Nigeria Super Eagles are 73 years old today

Nigeria Super Eagles are 73 years old today
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Capt. Donald Henry Holley: The man who assembled and managed Nigeria’s first Nigeria national football team on 26 June 1949

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

It is 73 years today 26 June that the Nigeria’s national football team was first composed. It was on this day in 1949 at the Labour Office in Lagos, 17 players were named as members of the International Group, a name given to Nigeria’s first national team preparatory to a proposed goodwill tour of the United Kingdom in August.

On the day Nigeria beat Guinea 1-0 to become the first team to advance to the knock-out stage of the 2019 Afcon in Egypt, the Nigerian team symbolically clocked 70. In a country where record-keeping is still a big challenge, the Platinum Jubilee of the  soccer team easily passed unnoticed, unmarked and uncelebrated, since the evolution and developments of the team are not documented.

The 18th player was announced five days later at the Labour Office, where the then chairman of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) Capt. Donald Henry Holley was also the chairman of the Labour Advisory Board.

Holley had worked tirelessly to see the formation of a Nigeria national team and also ensured they ventured abroad and thus became the first African and Afro set of players to have a tour of the United Kingdom.

Raising a Nigeria national team had been a long time dream of Holley who had lived in Nigeria for 24 years since 1925.  At the time, he called himself a Nigerian.

In one of the trial matches played by the selected side, against Lagos European team, the latter won the match. According to a newspaper account, when Holley got back home and announced the result to his wife, Dorothy, she exclaimed: “You mean the Europeans have beaten us.”

Holley at the send off party for the team held at the Island Club, Onikan on 11 August 1949, he sentimentally remarked: “This UK Tour is the end of my dream.”

It was largely through his efforts that Nigeria was able to send a team which he led to the United Kingdom and a £1,800 was made. By then he had become a commissioner of Labour.

“Some years ago, the idea of inviting the English Football Association to this country was mooted out. But when it was found impossible, they decided that if they didn’t come to them the Nigeria Football Association would go to England.

“This tour is the end of my dream”, said Captain Holley. He left Nigeria in July 1950, barely nine months after the famous UK tour. Six years later, he died in the UK in December 1956.

In 1955, Reginald Banham Allen, better known as Derby Allen who was then the secretary/treasurer of the NFA wrote that the NFA existed thanks to the generous donation  of the Lagos & District Amateur Football Association (LDAFA) of which Captain Donald Henry Holley, better known as Captain D.H Holley headed.  He later became the chairman of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) and the manager of Nigeria’s first national team.

It was largely through his efforts that Nigeria was able to send a team which he led to the United Kingdom and a £1,800 was made. By then he had become a commissioner of Labour.

On 26 June 1949, he announced the names of Nigeria’s first national team. The players were: GOALKEEPERS – Sam Ibiam (Port Harcourt) and Isaac Akioye (Ibadan); DEFENDERS: Justin Onwudiwe, Olisa Chukwura (Abeokuta), Ahmed Tijani Ottun (Marine FC), Isiaku Shittu (Lagos UAC), John Dankaro (Jos), Hope Lawson (Marine FC), Dan Anyiam (Lagos UAC) FORWARDS: Francis Mesembe Otu (Marine FC), Peter Anieke (Railway), Sokari Dokubo (Railway) Edet Ebenezer (Port Harcourt), Godwin Anosike (Railway), Etim Henshaw (Marine), Tesilimi Balogun (Railway) and Titus Okere (Railway).

Portrait of members of Nigeria’s first national football team announced on 26 June 1949

Five days later, at the same Labour Office on 1 July 1949, the 18th player, Okoronkwo Kanno was controversially announced.

He was appointed player/secretary of the team having been educated for a while in England.

The selectors believed he had acquired the refinements necessary to be the face of the team in England.

His selection was a subject of controversy at the press conference held by the council of the NFA.

As at today, all but one of the pioneer members of the Nigerian team have died. The sole survivor is Titus Okere who ventured abroad in 1953 and never returned.

Now 93, he leaves a quiet life in Kent, some 61km to London in the UK.

Related story: https://www.sportsvillagesquare.com/2022/06/01/long-forgotten-1949-uk-tourists-legend-titus-okere-is-alive%ef%bf%bc/

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