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Nigeria’s oldest international footballer, Titus Okere to be buried this Thursday

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

 

Nigeria’s oldest former international footballer, Titus Okere who died 13 June will be buried on Thursday.

His granddaughter, Frances Okere informed Sports Village Square that the pioneer member of the Nigeria national football team will be buried at the Bluebell Hill Crematorium in Kent, United Kingdom.

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

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He clocked 94 last 22 March.

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

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

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 a 22 March date in 1907.

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

Titus Okere lost his wife, Patricia Okere three years ago. His son, who is Frances’ father also goes by the name Titus Okere.

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Titus Okere’s 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.

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.”

Another report by Edgar Kail in the Daily  Graphic illustrated it further by commenting that Okere was worth £15,000 and a row of houses.

Those comments could have prompted him to take the chance of venturing abroad for professional football thus opening the doors for others, notably Balogun and Elkanah Onyeali to also go to England. By the turn of the century, plying trade abroad, especially in Europe had become a common phenomenon.

Sports Village Square gathered from archival research that Titus Okere had always dreamt of returning to the UK after the Nigerian team tour of 1949.

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So prominent was he in the squad that he was the first consideration as the skipper since he was also the captain of Railway club that supplied the bulk of the 18-man squad.

In the Daily Service publication of 1 July 1949, three players were short listed as possible captain – Etim Henshaw, Dan Anyiam and Titus Okere.

The latter was not chosen by the NFA on account that “it was impossible to select him as captain in view of his position as outside left. It was thought it is impossible for him to control the team from his position in the forward line.”

Dennis Hart, an English journalist writing in the Daily Service edition of 27 February 1953 narrated how Okere landed in England.

He claimed that returning to the UK and to play as a professional footballer had been Okere’s dream. He was then 25 and working as a clerk in the Nigerian Railway which he also played for as captain.

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Hart wrote: “To fulfil it, he has taken one big step already. He has joined an Fnglish League club,  Swindon Town as a professional, the first Nigerian ever to do so.

 

“Imagine his excitement when four years ago he was selected as outside left as a member of the Nigerian team to tour England, to play the leading amateur dubs.

“Waiting for the tour to begin weighed heavily on Titus’ hands.

But when the day finally arrived, the time, flashed by all quickly.

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The tour whetted, rather than satisfied his appetite for English soccer.

Having tasted it, he thirsted for more.

“He returned to his job as a clerk with the Nigerian Railways in Lagos

But in spirit he was still in England, re-living the tour over and over again in his mind.

“The months slipped by, and with them, it seemed  his chances of playing permanently in  English soccer.

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“But then fate took a hand. The coach to the Railway team for which Titus was playing for was Leo Robins, a native of Swindon.

He was in Nigeria on Railway work. Leo was a keen supporter of his town’s club. He wrote to the manager, Louis Page, recommending to him to sign Titus.

After consultations with the club’s directors, Mr. Page wrote to Titus, asking if he would like to join Swindon. Titus needed no persuasion. It was a gamble and needed throwing up his job.”

Hart remarked that he later interviewed Okere  after his first day training at Swindon. “He told me that he could hardly believe it.

It was a typical English February morning with frost still on the ground and a keen east wind which penetrated the thickest of overcoats.

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Hart asked Titus how he felt 4,000 miles away from the sun and his friends. “Well the sun might be a long way away”, replied Titus in his normal quiet-spoken manner, “I certainly miss it.  But I ‘ve already made lots of friends here.

“The players and staff of the club here have done everything to make me feel at home, and so too, my landlady, Mrs Wakeley.” Titus told Dennis Hart that one of his main problems was to get used to playing in boots.

He has never done this before. When he toured England in 1949, he did wear anklets, a crepe bandage covering his ankle and instep, but otherwise all his football had been played in bare feet.

There was no rule in British football which insist on players wearing boots. But after a few steps, Titus found the cold was too much.

To start with them, he will wear hockey boots which are rubber soled with light studs and when he gets used to these, will graduate to normal English boots.

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His grand daughter informed Sports Village Square that Titus Okere “retired from football not long after moving abroad sadly.

“After leaving football, Titus worked for Parcel Force on the railway until he retired around 1974/75.” Frances further remarked that her grand dad is keeping well and in good health.

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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RELATED STORY: https://www.sportsvillagesquare.com/2023/06/13/breaking-the-last-of-the-first-nigeria-oldest-international-footballer-titus-okere-dies/

RELATED STORY: https://www.sportsvillagesquare.com/2023/06/14/ekeji-pays-tributes-to-oldest-nigerias-ex-international-titus-okere/

 

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.

Nigerian Football

Relief for continental ticket-seeking Enyimba

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Enyimba FC who are desperately seeking a return to the continental fixtures next season have been relieved of a little financial burden by the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation.

 The initial N10 million fine imposed on the team has been reduced almost by half.

 In the ill-tempered match with Enugu Rangers three weeks ago, the Nigeria Premier League fine Enyimba N5 million as part of the disciplinary measures taken, claiming that Enyimba disrupted the live telecast of the match.

The NFF committee disagrees with the decision and therefore set aside the fine imposed.

Enyimba will this Sunday host Plateau United in a potentially volatile match as both teams have varying chances of picking continental ticket to feature in either the CAF Champions League or the Confederation Cup.

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Nigerian Football

All eyes on Aba, Ibadan and Ikenne as battle for continental tickets goes down to the wire!

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A stroll in the park to be followed by victory parade are the anticipated spectacles in Jos when Enugu Rangers face ‘home’ sides, Gombe United this Sunday.

But elsewhere, it could be ‘thunder and blood’ battle as four eligibles fight for two obtainable continental tickets in three venues of Ikenne, Ibadan and Aba.

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Coincidentally, Shooting Stars were expected to give the Lagos sides the succour last weekend when they faced Bayelsa United.

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 Had Shooting Stars won the match, Sporting Lagos which upstaged Enyimba 2-1, would have been in comfort zone, making Sunday’s duel at the Lekan Salami a ‘merry-making’ venture for both sides.

But a twist of fortunes which saw Bayelsa fighting back to a 2-1 win means Shooting Stars will have to spare no weapon on Sunday to beat Sporting Lagos.

The visitors on the other hand have a mountain to climb to avoid the looming drop.

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But the battle will be fiercer in Aba where both hosts, Enyimba and visiting Plateau United have arithmetical and conjectural chances of making the top three and obtaining a continental ticket.

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While the battle at the top of the log is for two teams to join Enugu Rangers in getting continental ticket, so also it is at the bottom as both Gombe United and Heartland await the two others that will escort them to the lower league.

 Battling to avoid the drop are Sporting Lagos, Doma United, Akwa United and Bayelsa.

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Nigerian Football

Coronation day for champion-elect, Enugu Rangers

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Enugu Rangers can afford to lose 56-0 this Sunday to Gombe United and erase the record negative goal difference of the already relegated side. Such a scoreline will not change the destiny of both sides as Rangers will merely enter the pitch to fulfill the fixtures for formality sake. They will be more interested in the post match event – their coronation as the new king of Nigerian league.

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The NFF chieftain headlines a choice list of eminent guests expected at the occasion, which will see the champions, who will be crowned for the eighth time since a national football league was introduced in 1972.

Their success this season was confirmed last weekend when they beat Bendel Insurance 2-0 at home while their three rivals – Remo Stars, Shooting Stars and Enyimba lost their respective away games with identical scorelines of 2-1.

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