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Nigerian Football

Strange, But True: The Nigerian Football July Death Anniversaries

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

Sadly, the month of July has virtually become that of memorials for football icons in Nigeria. This may sound strange, but it is true.

Sports Village Square recalls that three days ago, it was the death anniversary of Jelisavicic Tihomer-Tiko, fondly called ‘Father Tiko’.

‘Father Tiko’ – July 1

The younger folks may not remember the then Yugoslavian man (his country is now Serbia) who raised to stardom an army of relatively unknown players who took the 10th edition of Africa Cup of Nations by storm, becoming the second runners-up in Ethiopia in March 1976.

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He repeated the feat at Ghana 1978 when Nigeria ranked third in Africa’s premier football competition. He was at the brink of qualifying Nigeria for Argentina 1978 World Cup before the team failed the last hurdle at home. No thanks to an own goal.

Under him, the Nigeria national team played 45 matches, winning 24, drawing 12 and lost nine. He died on July 1, 1986, in Cancum, Mexico. That was two days after the World Cup in that country. He was heading to Cancum to begin a new life as a coach to the local team when an automobile accident claimed his life.

Samuel Ojebode – July 4

Today, July 4, is the death anniversary of one of his players, Samuel Ojebode who passed on five years ago. Ojebode, a left fullback was also a captain of the then IICC Shooting Stars which he later coached and managed as an administrator.

With his death in 2012, the entire back four of the 1976 history-making IICC Shooting Stars have all passed on – Best Ogedegbe,  Joe Appiah, Ojebode and Muda Lawal.

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 Added to that list are Awesu and Folorunsho Gambari aka ‘Gambus’ who died on April 15, 1981.

Kunle Awesu – July 5

  Back to the July death anniversaries, yet another product of Father Tiko’s Nigerian team was Kunle Awesu, a left winger with the IICC Shooting Stars who was rated as the best at the 10th Africa Cup of Nations at Ethiopia in 1976.

He was a member of the Shooting Stars team that won the African Winners Cup in 1976.

He died on July 5, 1994 in Arlington, United States on the same day Nigeria crashed out of the USA ’94 World Cup. Sadly for over two years, Awesu’s death was unknown to his Nigerian family members who had lost touch with him.

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Muda Lawal and Dan Anyiam – July 6

 

Next comes that of Muda Lawal, like Ojebode and Awesu, he was in the Father Tiko’s Nigerian team and also a member of the victorious IICC side on the continent.

He died on July 6, 1991, the 14th anniversary of the mysterious death of one of Nigerian national team pioneers, Dan Anyiam who was also the first indigenous national team coach.

Bashorun MKO Abiola – July 7

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Who will forget the Bashorun MKO Abiola who pumped much money to football and other sports? He died on July 7, 1998. Another football icon that shared the date with him is Father Dennis Slattery who died in his native country, Ireland on July 7, 2003.

 

Father Dennis Slattery – July 7

Slattery who lived the greater part of his life in Nigeria was the last of the expatriates who shaped the then NFA that is today’s NFF. He was the NFA chairman from 1956 to 1959 and the most frequent referee of the Challenge Cup final which last week changed to AITEO Cup.

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Slattery was the referee of the final matches of 1952, 1953, 1960 and 1964 apart from being a linesman (assistant referee) in 1951, 1956 and 1958.

He founded the St. Finbarr’s College, Akoka – the record 10 time winners of the former Principals Cup in Lagos.

 

Israel Adebajo – July 25

Another prominent soccer figure of an earlier era was Israel Adebajo, the founder of the famous Stationery Stores, which until its going into coma late in the 1990s, was perhaps Nigeria’s most fanatically supported club side.

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Adebajo died on July 25, 1969, few weeks before Stores’ final match in the Challenge Cup.  He formed the club in 1958 after buying over Oluwole Philips team. The famed Super Stores drew players and fans across the country and sometimes too, from Ghana.

The former treasurer of the then NFA nurtured the Super Stores to win the Challenge Cup twice in a row and was at the brink of a hat-trick in 1969 before his death dealt a devastating blow on the club.

Mathias Obianika – July 27

Former national team player, Mathias Obianika, died also in July 27, 1992. The Enugu Rangers’ striker was an instant hit in the national team when he made his debut in a 4-0 triumph over Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in a 1971 friendly game.

Obianika scored two of the four goals. After years in Enugu Rangers, he later became the club’s chief coach.

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Anthony Ikazoboh – July 27

   Seven years after the death of Obianika, a two-time NFA chairman and former Super Stores player, Air Commodore Anthony Ikazoboh, was killed by armed robbers on July 27, 1999.

Ikazoboh was the NFA chairman from 1984 to 1987 and again in 1989 before he was named the sports minister.

  Under him as NFA chairman, Nigeria won its first global event, the World Under-17 Tournament in 1985 and the Under-20 team placed third at the World Under 20 Championship in the then Soviet Union.

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  It was at the Soviet Union event that Ikazoboh dropped hints of Nigeria’s interest in hosting the World Youth Championship, a dream that only materialised 12 years later.   As sports minister in 1990, Ikazoboh’s tenure brought the advent of professional football to Nigeria.

Tesilimi Balogun – July 31

   July 30 is the anniversary of the legendary “Thunder” Balogun who died in 1972. He was the first ever-Nigerian professional player when he ventured to England in the 1950s.

The early history of the Challenge Cup is almost an historical account of Thunder Balogun’s soccer career. He later became a coach in the Western Region.

In 1952, Balogun became the first player to score a hat-trick in the Challenge Cup final. The feat is significant, considering the fact that up till the 2012 FA Cup final, only two other players, Frank Uwalaka in 1958 and Felix Adedeji in 1969 – were the only other hat-trick scorer in Nigeria’s premier national competition.

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Sam Garba Okoye – July 31

Sam Garba Okoye, another national team star of 1960s and early 1970s, died on July 31, 1978 in motor accident. He was one of the teenagers of the Nigerian Academicals that beat Ghana 1-0 in the annual Dowuona-Hammond Cup in 1966.

It was Nigeria’s first away win against Ghana. Later, Garba played for Plateau XI, Mighty Jets and the Green Eagles.

Although he had no Challenge Cup gold medal to show, he was a regular in the six final matches played by Jos teams from mid 1960s to 1974. He usually adorned his forehead with a rolled up handkerchief.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian Football

Manu Garba, U17 World Cup winner, returns as Golden Eaglets’ Head Coach

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The Board of Nigeria Football Federation has appointed former U17 World Cup winner Manu Garba as Head Coach of the Nigeria U17 boys, Golden Eaglets.

Garba had, in the same role, led the Golden Eaglets to win the FIFA U17 World Cup for Nigeria in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 – Nigeria’s fourth triumph at that stage.

Garba’s world-conquering squad in 2013 included Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi, Isaac Success, Musa Mohammed, Chidiebere Nwakali and goalkeeper Dele Alampasu.

The squad, which finished as runners-up at the African U17 Championship in Morocco after a penalty shootout defeat by Cote d’Ivoire, defeated Mexico 6-1 in their opening game, drew 3-3 with Sweden and hammered Iraq 5-0. In the Round of 16, they ran Iran ragged 4-1, dispatched Uruguay 2-0 in the quarter-finals and trounced Sweden 3-0 in the semi-finals, before they dislodged Mexico by the same margin in the final to lift the trophy.

The former Nigeria international will now immediately resume the role and take charge of the team’s preparations for next month’s WAFU B U17 Championship, taking place in Ghana.

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Kano Pillars on  the verge of relegation again?

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BY NURA GARBA SABONSARA

As the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) 2023/2024 season enters the home stretch, Kano Pillars find themselves in a precarious situation, despite being in the 8th on the league table.

They have 41 points in a close-packed league in which no situation below the top eight can be regarded as safe now.

On the surface, the eighth position occupied by Kano Pillars might seem a decent position, but beneath lies a series of crises that is threatening the club’s stability.

Kano Pillars, a team deeply entrenched in the hearts of the people of Kano, holds a unique status in Nigerian football. Yet, recent events have cast doubts on their future in the league.

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Despite a promising start to the season where they occupied the third position, the team has encountered a harsh reality check.

For the first time in its history since establishment in 1990, Kano Pillars faced back-to-back home losses in a single season, a stunning defeat against Abia Warriors followed by a recent upset against Shooting Stars of Ibadan on Monday, 8th April, 2024.

These losses, coupled with a humiliating 5-0 defeat by Enyimba, paint a troubling picture.

While some attribute these setbacks to the challenges of Ramadan fasting affecting the players, others argue that this explanation falls short because the team has been playing in this situation for many years.

Why now?. The root of Pillars’ problems lies deeper, starting from the inability to secure key signings and a lack of strong financial backing.

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Recruitment primarily from local talent pools received mixed reactions.

While some praised the emphasis on nurturing grassroots talent, others feared the consequences of inexperience, a concern that seems to be materializing now.

Moreover, the team’s financial woes, compounded by fines imposed due to fan misconduct, further exacerbate the situation.

Similarly, some close government allies and individuals are forcing the technical crew to recruit their players irrespective of whether they are competent or not, a development that has angered many fans of the club.

Many players seem motivated solely by personal career advancement rather than team success, raising questions about commitment and morale.

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Additionally, scheduling matches during Ramadan, though a long standing practice, has never before yielded such dismal results.

With relegation looming just eight points away, urgent action is imperative.

The government, alongside club officials, must step in decisively to address these issues. Ignoring the plight of Kano Pillars risks tarnishing the state’s football legacy irreparably.

In conclusion, Kano Pillars stand at a critical juncture. Without swift intervention and a concerted effort to rectify underlying problems, the club faces the grim prospect of relegation once again.

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Nigerian Football

Shooting Stars rally from behind to clinch a rare victory in Kano

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Shooting Stars continue to press for the top three slot in the Nigeria Premier League as they clinched a rare 2-1  victory in Kano on Monday evening.

Before now, they have always been battered with basketful of goals in their away duels with Kano Pillars.

In some instances, the score lines were as wide as 6-0. But on Monday, Shooting Stars continued their chase of the frontrunners. It initially looked a continuation of the past when in the opening two minutes, Shooting Stars were already a goal down.

Rabiu Ali shot the hosts ahead and held on till half time. Three minutes into the second half, Taiye Murtala levelled up for Shooting Stars before serial scorer, Christian Pyagbara scored the winner in the fourth minute of the added time.

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