BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
“The labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain” is a line in the Nigerian national anthem. However, the seven living members and dependants of the other 13 footballers of the 20-man Green Eagles that won the gold medal of the 2nd All Africa Games in 1973 may not agree.
Fifty years down the line, they were never recognised since their historic feat. The gold medal of the 1973 All Africa Games was the first continental honours that Nigeria got in football.
What the players got was just a photo-shoot opportunity and breakfast with the Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. Sadly, since their feat 50 years ago, no Nigerian team has been able to win the All Africa Games gold medal.
After 50 years, Stationery Stores FC that had three players in the squad decided to honour their trio of Haruna Ilerika, Yakubu Mambo and Sanni Mohammed – Stationery Stores’ players at the time – along with the rest of the team.
Sadly among the trio, only Sanni Mohammed, now domiciled in Ghana, is alive and was in attendance at the modest recognition that the Super Stores Supporters Trust organised on Nigeria’s in Independence Day at Freedom Park in Lagos.
Sanni Mohammed, the midfielder in the 1973 squad burst into tears as he was called upon to receive a certificate of honour and a plaque.
He was overwhelmed with emotion as he battled to hold back tears. He explained to Sports Village Square that he remembered all his colleagues at the time and the bond that held them.
He counted himself luck to be among the seven that are alive and wondered how the environment would had been, if all of them were to have assembled.
His award was presented to him by Head of Service, Lagos State Secretariat, Bode Agoro, who incidentally was also a former Stationery Stores player, but of a different generation.
Bode Agoro, Lagos State Head of Service, also a former Stores’ player presents plaque to Sanni Mohammed
There have been no governmental recognition for the pioneers, although subsequent generations of national team players have been rewarded.
Sanni Mohammed travelled by road from Accra purposely to attend the event. Born of a Ghanaian mother and Nigerian father, he said he opted to play for Nigeria and Ghanaians were surprised about how he firmly held the midfield in the opening match of the All Africa Games on 8 January 1973.
He said he was and still committed to Nigeria and Stationery Stores, hoping to see the club regain its esteem. He told the audience that he had set up a Stores supporters club in Ghana and hoped that similar wings should emerge from Nigerian cities as it was in the 1970s and 1980s.
The late Nigerian midfield maestro, Haruna Ilerika was represented by two of his daughters, Sheri and Zeinab Ilerika.
President of the Stationery Stores Supporters Trust, Adebayo Olowo-Ake said that the Independent Day event was the fourth that his outfit had organised since setting up the trust in 2015. He promised that more recognitions will be organised in due course.