My First Nations Cup
Posted: Jan 10, 2013
I HAVE VERY FOND MEMORIES of my first Africa Cup of Nations, the one hosted and won by Nigeria in 1980.
I call it my ‘first’ Cup of Nations because it was the first time I would follow the proceedings of the competition from start to finish and, even as I write this, I can recollect several episodes quite vividly.
I was a final year student at Iganmode Grammar School, Ota, Ogun State. It was March, 1980, just about three months to my West African School Certificate (WASC) exams.
Iganmode Grammar School is actually a walking distance from the present day Obasanjo Farms in Ota where the Super Eagles have used as training camp in recent years. When I was in school, though, Obasanjo Farms had not been established there, so I didn’t have the privilege of sneaking out to watch the national team train as I imagine the present boys in the school would have been doing.
I was in the boarding house, so I didn’t have the chance of watching any of the games live at either of the two centres in Lagos and Ibadan. Of course, some of my bolder and bigger classmates sneaked out to watch the Eagles play in Lagos, but I was always an obedient, law-abiding school boy!
Unfortunately, the boarding house television set had broken down, or so we were told because I had never set my eyes on it anyway, since I was admitted into “IGS” in 1975. We just learnt that the school had one big TV set which was bad and had been locked up in the school store adjacent to the Library in the “Senior Block” accommodating classes four and five. So, it was the housemaster Mr. John Amoah’s 14inch black and white television set that came to the rescue of about 200 soccer-crazy boarding school boys at Iganmode Grammar School in 1980.
Mr. Amoah was actually my favourite teacher. He taught my class in my best two subjects, English Language and English Literature. In fact, Mr. Amoah was instrumental in my becoming a journalist, as he told me back then that I had a talent for writing and encouraged me in a lot of ways. See why I said I have a load of sweet, everlasting memories about the 1980 Nations Cup?
Now, Mr. Amoah was a Ghanaian and, in football terms, that meant a lot to the Nigerian soccer fan, even back then. Ghana had won the previous Nations Cup at home in 1978 and had come to Nigeria as defending champions. They were grouped with Morocco, Guinea and Algeria in what was considered the zone of death in Ibadan. And I remember as if it was yesterday that the wish of every boy in Iganmode was that Ghana should “die” in the zone by failing to qualify.
We regarded Ghana as the biggest stumbling block to an expected Eagles victory and didn’t want to see their faces in Lagos at all. And so it turned out as Morocco and Algeria shut out the Black Stars in Ibadan. But I shall come to that later.
Back in Lagos and the opening day of the 12th Africa Cup of Nations on March 3, 1980. The Eagles were up against the Taifa Stars of Tazania and Mr. Amoah had to bring out his small TV set on the hostel assembly ground. Two hundred of us crowded around the tiny box. And, for every goal the Eagles scored, we would yell and scatter in different directions to celebrate, then converge back on the tiny box to watch and gesticulate at every movement as the game continued.
The Eagles won that opening match 3-1, struggled to a goalless draw with a stubborn Ivorien side in their second game, then beat Egypt with an Okey Isima goal in their last group match. Nigeria qualified for the semi-final as group leaders and beat Morocco 1-0 in clearly their toughest match of the tournament.
Morocco, meanwhile, had done our wish by eliminating Ghana. In their group’s opening game played under floodlights in Ibadan, the Moroccans defeated Ghana 1-0 in a high-tempo match and the Ghanaians never recovered from that setback.
I remember the match quite well because, on this occasion, Mr. Amoah had not brought out his TV as it was dark and all students ought to be in bed. But fanatics like me couldn’t sleep and we sneaked to Mr. Amoah’s window to peep in at the match. The player I remember most on the Ghana side was the cap-wearing goalkeeper Joseph Carr.
The housemaster was angry that Ibadan fans were cheering Morocco and booing Ghana. “Why, why why are they supporting the North Africans,” Mr. Amoah was moaning to no one in particular. “Nigerians should be supporting us as their black West African brothers,” he complained and I still remember how he pronounced the word “brothers” in that peculiar Ghanaian way: “Brathers!” But for us young, mischievous fanatics at the window, Mr. Amoah’s moans were sweet music to our ears. Ghana’s pain was our joy.
Indeed, the Nigeria-Ghana rivalry runs long and deep as I recollect that my Dad once told me that the Ghanaians were so good in the 1960s that they used to beat Nigeria by comprehensive scorelines like 5-0 in Accra and 7-0 in Lagos! Maybe the scores were exaggerated, but it was like Ghana had been our nemesis for long and they were to be hated with a passion!
Back to 1980, March 22 to be precise, Nigeria played Algeria in the final of the 12th Africa Cup of Nations and Mr. Amoah, having recovered from Ghana’s exit, brought out his 14inch TV set again. It was probably the Eagles’ easiest game as they completely overwhelmed the Algerians. Three times Nigeria scored, and three times 200 of us Iganmode spectators scattered in different directions to celebrate.
The heroes of Nigeria’s triumph, of course, were “Mathematical” Segun Odegbami whose footworks brought applause from us each time he “shuffled those long legs to confuse his opponents; “Chief Justice” Adokiye Amiesimaka who would never tuck in his jersey into his shorts and Felix Owolabi who drew a spontaneous “Owoblow” from the crowd each time he touched the ball.
It’s 25 years now that all these happened but I can still remember everything as if it was yesterday.
I have been lucky. In those 25 years, I have gone on to fulfil Mr. Amoah’s prediction and become a journalist; I have come into personal contact with nearly all of those heroes of 1980, interviewing them, writing about them and even working with them.
The great Segun Odegbami is my director at Complete Sports and we sit at the same table, can you imagine? I have had breakfast with “Owoblow” in his house in Ibadan, and I have been guest of Adokiye Amiesimaka in Port Harcourt. In fact, I went on the Port Harcourt trip with Segun Odegbami and as I sat there, the two great wing wizards, Segun on the right and Adokiye on the left, recalled some of their great moments together.
I looked at myself, sitting between two great players, two African champions who terrorised defences across the continent, two superstars who orchestrated the first remarkable moments in Nigerian football history.
It’s not everybody who gets to meet their boyhood heroes face-to-face, much less relate with them so closely. These are things money cannot buy. Surely, I’ve been lucky and I know it. Thank God.
Addendum: My first Nations Cup coverage as a journalist was at Senegal ‘92 and Ghanaians, again, played a prominent part in my recollections. As we rode on the media bus from the hotel to the semi-final match between Nigeria and Ghana at the Stade L’ Amitie in Dakar, a loudmouth Ghanaian colleague (I can’t recall his name now, so I’ll call him “Kofi”) started running an imaginary commentary on the match yet to be played and concluded as we arrived in the stadium by saying: “Final score: Nigeria 1, Ghana 2.”
The Nigerian press corps simply ignored him, determined to let our Eagles do the talking for us by winning on the field of play. Unfortunately for us, Ghana won the match 2-1 as “Kofi” had predicted and you need to hear his boasts on the bus ride back to the hotel. The eyes of the Nigerian guys, including yours truly, were red. But we still had the last laugh because, whereas Nigeria defeated another arch rival Cameroun in the third place match to grab the bronze medal, “Kofi” and Ghana surprisingly crashed to Cote d’ Ivoire in a marathon penalty shoot-out in the final.
*This article was first published in March 2005. It has now become a ritual for me to re-run it in Soccertalk before every Nations Cup finals.
Do you have any fond memories of your own “First Nations Cup?” Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or text a summarized version of your story to 08179545076. The best articles will be published next week, insha Allah.
MESSI: THE LION KING
MY ADMIRATION for Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team’s brand of football is well documented by my several accolades repeatedly showered on them in this column. Now, I have completely run out of words to describe the little Argentine magician.
When Messi was named yet again as the best player in the world and winner of the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’ Or (Golden Ball) for a record FOURTH straight year on Monday night at a colourful ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland, I just sat in front of the television set with my wife and watched speechless. What else is there to say that has not been said about probably the greatest footballer that ever lived.
I only felt sorry for Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi’s Barca teammate Andres Iniesta both of whom would have fully deserved the title, too. Ronaldo’s goals stand him out, while Iniesta’s skills on the ball make my heart palpitate. But Messi remains the greatest because he is Ronaldo and Iniesta combined, plus much more!
The only thing left to complete Messi’s legacy is for him to lead Argentina to win the World Cup and be called a world champion like Usain Bolt. At the rate that Messi is going, it’s definitely not beyond him to do so at Brazil 2014 just like Diego Maradona did at Mexico 1996 to cement his own legacy.
Watch out for more from Lionel Messi, the Lion King!
Mr. Mumini. I have followed your column for many years and often agree with your views. But I seriously disagree with your suggestion to abridge our 2012/2013 League season so it could end in May/June. Our CAF club competitions run from January to December. Ending our season in June will distrupt the participation of our representatives in those competitions because their players may go on transfers. We shouldn’t foolishly ape the European season.
At any rate, it is quite annoying that our football season is yet to start even now. Enough of this confusion! Happy new year. – Barr. Ifeanyi Nrialike, Abuja.
lFORMER NPL boss Victor Rumson-Baribote deserved what he got. We haven’t forgotten his controversial displacement of Davidson Owumi. The cane that was used to beat the first wife has now been used on the second wife. Serves him right.
Meanwhile, I support the idea of an abridged league so we could end the season on schedule. – Otunba Olayinka Olabisi Onesile, NYCN, Lagos State Chapter.
lI SUPPORT an abridged league season. But the format should be 10 teams each playing in two groups and the two group winners playing off for the title. The Federation Cup should also be played on a straight knock-out from start to finish to save time. Both competitions should end in June. – Coach Ibrahim Musa, Ibadan.
A LOT has changed in the Super Eagles since Stephen Keshi took over and holding Catalonia to a 1-1 draw in a friendly match is evidence that they will do well in South Africa. With absolute focus and concentration, I’m confident we can overcome Cote d’ Ivorie, Ghana and Zambia. – Pastor Eyebiokun.
THE Eagles played a good match against Catalonia and I salute them. But Keshi should work on the left side of his defence. It’s a weak link in the team. – From Igho, Sapele, Delta State.
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