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BREAKING! The Last of the Firsts; Nigeria’s oldest international footballer, Titus Okere dies

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The last of the originals, Titus Okere

BY KUNLE SOLAJA

Nigeria’s oldest former international footballer, Titus Okere has died. He was aged 94. He was a member of Nigeria’s first national team, the famed UK Tourists of 1949.

He clocked 94 last 22 March. His death this morning in Kent UK was announced this evening to Sports Village Square by his grand daughter, Frances Okere.

Possibly his last photograph. Titus Okere with  his grand daughter, Frances and great grand son, Maxwell on 22 March, his 94th birthday.

The announcement went thus: “Good evening Kunle, I’m very sorry to tell you that my grandad died of old age this morning at his home, he will be greatly missed.

“Thank you again for highlighting all his achievements and for including him in your book.”

Until his death, he remained last point of contact for the famous 1949 UK Tourists.

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Okere, the left wing wizard of the team  who was initially projected to captain the 1949 squad, lived a quiet life in Kent, some 61km to London in the UK.

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Titus Okere, kneeling down, first on the left in the second row in a group picture the pioneer Nigerian national football team took before their training session on Everton Football ground on 31 August 1949

His 94th birthday coincided with the 43rd anniversary of Nigeria’s first victory at the Africa Cup of Nations. When the then Green Eagles lifted the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time on 22 March, 1980, it was like a divine tribute to the pioneer Nigerian left winger. He was 51 on that day.

Similarly, Joseph Meads, the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) inaugural secretary who was also the convener of the 21 August 1933 meeting in which the Nigerian football body now known as NFF was founded (not 1945 as wrongly claimed), was also born on 22 March in 1907.  

He should had been 73 years; the day Nigeria beat Algeria to win the Africa Nations Cup for the first time in 1980.

Titus Okere with his great grand children – Maxwell Okere and Sebastian Coe

Okere in 1949 was described by Edgar Kail in UK’s Daily  Graphic as having a net worth of £15,000 and a row of houses.

The Liverpool Echo edition of 1 September 1949 was astonished about the speed and brilliance of Titus Okere at the outside left and averred that given his experience, “he could find a place in most European League sides.”

Four years later, Okere found himself in the UK at the height of  winter. Since his 1953 venture abroad, he seemed to have escaped everyone’s radar.

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Sports Village Square had been in touch with the legend through his grand daughter, Frances Okere.

Having left Nigeria in February 1953 and never came back, he was believed to have passed on.

He was the first Nigerian citizen to play football abroad and registered as a professional when he signed for Swindon Town.

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Titus Okere tries his rubber boots at Swindon Town FC in February 1953

His adventure abroad after the initial UK tour of 1949 had an element of luck. He was highly rated by the British press during the UK tour of 1949 even though like most of his colleagues, he was playing barefooted.

Until now, Okere was  widely believed to have died since he never return to Nigeria since he left Nigeria in February 1953 as the country’s first ever professional footballer.

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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.

OBITUARY

Millwall goalkeeper Sarkic dies at 26

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Carabao Cup Third Round - Wolverhampton Wanderers v Leeds United - Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, Britain - November 9, 2022 Wolverhampton Wanderers' Matija Sarkic celebrates after the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers/File photo

Millwall and Montenegro goalkeeper Matija Sarkic died on Saturday at the age of 26, the Championship club confirmed.

Sarkic fell ill in his home country while on international duty. Montenegrin daily newspaper Vijesti reported Sarkic died in an apartment in Budva early in the morning.

“Everyone at the club sends their love and condolences to Matija’s family and friends at this immensely sad time,” Millwall said in a statement.

“The club will make no further comment at this time and asks that the privacy of Matija’s family is respected.”

“Our dear Matija, we will miss you and your cheerful spirit, your work ethic and your great defending,” the Montenegro Football Association (FSCG) said in a statement, describing Sarkic as an “always smiling guy”.

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“On behalf of European football, our deepest condolences go to Matija’s friends, family and everybody who knew him. Rest in peace, Matija,” governing body UEFA said in a statement.

Sarkic made nine saves in Montenegro’s 2-0 defeat to Belgium in a friendly last Wednesday and was named man of the match for his outstanding performance.

Born in Grimsby, England, Sarkic played for Aston Villa and Belgian side Anderlecht at youth level. He made 33 appearances for Millwall after joining in August 2023 from Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers.

-Reuters

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Former Arsenal and Everton striker Campbell dies at 54

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Arsenal striker Kevin Campbell (R) is challenged by Hartlepool United's Phil Gilchrist during their League Cup second round second leg match at Highbury in London October 5, 1994. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

Former Arsenal, Everton and Nottingham Forest striker and soccer commentator Kevin Campbell has died at the age of 54.

British media said he had been in hospital for two weeks before his death was announced on Saturday.

“We are devastated to learn that our former striker Kevin Campbell has died after a short illness,” Arsenal said on social media. “Kevin was adored by everyone at the club.”

The London-born Campbell made his senior debut at Arsenal in 1988 and spent seven years at the club including two loan spells. He was part of the Arsenal side that won the English first division league in 1990-91, the FA Cup in 1992-93 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1993-94.

He joined Forest in 1995, where he spent three years, before moving to Everton in 1999 for a six-year spell. Campbell scored 45 Premier League goals for Everton, becoming their fifth highest goalscorer in the competition and their first ever Black captain.

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“Not just a true Goodison Park hero and icon of the English game but an incredible person as well — as anyone who ever met him will know,” Everton posted on X.

-Reuters

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NFF shocked, saddened by Domo Okara’s death

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The Nigeria Football Federation has described as shocking and very sad, the death on Saturday of Head Coach of Bayelsa Queens Football Club, Domo Okara.

“We are shocked and saddened beyond words. In all sincerity, we are still trying to process the report. I have spoken to a lot of people who said they interacted with him days earlier and he was hale and hearty. This is a very sorrowful development.

“Okara was one of the pillars of women football coaching in the country. Indeed, it is a period of mourning for the women’s game in our country because the man was more than a coach. He was a mentor, a leader and an inspiration to many. We pray that God will give him eternal rest and also grant the immediate family, his friends, Bayelsa Queens FC family and Nigeria football the fortitude to bear this sudden and big loss,” NFF General Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi, said on Sunday.

Domo Okara, who led Bayelsa Queens to win the Nigeria Women Premier League title in 2022 and also won the Federation Cup with the team the following year, was reported to have died suddenly on Saturday morning.

He led the team from Yenagoa to win the bronze medals at the 2nd edition of the CAF Women’s Champions League competition in Morocco – the only Nigerian team to have achieved that feat.

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