THIS DAY IN HISTORY: PAT EKEJI DEBUTS FOR NIGERIA

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

On this date, 13 July 1975, Patrick Ekeji made his debut for Nigeria’s national football team as the then Green Eagles played in the final qualifying match for the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations.

The away match, won 1-0 by Nigeria, produced the fastest goal that Nigeria scored in any qualifying match. From the kick off, even before any Congolese could touch the ball, Sunny Oyarekhua had scored under 60 seconds.

The first Congolese to pick the ball was the goalkeeper, retrieving it from the net. Nigeria won the return leg 2-1 in Lagos to have a 3-1 aggregate and qualified for Ethiopia ’76.

Ekeji, an undergraduate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka was in the stating line-up as Nigeria played away to Congo at the Stade de la Revolution in Brazzaville. It was a memorable debut for the man who later rose through the ranks to the zenith of sports administration in Nigeria.

Perhaps, apart from the Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria’s first President, Ekeji is the only other person that had been involved in all facets of sports, especially football.

He was a footballer for clubs and national team having played for both the Vasco da Gama FC and Enugu Rangers as well as the national team, the Green Eagles with which he made a winning debut on July 13, 1975 in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Congo in Brazzaville.

Ekeji was also a coach for both clubs and the national team. Ten years after his Green Eagles debut in Brazzaville, he mounted the saddle as the national team coach in 1985.

Before handling the Green Eagles, he had coached ACB of Lagos where Henry Nwosu was one of his star players.

The University of Nigeria Nsukka graduate of Physical and Health Education later became a lecturer at the Nigeria Institute of Sports teaching football as a discipline and helping to breed another generation of coaches.

He was a sports journalist, writing column for The Punch newspapers in the early 1980s. He administered sports at the state level in Imo before coming to the national level.

At the national level, Ekeji rose through the ranks heading various departments – Research and Documentation, Facilities, etc. – before getting to the zenith as Director General.

The novel idea in creating Team Nigeria is one indelible mark that he made on Nigerian sports. It is also on record that it was during his tenure as the Director of Sports that Nigeria eventually topped the medals’ table at the All Africa Games after previous seven attempts.