BY KUNLE SOLAJA
How time flies! It is 25 years today since Nigeria recorded yet another on-field obituary. Easily recalled is the death of Samuel Okwaraji on the pitch of the National Stadium, Lagos.
But hardly remembered is that of another Nigerian footballer on international assignment – Amir Angwe.
Sports Village Square recalls that he died almost in the same circumstances like Okwaraji.
The striker, who in the 1990 final, opened scoring for BCC Lions in Tunisia, was aiming to be a part of Berger’s victory five years later.
He came in as a substitute for Taiwo Oloyede who scored the only goal of the semi-final match. He was pronounced clinically dead 10 minutes after the game.
Angwe was barely 15 minutes old in the game when he fell without anyone having contact with him, bringing in sad memories of Sam Okwaraji who died six years earlier.
Help came too late apparently because the fallen player did not have body contact with anyone, making the Ugandan referee, Charles Massembe, and other players to probably think that the fall was due to exhaustion.
When he failed to rise, his teammate, Ikponwosa Omoregie, who was nearest to him, had to call the attention of the referee who in turn called for medical attention.
Four medical doctors among them, Jose Novao, the Portuguese team doctor of Maxaquine, battled in vain to revive Angwe.
The player’s wife, Ann, was reportedly in the crowd that saw her husband make the death fall.
“It’s too bad. It is not a normal thing in sports. He is not breathing. He had heart failure. Then his breathing also failed. I can’t confirm, but I think he has passed on. He is dead, but let’s wait for what your doctors can do,” said Jose Novao, the Portugal-born Maxaquine team doctor, before leaving the scene.
At that point, it was almost certain it was over. The Nigerian doctors also lost hope and called for an ambulance that took the player’s body to the General Hospital mortuary.
In the quarterfinal match with Motema Pembe of Zaire, Angwe barely survived as he had also slumped. But he could not be revived on the fateful 29 October 1995 match.
Controversy set in on why the late player was fielded in the match as the NFA Secretary General, Sani Toro, said the club had been given medical advice against fielding the player, although his team mates believed he was healthy from the layman’s point of view, having participated in the trainings and endurance tests that preceded the match.
But according to the NFA which recalled that Angwe barely survived a similar incident during quarterfinals game with Motema Pembe, it was suggested that a more thorough examination of the player and his teammates be made.
One doctor, from Imo Sports Council was asked to do the tests two days to the match with Maxaquine. The NFA claimed that the doctor advised against fielding of Agwe.
But a Julius Berger official claimed the doctor cleared him for the game on the day of the match while his teammates said they had even expected him to be on the starting line-up as he played full time in the first leg two weeks earlier in Maputo.
That was weeks after he passed out in the game with Motema Pembe. Moreover, he reportedly practised for three hours with the remaining players two days to his death.
Jose Novao said from what he saw of available facilities at the Onikan Stadium, “the administration here did not seem well equipped to meet any serious emergency. “What is clear to me is that he died of heart failure which a good test could have revealed before the game… I did not see any medical facility that could have assisted even the best doctor to save that situation.
“I am an orthopaedic surgeon and as football team manager, I expected to see better facilities than cold water and stretcher at the venue of an international match”.
The Maxaquine team doctor said although he sympatised with Nigeria over Angwe’s death, his team would not have taken it easy with the NFA if it was a player of his side that died.
“Of course, all my players were well tested before we came for the match, but emergencies can develop anytime and that is why FIFA and other international sports bodies take sports medicine very seriously,” remarked Novao.
What happened to Angwe remains a mystery. Two weeks after he collapsed in the game with Motema Pembe, he was invited to the Super Eagles’ camp preparatory to the 1995 Afro-Asian Cup matches with Uzbekistan.
In the Super Eagles’ camp, he reportedly told a newspaper of the incident at the Motema Pembe match: “I don’t know what happened, I just entered the match and the next thing I noticed was that I could neither breathe nor see. It was terrible. But I’m alright now.”
Angwe, a striker of Julius Berger, slumped and died on the field during an African Winners Cup semi-final with Maxaquine of Mozambique.