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My encounter with Grandmaster, Fabio Lanipekun

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Fabio Lanipekun, extreme right, along with other eminent sports journalists at my book launch in 2010.

BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Within a space of eight days, I lost my two mentors in sports journalism. First it was Sunny Ojeagbase who died penultimate Saturday in the US. Then this last Sunday, Fabio Lanipekun took his last breath.

Both were the two parishioners who shaped me in thought and in practice.

At first, it was like re-enacting the popular photo magazine – Sadness and Joy – of my youthful days. Last Monday I got the sad news of the death of Ojeagbase but two days later, it was the joy that my other iconic mentor, Fabio Lanipekun was going to clock the milestone of 80.

Now, both are gone. I had followed Fabio for years even before I had personal contact with him. He was then a sports presenter at the WNTV in Ibadan.

At the time, he was presenting Star Soccer, a package of English football, Sports Round up and Sports Galore on Saturday.

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With his afro hairstyle and smiles on his face, he would always sign off the programme with the phrase: “Am backing sports all the way, what about you?” That was in the early 1970s. I developed a magnetic interest in him as I watched his presentations.

I did not get to meet him in person until the summer of 1986 when we met in St. Johns, New Found land in Canada when we both covered the second edition of the FIFA under 16 Tournament.

He was there with Charles Ojugbana, while I represented the African Concord magazine. I had a first hand knowledge of my childhood hero.

He was humane and hardworking. He had the nose for details. He thought me not to always adapt the often bias of the western press in sports coverage.  It was like going back to the classroom.

We were again together at the Italia ‘90 World Cup, the first of the now eight coverage of the most coveted football trophy on Planet Earth. Of course, I drank satisfactorily from his well of wisdom.

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Almost like a guarding angel, he was with me at the Barcelona ‘92 Olympics, my first coverage of what is popularly believed to be the ‘Greatest Show on Earth.’

Even though I never worked under him, I am qualified to be called a student of Fabio Lanipekun. It was not therefore a surprise that when I became the Group Sports Editor of Concord Press of Nigeria in August 1989, he would always admonish me when he spotted errors in my pages.

Of course, I got accolades too, when he felt impressed of any write-up especially if it was a product of either historical recall or research.

It was in the course of such research that I once asked him how he came about the name Fabio, which I knew was Italian and that Nigeria had no link with Italy to make us adopt their names.

He told me that the name was actually a nickname that stuck. His real name was Adesola Lanipekun.

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According to him, while at Methodist Boys High School in Lagos, he read an 1886 romance book titled “Vendetta”. It was a story of a forgotten fellow, Fabio Romani, an Italian count who was thought to be dead. The novel was written by Mary Corelli.

Lanipekun said he was fascinated by the central figure of the novel, Fabio Romani. “I enjoyed the book that I started calling myself ‘Fabio”.

That was the origin of the nickname that has over seven decades become his name. He remarked that his parents initially objected to it each time school friends came to ask after ‘Fabio’. But somehow, it has stuck.

He began his journalism career in 1962 at the now defunct Daily Express in Lagos before travelling abroad in 1964 to study Sports Journalism at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London.

He is one of the earliest Nigerian media practitioners to train specifically in sports journalism. He joined the Western Nigeria Television (WNTV) on February 17, 1969. On May 18, 1969 he had his first coverage of a football match for the WNTV when he ran commentaries of the Ghana versus Nigeria World Cup qualifying match in Accra.

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According to him, sports were placed under the programmes department at the WNTV which is today’s NTA Ibadan.

The department was geared towards entertainment and featured sports at irregular intervals and mostly on weekly basis.

Among the three sports programmes was “Star Soccer”. The two others were “Wrestling from Britain” and “Sports Review”.

But a survey conducted among viewers in Lagos and the then Western State (now Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti states) places sports as fourth among the 20 programmes analysed.

According to Lanipekun, that enabled the creation of another slot to sports which increased his contributions to the station.

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He rose to the position of Manager, Sports at the NTA before retiring in 1994. May his soul rest in peace.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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