s Junior Jesus

By Tony Eluemunor

No matter how you define success, Christ the King College, Onitsha, would still qualify as about the most successful secondary school in Nigeria.  It has since inception remained a wondrous academy that has notched up top achievers in the West African School Certificate, year in year out. Are you concerned with the alumnus?

Oh, the school has minted Catholic Church Cardinals (so let’s not talk about Bishops), iconic justices of the Supreme Court (don’t mention mere Judges or you would be laughed to scorn), three Anambra State Governors (please keep your list of senators to yourself), top practitioners in any respected academic or professional field (let alone medical doctors, lawyers or Engineers), and if you think your ex-secondary school won a string of state football championships, please think again, CKC has won a global football tournament. Yes, that is no misprint; global as in mundial, the whole world, God’s own spaceship Earth. 

Okay, you could intimidate CKC Old Boys if your bragging rights is that your alma mater is one of Nigeria’s oldest schools; in contrast, CKC was founded in 1933 –much after CMS Grammar School, Bariga, Lagos (1859) – CMS,  Methodist Boys High School, Victoria Island, Lagos (1878), Methodist Girls High School, Yaba, Lagos (1879); Baptist Academy, Obanikoro, Lagos (1885), Hope Waddell Training Institute, Calabar (1895)—United Presbyterian, St. Anne’s School, (Old Kudeti Girls’ School) Molete, Ibadan (1896)- CMS, Oron Boy’s High School, (Old Oron Training Institute) Oron (1897)- CMS, Wesley College of Science (old Wesley College), Elekuro, Ibadan (1905), – Methodist, St. Paul’s College, Iyenu, Awka (1900) – CMS, Methodist Boy’s High School, Oron (1905) – Methodist. Yet, it tells a story that CKC which started decades after Nigeria’s first, has surpassed them all in sports, especially in soccer.

It is truly remarkable that this year 1933 upstart helped inspire Nigeria to have a national team. From this perch in year 2021 once could look through the mist and the murk of the past and espy the surprise in the faces of the “Eko for show” Lagosians condescendingly wondering how on Earth CKC Onitsha reached the finals of the 1940 novel football competition for secondary schools, and was to slug it out with Lagos soccer powerhouse and national favourites, the St. Gregory’s College, Obalende.

Venue? Lagos! The first match ended goalless. That heightened interest in the replay and the nation’s newspapers gave it maximum publicity.  Now, CKC won by a lone goal. Within seven years of its existence it had emerged Nigeria’s champion. The two school teams formed the nucleus of a national team, a junior team that would be nurtured into a National Eleven; thus the idea of Nigerian Academicals was born; stars from a few other schools were joined them.

So, it was not by fluke that CKC represented Nigeria at the World Secondary School Football tournament in Dublin, Ireland, in 1977 and, being true to form, and rather incredibly too, brought home the cup.

Ah, why did I mention year 1977? CKC had beaten the Immaculate Conception Secondary School, (ICC) Enugu, that year to emerge Anambra State Champions. No ex-student of ICC has been able to forget that loss – because CKC emerged global champions.  Perhaps ICC ex-students should remember that CKC had a wonder kid then, the incomparable NnamdiNwaokocha (alias Camel), a thorough goiningschool boy international.

On leaving CKC that 1977, he bagged a constant position in the then much-revered Enugu Rangers team. By the very next year, 1978, he was so indispensable in the team that Ranger’s loss to Bendel Insurance of Benin in the ’78 Challenge Cup has often been linked to his having played that match while nursing an injury.  As an aside, I have to address the much rendered excuse that Enugu Rangers lost to Bendel Insurance that year because the football authorities refused to postpone the Challenge Cup finals to allow Rangers to rest adequately -as my friend EmekaObasiwrote..

Bendel Insurance’s new coach was nurturing a team along lines that were novel to Nigeria. From 1977, the team embarked on long field trips, playing matches across the country and winning them all. Mr. Obasi has a remarkable way of unearthing records. He should look into those friendly matches. So, it was clear to the team’s followers that a new champion was about to be unveiled. Bendel Insurance’s League victory proved that its 1978 victory was no fluke.

Also, CKC’s soccer victories were no flukes. Winning was wired in its DNA. Thus, former students and teachers left there to start schools that prospered academically and in sports.  CKC conquered the world in ’77 because not many schools anywhere had what CKC had; a great human resource in its Games Master, the late ChukwumaIgweonu. Obasi, wrote;”Igweonu captained “St. Paul’s College (Kufena College) Zaria won the Davis Cup for Secondary Schools in Northern Nigeria in 1958. At Plateau XI, the club won the Northern Nigeria championships. In 1963, his team Port Harcourt Red Devils, grabbed the Challenge Cup”. Igweonu played for Enugu Rangers after the war until 1973, qualified as coach in Britain, and was attached to the Manchester United Football Club, won gold with East Central State at the First National Sports Festival, Lagos ’73″, and played for the Green Eagles.

He led CKC, Onitsha to Manuwa/Adebajo Cup victory in 1976 which qualified the team to represent Nigeria in Dublin. Yet, it says a lot about Nigerian secondary school soccer that the same CKC was hard put to defeat ICC Enugu that same 1977.

EmekaObasi noted that “After CKC, Edo College, Benin represented Nigeria at Spain ’79. Boys Secondary School, Nkwerre took part in Sweden ’81. In 1983, Edokpolor Grammar School, Benin were in Belgium. All of them did not meet the CKC standard”. No, that CKC did not emerge national champions again is the real issue.

ICC Enugu’s ex-students have funded a N350 million sports complex at their school; that could do more than Igweonu ever did for CKC and become the game changer. Yes, resources matter.

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