BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
On this date, 31 July 1978, former national team footballer and later an assistant coach to the then Green Eagles, Sam Garba Okoye died in an automobile accident along Lafia-Akwanga Road in Nasarawa State. He was aged 30.
He was a star of the 1960s and early 1970s. Okoye was one of the teenagers of the Nigerian Academicals that beat Ghana 1-0 in the in 1966.
It was a significant feat as it was Nigeria’s first away win against Ghana. In that squad was also the likes of Peter Anieke and Tony Igwe who also played significant roles in the national team and also the Stationery Stores of Lagos in the years that followed.
He featured for Nigeria at the Mexico ’68 Olympic Games as one of the two players not to have come from the then country’s sensation, Stationery Stores FC.
At the time, Jos was the nursery that produced star footballers for Nigeria. It was from there that the trio of Okoye, Tony Igwe, Peter Anieke, Gabriel Babalola and Segun Odegbami emerged.
Later Okoye played for Plateau XI, Mighty Jets and the Green Eagles. Although he had no Challenge Cup gold medal to show, he was a regular in six final matches played by Jos teams from mid 1960s to 1974.
The most significant of the Challenge Cup appearances was that of 1972. With five minutes left of play, and the Mighty Jets trailing 0-2 to Bendel Insurance, Sam Garba Okoye scored two quick goals to stalemate the match at 2-2
His equalizing goal was such a beauty that was saluted with a standing ovation and crowd-pitch invasion. He took the ball from his own half and dribbled five Insurance defenders before scoring the goal.
The match was the last cup final at the competition’s birthplace, the Onikan Stadium.