BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
How time flies! It is 30 years today since a Nigerian football midfield maestro; Samuel Okwaraji was martyred on the turf of the National Stadium, Lagos.
The then bubbling 25-year old player suddenly slumped and died 10 minutes to the end of an Italia ’90 World Cup qualifying match of Nigeria with Angola.
The result of the match, a 1-0 win for Nigeria, has certainly gone into oblivion. But the other sad events keep memories to linger on.
Not only did Okwaraji die, five other fans, also died of exhaustion and suffocation in a tightly packed arena that was being reopened for matches after a season of closure.
What an irony! The first time Okwaraji played at the National Stadium was the last time he lived.
It was just a day to the 10th anniversary of a previous disaster that claimed 24 lives at the same National Stadium, Lagos when IICC Shooting Stars defeated Bendel Insurance, 2-1 in a floodlit semi final match of the then Challenge Cup.
Okwaraji’s death was suspected to be complications of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy as an autopsy showed that he had an enlarged heart and high blood pressure.
His sudden death similar to that of Cameroon’s Marc-Vivien Foe who slumped during a FIFA Confederation Cup match in France in 2003.
In the case of Okwaraji, his death was bizarre. As the drab match progressed, an Angolan player slumped. Medical personnel rushed to administer treatment. It was barely 10 minutes to the end of the match.
As attention focused on the injured Angolan player, and while some fans that had fainted by the sidelines were being attended to, dreadlocks haired Okwaraji suddenly slumped, face down. Few people would have thought it was mere exhaustion.
The nearest player to him, Samson Siasia, rushed to the prostrate form and tried him to face up.
What he saw was frightening as he put his hands on his head in despair.
The following day, he told this reporter: “The way I saw him, he was gasping and foaming. His teeth were gritty… No one could easily ascertain the cause of his death. It still remains a mystery.”
Earlier this year, on the occasion of his 55th posthumous birthday, search engine giants, Google, on Sunday May 19, 2019 him Google Doodle.
The Google Doodle is used on the search engine home page for different seasons or special days such as birthdays of famous people.
To his memory, a monument is put at the outer perimeter fence of the National Stadium, Lagos.