BY EMEKA OBASI
Let me begin by apologising to Kunle Soname, the man behind Remo Stars of Ikenne. He meant nothing to me until his boys earned a 1-1 draw in Rabat from FAR, Morocco in the CAF Confederation Cup.
That outcome means a lot because the poorly remunerated Nigerian league has produced clubs whose best in North Africa for over a decade now is disgrace.
Remo Stars are very new on the continent. That game was their debut and it took place at the 53,000 capacity Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium where Super Falcons lost controversially to the Red Atlas Lionesses in the 2022 Women’s African Cup of Nations.
Chief Obafemi Awolowo built the first mega stadium in Nigeria. The Liberty Stadium which was renamed after the former Premier of the Western Region, was declared open in 1960.
Awo hailed from Ikenne, I did not consider the town worthy of attention. Sorry, there are my good friends Kunle and Femi Solaja, sportswriters.
Kunle has covered all FIFA World Cups since Italia ’90. He is married to Obiageli Edoga, a former national champion. The Solajas are from Ikenne.
Awo’s Liberty Stadium hosted the first World boxing title fight in Africa, on August 10, 1963. Dick Tiger Ihetu beat Gene Fulmer to retain the Middleweight belt.
Soname is taking Africa to Ikenne. Awo exposed Ibadan to the world. The two towns are not far apart. FAR ( Forces Armees Royales) will be at the Remo Stadium for the second leg match this Weekend.
Remo Stars have shown so much character. The Moroccans were CAF Champions League winners in 1985, the first by the country, and lifted the Confederation Cup in 2005.
Dolphins of Port Harcourt were in killer form in 2005. They dethroned defending champions Accra Hearts of Oak and were unbeaten in the group stage.
Dolphins played in Group B alongside two Egyptian teams, Arab Contractors and Ismaili and remained unbeaten. Their star, Kelechi Osunwa had seven goals to his name.
FAR had beaten Enugu Rangers 1-0 in Rabat in the second round. The North Africans did not boast of a striker in the class of Osunwa. When they met Dolphins in the final, they won 3-0 in Rabat after falling 1-0 in Port Harcourt.
Dolphins goalie, Chijioke Ejiogu ( Arugo monkey) would not forget that duel in Rabat. It was the second time he would be beaten thrice in a continental final.
In 2003, Ejiogu was in goal for Julius Berger when Etoile Sportif Sahel beat the Lagosians 3-0 to win the last CAF Cup. Those three goals were scored by a Nigerian, Ogochukwu Obiakor.
The Moroccan soldiers are tough. In 1988, Iwuanyanwu National escaped by a whisker in the CAF Champions League. In the Owerri first leg, a brace by Mike Obi and two goals from Uwakwe Eke and Law Ukegbu gave the Naze Millionaires a 4-1 edge.
Two weeks later in Rabat, FAR were fantastic, scoring four goals. Toyin Ayinla’s strike in the 21st minute saved the day. It ended 4-1. With aggregate scores at 5 -5, Iwuanyanwu relied on 4-5 penalties to advance to the finals.
The FAR story in Rabat is a long one. In 1968, Stationery Stores defeated them 1-0 in Lagos. The return leg ended 2-1. CAF had no away goal rule at the time so the game had to be decided by toss of the coin after a draw in Dakar.
That was the year of Nigeria’s CAF Champion’s League debut. Stores were unlucky. Their opponents moved on.
Remo Stars should be applauded. The three best Nigerian clubs could not get a favourable result in their first visit to North Africa. They all conceded more than one goal.
Rangers fell 3-1 to Mehalla in 1975. Keeper Emma Okala had trouble with his sight and was replaced by Francis Azuokwu. Shooting Stars were beaten 2-0 by Zamalek in 1976 while Enyimba got a 6-1 drubbing from Ismaili in 2003. Goalie Vincent Enyeama lost the captain’s band.
Remo earned a 1-1 draw. Their coach, Daniel Ogunmodede is a home boy. Frenchman, Fernando Da Cruz is FAR manager. His place of birth, Villeneuve d’ Ascq is familiar. That was where Mary Onyali set an African record of 22.31 seconds in the 200 metres, 1989.
We must salute Soname. He owns Value Jet airlines. Remo Stars enjoyed their flight from Lagos to Rabat. It showed in the outcome of the encounter. Other Nigerian teams would first fly to Europe before connecting a flight.
In 1988, Iwuanyanwu spent an extra week in Rabat because of confusion over flight arrangement. They ran out of cash and had to be fed by Morrocan officials.
Soname is prepared for the best of soccer. He is chairman of Portuguese second division club, Feirense. Something remarkable here. The Europeans played in the top division but were relegated thrice. That is also the story of Remo Stars.
The Ikenne boys are called Sky Blue Stars. Feirense are known as Blues from the Feira. Someday like Remo, they will move up to the Primeira Liga.
Soname has built an ultra modern stadium for Remo. Facilities there are world class. The players are not complaining. The results are impressive. Stars like Ogbonnaya Okemiri who won the CAF Champions League twice with Enyimba and Olise Ndah, Confederation Cup 2022 finalist with Orlando Pirates, are ex- Sky Blue Stars.
From humble beginnings in Ketu as FC Dender, the Stars are shining, through Remo to Africa. Soname played politics and spent eight years as chairman, Ikosi – Isheri Local Government Council, Lagos.
I hated betting but because of Soname’s giant stride, I will hate no more. He is chairman Bet9ja. And if such marvelous job could come from kalokalo, I have joined them. Check me out at Ikenne.