If football were played in the other side, the celestial beings will be rejoicing about the latest entrants, even as Nigerians mourn them.
Last Thursday, Nigerian football lost two of its prominent football personalities at two of the nations’ referral hospitals.
Paul Hamilton breathe his last at the Lagos University Hospital while Kenneth Ilodigwe, another great player, though relatively unknown, died at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu.
Ilodigwe is relatively unknown to the younger football followers as he left the country almost 40 years ago after making marks on the Nigerian fields. He was a member of the all-conquering Enugu Rangers side that ruled Nigerian football for almost 36 months without losing a match.
He was a teammate to the great Christian Chukwu and was in and out of the then Green Eagles before venturing to the US for further studies late in 1974.
Well remembered was his 66th minute goal that broke the deadlock on the 1974 Challenge Cup final featuring Enugu Rangers and Mighty Jets. Ogidi Ibeabuchi later doubled the lead to give Enugu Rangers a deserved 2-0 win.
He disappeared from fans’ monitoring when he ventured abroad like the other greats such as Dominic Ezeani and Obed Ariri among others. Ilodigwe played for the victorious 1971 set of the East Central State Academicals alongside Patrick Ekeji in the Manuwa/Adebajo Cup.
Ilodigwe and Dominic Ezeani were always ‘imported’ from US each time Enugu Rangers had difficult fixtures in the 1975 African Cup of Champions Clubs.
Sadly, his worth was not well acknowledged even when he cried out for assistance after being diagnosed with malignant prostate cancer at the Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia in the US and needed about $65,000 for the operation.
He died the same day another great Nigerian football personality, Paul Hamilton breathe his last. May his soul rest in peace.
To the younger generation, Hamilton was probably just known as one of the coaches that handled different grades of Nigerian national teams. He was more than just that. He had an international playing career that spanned from February 23, 1963 to April 18, 1971.
For the 24 matches he played for Nigeria, he scored 11 goals. Fondly called “Wonder Boy” for his dribbling and ball juggling artistry, Hamilton was among the first set of Nigerian footballers that graced the global stage at the Mexico 1968 Olympic Games.
At club level, he started with the then rave of the moment in the East, the Onitsha Redoubtable owned by Justice Chuba Ikpeazu who later became two-time NFA chairman.
Hamilton moved to Lagos where he easily became the crowd favourite with his goal-scoring exploits. Such saw him winning the Challenge Cup twice with the then ECN in 1965 and 1970.
After his playing career, he took to coaching and became the first coach to take the Flying Eagles to medals’ zone, placing third at the 1985 World Youth Championship (now U-20 World Cup) in Soviet Union. Samson Siasia, Waidi Akanni and Andrew Uwe among others were some of his players.
He later handled the women’s side (now called Super Falcons) to qualify for the inaugural world championship in China in 1991 before Dutch man Bonfrere Jo was drafted to handle the team in China.
Before then, he was at the verge of qualifying the Super Eagles for Italia ’90 before Clemens Westerhof was engaged, two matches to the end of final group.
Hamilton thus became the only coach to have handled the women’s national team, the Super Falcons, the Super Eagles and the Flying Eagles. May his soul rest in peace.