BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Today, people refer to the football generation of Stephen Keshi, Samson Siasia, Paul Okoku and Henry Nwosu as perhaps the best set of school players who blossomed into national and international stardom.
What may not readily be known is the fact that they were largely the products of one school, the St Finbarr’s College, Akoka near the University of Lagos.
Rev. Fr, Dennis Slattery, an Irishman, initiated the college. On this date 7 July 2003, followers of Nigerian football since the pre-independence era woke up to the disturbing news that Slattery had died in his native country, Ireland.
That was on the fifth anniversary of the passing away of sports philanthropist extraordinaire, Bashorun MKO Abiola. Slattery, who lived the greater part of his life in Nigeria, was the last of the expatriates who shaped the Nigeria Football Association (NFA).
He was NFA chairman from 1956 to 1959 in succession to Pius Anthony, the Ghanaian-born first African chairman of the NFA. His sporting career began in January 1942 when he was attached to the St. Gregory School, Obalende Lagos as a tutor and games master.
In 1945, he became the editor of Catholic Herald and left Nigeria for a three-year course at Catholic University, Washington and the Fordham University, New York where he obtained a Masters of Arts degree.
He returned to Nigeria in 1949 and founded the St. Finbarr’s College, which later became a strong hold in schools’ football in Nigeria. The school produced Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Paul Okoku and Samson Siasia among others.
Fr. Slattery was the most frequent referee of the Challenge Cup finals. He was the referee in the final matches of 1952, 1953, 1960 and 1964 apart from being a linesman (assistant referee) in 1951, 1956 and 1958.