BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Was it a sheer coincidence? Former Nigeria’s left winger, Kunle Awesu died on a July 5 date.
Another national team player and contemporary at early stage, Muda Lawal, died on July 6.
Both were former IICC Shooting Stars players. Both joined the IICC Shooting Stars from the lesser-known Housing Corporation FC of Ibadan.
Muda Lawal and Kunle Awesu hailed from Abeokuta in Ogun State. Both blossomed under the national coach, Jelisavicic Tihomir-Tiko aka “Father Tiko”.
Like the national coach, Father Tiko, both died early in July. Both were star performers in the 1976 Green Eagles squad that caused upset.
Muda Lawal and Kunle Awesu played prominent roles in the IICC Shooting Stars team that became the first Nigerian club to win a continental title in 1976.
Late the following year, the administration of David Jemibewon set the record of being the first in Nigeria to reward a group of footballers with car gifts. Each of the registered 25-member squad of IICC was given a Volkswagen Beetle car.
Could it be a coincidence that that of Muda Lawal and Kunle Awesu had plate numbers that followed one another? Kunle Awesu was number 16 on the list, while Muda was 17. Awesu’s car number was OY 7024 AB and that of Muda was OY 7025 AB.
In the national team, a look at most group pictures in which both players featured, they were always together.
- Group photograph of the Nigerian team at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia. Squatting third from left was Muda Lawal. Next to him, as usual, was Kunle Awesu.
Kunle Awesu who travelled to the US in 1978 to further his studies later graduated as a lawyer. He died in Arlington, US the same day Nigeria crashed out of USA ’94 World Cup after losing to Italy in the Round of 16.
His death was unknown to his family members in Nigeria until later 1996. He was a lawyer in the US and prior to his death had limited contact with his parents in Nigeria. Therefore when he died, friends reportedly could not find any document to establish contact with his relations.
His mother had died in 1988 while he was in the US. His father, Pa Joseph Awesu was 81 at the time of Kunle Awesu’s death in 1994. When contacted by Sports Village Square editor-in-chief while still with the Concord Press in 1996, the old man revealed that he last saw his son in 1978 when the left winger visited him with “his bosom friend and colleague, Muda Lawal, just before his trip to the US”, which according to the old man, was entirely packaged by Chief Lekan Salami, the players’ mentor and that of the Shooting Stars which they played for.
Kunle Awesu contesting the ball with with Guinea’s Ali Bangoura at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.