BY KUNLE SOLAJA
Former Nigeria national football team captain, Tony Igwe is still revelling on the 50th anniversary of the country’s first continental honours – the gold medal at the 2nd All Africa Games in Lagos.
Sadly, 50 years down the line and with 11 editions down the line, Nigeria’s football team has not replicated the 1973 gold medal, even at the 2003 games on home soil.
Igwe, a patriach of football family in Carlifornia, United States, in a telephone conversation remarked that he was very sad as most of his teammates had gone to the world beyond.
Of the 20-man Green Eagles squad of 1973, only six are alive and they exist without any national recognition.
Igwe, a right full back player in his active days and fondly called “World Number Two”, clocked 77 on the eve of last Chrismas.
A thorough-bred Nigerian, Igwe speaks his native Igbo as well as Hausa and Yoruba. He was born in Barkin Ladi in Plateau State and had most of his playing career in Lagos where he featured for Stationery Stores and later NEPA.
He remarked that Jide Johnson, the man who nicknamed the famous Ibadan club as ‘Shooting Stars’ was his mentor while he was still a youth footballer.
He was among the jinx-breaking Nigerian school boys who beat Ghana for the first time in Accra.
In the then annual Dowuona-Hammond Cup donated by the Ghana’s Minister of Education for contests between the Nigeria-Academicals and their Ghanaian counterparts, Nigeria beat Ghana 1-0 in Accra on 13 February 1966.
It was a milestone as it was the first time any Nigerian team had beaten Ghana on home soil. The Tony Igwe-propelled Nigerian team followed up on 19 February 1966 with 2-1 win Lagos to complete a double over Ghana first time.
The feat opened the national team doors for most of the school boys. Igwe recalled some of his team mates as Ismaila Mabo, Peter Anieke, Sam Garba Okoye, Eyo Essien among others.
In the Ghanaian Academicals defeated was Ibrahim Sunday who in 1971 was named by France Football as African Footballer of the Year.
Tony Igwe considered himself lucky to be among the living. “When I look back to think about my teammates who have all gone, I feel very sad”, said the defender who at 23, captained Nigeria’s football team to the Mexico ‘68 Olympics.
He told www.sportsvillagesquare.com that he felt like being in a dreamland when he arrived Mexico for the Olympics in 1968. That was the biggest platform that Nigerian football had been at the time.
He played every second of the three matches Nigeria played against Japan, Spain and Brazil. “I am still on my feet as I am on strict diet. I watch what I eat, said Igwe, who retired as a professor in the Physical Education Department at Chabot College in Carlifornia.
He obtained a Bachelor in Physical Education and Kinesiology from the University of San Fransisco and Masters in Career Guidance Psychology from San Fransisco State University.
After classroom works, Igwe became the Head Men’s soccer coach and professor of Kinesiology at Chabot College. As coach, he led his team to four finals of which three were won.
He was Stanford University men’s coach and also the women’s coach at Menlo College. Under him, some players were transferred to four year colleges. Some of the players include Jose Lopez, Sal Buenos, Rhomel Clarke, David Landeros, Luis Cadena and Juan Calderon. Others are Musa Mohammed, Christian Aberogo, Norma Sanchez and Noel Donlaya.
He was able to transform his family into a clan of footballers. According to him, he has three children and five grandchildren.
His three children who took to football are Chioma who plays professionally in Germany, Kelechi and Amaechi. When Igwe left Nigeria in 1975, he had little knowledge of what was in the offing for him.
Since, he had come to Nigeria once or twice. His parents are no more, so also, his brother, Patrick. On account of that, there are little or nothing to propel him to relocate.
In the US, he is settled. “I had a little knowledge when I got to San Francisco, but it was still difficult at first. My first two weeks here, I cried, because there was nobody around to talk to.”
Igwe eventually thrived, met his wife-to-be, Lisa, at University of San Fransisco, played semi- professionally and professionally and started a long coaching career that has included stops at Notre Dame and Menlo high schools, Menllo College and Stanford.
And he fathered some remarkable soccer progeny. Oldest son Kelechi, will be 40 in November. He was No. 2 in scoring on the Broncos’ men’s team. His sister, Chioma featured in the midfield for the United States U-20 women’s national team. From the 2011/12 until 2014/15 she played in the German Bundesliga for Freiburg.
By the end of 2016/17 season, she announced her retirement from professional soccer, at the age of 30. Youngest son Amaechi, 34, was a member of the U.S. Soccer residency program in Bradenton Florida from 2004-05.
Tony Igwe said he would like to see the kind of remarkable football revolution in Nigeria of the 1960s when coaches were all over the country discovering school boy talents who later graduated to the national team.
He said he was discovered in the north by Coach David Deshi who worked with Hungarian coach, Gustav Hidas whose main roles were to discover talents.