November 20, 2023

Madam Rangers hated Ekeji by Emeka Obasi

By Emeka Obasi

Widowed at 36 in 1967, Julie Chin Alale bore her loss until she found love in Enugu Rangers. All the children she was denied by death, were found in the Flying Antelopes. The woman nursed them like babies, leaving nothing to chance.

Alale became more popular as Madam Rangers and dared anyone who tried to crush the Coal City Boys. She was their Chief Security Officer as well as Lead Supporter. Better still, this Amazon featured for the team as the twelfth player, without breaking the rules.

If you were a thorn in the flesh of her darling team, it was ‘capital punishment’. Patrick Ekeji stood tall defending city rivals, Vasco Da Gama. Madam Rangers hated him with passion because all through his years there, the Flying Antelopes did not have it easy.

Dr. Ekeji said : “She hated me with passion because, according to her, I stood between Rangers and victory, as the the last man of Vasco but we became friends after I switched from Vasco to Rangers in 1977. She actually told me so the day we met after I put hand on paper for Rangers.”

When I broke the news of her death, Ekeji was broken. ” Ohhhh Nooo! Anyway, she lived a very active life of her youth in the service of Rangers. The Rangers story cannot be complete with not less than a chapter on her. She lived, talked, drank and fought for Rangers. May her soul rest in peace.”

Ekeji had wanted to join the Flying Antelopes in 1971 after secondary education and booked an appointment with Coach Dan Anyiam. Before D Day, however, he got full scholarship for Higher School Certificate from Holy Ghost College, Owerri.

Ikechukwu Ofoje, the youngest Rangers captain, remembered his first car. ” Madam was an institution within the institution called Rangers. She embodied the Rangers sub culture of loyalty, dedication and confidence. I have numerous memories of her. A mother, counsellor and friend.

” I remember when and how I bought my car in Ilorin ( during our banishment from Enugu Stadium ) I saw this car, Peugeot 504 SR, at a popular Alhaji’s car dealership but it was way beyond my budget. I came back to camp very sad and Madam asked what was wrong.”

Like a soldier, she took over. Ofoje said : ” I told her. She grabbed my hand and said ‘ let’s go see this Alhaji’. She asked Emma Okala to come with us. On sighting Madam and Okala, Alhaji’s demeanour changed and the reception was more of a celebration than a business visit.

“I ended up driving the car back to camp for almost half the initial price. Madam was a special woman. May her soul rest in peace”. That was in 1985.

Charles Okonkwo joined the Guard of Honour. “The first impression one had about the woman was that she looked scary. But as you got to know her, you saw the loving side as a mother. She was even more scared to fail than the players. 

“You would notice that, before a match and after. If we won, then she would be beaming with smiles. If not, she would wear the saddest face one could imagine. And woe be tide any player or group of players that contributed to our loss. Put simply, she didn’t like to lose.”

According to Emma Merenini, “she was a trail blazer and fearless, ensuring that all of us were fed properly whenever we travelled.  She made sure our welfare was in order.” Merenini was barely out of school when he debuted for Rangers in 1976.

Vincent Chika said, “she was our mom, our lioness. Overly protective of her players, she liberated the nation, especially the women, from shying away from football activities.” Diewait Ikpechukwu described her as a “supporter ready to die for Rangers.”

Ndubuisi Isima knew Madam Rangers because of his elder brother, Okey. ” She was skilled at solving problems. Players are not saints and many are not equipped to cope with fame and money. There were emotional issues too.

“She was intentional in everything she did and always got whatever she wanted. I will never forget the role she played in making sure my brother, Okey, returned to Rangers.” The senior Isima left Rangers for Standard at the end of 1978. 

Donnie Ikpa played for what could be tagged Rangers Feeder team, Enugu Greater Tomorrow. ” The sight of her accosting the referee after our 1-0 loss to Aba, is unforgettable. As a young boy, I appreciated her flamboyance.

Sir Felix Chigbufue, knew so much about Rangers and their Madam. “Hmmmm! An Amazon who came before her time. Rose like the Phoenix from the ashes of the Civil War. She cowed many men with the fervour she brought into her support of Rangers’.”

Chijioke Okoli, knew her beyond soccer. ” She was related to Ikenna ( Gen. Emeka Ojukwu ) as well. They were all from Umudim quarters of Nnewi, including my maternal grandmother. Madam Rangers was nee Obi,” he told me.

Maj. Philip Alale was executed by firing squad, on allegations of planning to unseat Biafran leader, Ojukwu. He was shot in Enugu, on September 22, 1967 alongside Brig. Victor Banjo, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Sam Agbam, a diplomat.

Alale, from Tambiri, Agbere in Bayelsa State, was a Marxist Leninist, trained in Moscow and visited Nkalagu, to sound out Gen. Alex Madiebo, who at that time, was  Commander, 51 Brigade. Agbere is also the hometown of Paul ‘ Wonderboy’ Hamilton.

Madam Rangers died on October 4, 2023 and will be buried in Dala Ebele, Umunnalem, Umudim – Nnewi on January 5, 2024. Alale was Ojukwu’s in – law. Rangers was full of Biafran soldiers. Ekeji began his military career, as a guard at Ojukwu’s official residence, State House, Madonna, Etiti.