BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Growing up in the environs of the famous Liberty Stadium in Ibadan in the late 1960s, it was my dream that I could one day become a great footballer after being informed of the exploits of Tesilimi ‘Thunder’ Balogun especially the fairy tales around the legendary footballer nicknamed ‘Thunder.’
I had heard fairy tales of Thunder Balogun taking a ‘thunderous shot that tore through the stomach of popular Soviet goalkeeper, Lev Yashin.’
I grew up to later discover that it was part of ‘tales by moonlight’. I remember one evening after seeing a hard metallic shot put, I imagined it must be a ball specifically designed for ‘Thunder’ whom I believed was the only one with a special soccer boots to kick it.
Not so much endowed with the skill to back my dreams as I could not even make the team to my primary school football squad, I was nicknamed ‘captain’ among the dregs I played with on a patchy pitch where the Nigerian Tribune is currently located.
Directly facing it was a storey building I lived in. On the ground floor was a beer parlour that Thunder Balogun used to come to relax.
On a particular evening, he chose to sit out and drink alone outside as we were engaged in our kick about.
Upon noticing that a ‘scout’ was around, everyone, particularly my self engaged in selfish exhibition of individual skills. I was aged nine then.
Later ‘Thunder’ Balogun called us. I remember him rebuking me for showmanship and being selfish with the ball instead of passing to better-positioned teammates.
In the process of the advisory, I childishly asked him whether it was possible to be given ‘invitation’ to play for Nigeria.
He mischievously laughed and the other teammates joined in asking to be ‘called to camp.’
Balogun told us it was possible, but he knew our parents will not release us, a claim we all easily dismissed.
He picked a paper and pen and started to write down our names.
Meanwhile, all of us were not part of the core school team footballers. The next day, we reeled out the tale to the members of the school team who often stay behind to play football after school hours.
To my house everyone headed to after close of school, awaiting the arrival of Thunder Balogun so he could also write their names.
He eventually arrived in his Opel car. Before he could come out, hoards of school children had besieged him and prostrated. Wondering if anything had happened, I told him they were my friends who would also like to play for Nigeria.
Before I could finish my statement, one of them cut in and remarked that Thunder had written down names of misfits and that they, the new comers, were the ‘real’ footballers.
He requested that they should go and write down their names and bring to him as he entered the beer parlour.
Fifty-one years on, we are still awaiting the invitation to the national football team.