A live interview and interaction with one of the Nigeria greats and an important personality when it comes to Nigeria football, he was Ex Rangers and Green Eagles player, also one who captained the Nigeria National team to Afcon glory in 1980 and was also former Super Eagles coach, Chairman Christian Chukwu.
Sports Central Nigeria paid him a visit at his residence in Enugu, where he narrated most of his past stories and current issues as regards his health status and the Nigeria football.
1. Sir the last time we heard about you, you were just coming back from treatment from London. How are you doing health wise? How did you escape your parents hammer and got into football?
" Well, for today I thank God that I'm still breathing and kicking since that time, so I bless God.
2. How best can government and individuals club help ex internationals.
"Well, like I said , I can assure you that the government is doing its best and I have the individuals especially a man I have much respect for, he's Otedola, he has been there and without him, things would have been different, he's the man that took me to London for treatment.... The government also contributed, all I can say is that these two people are good.
3. Do You have such programs in your 042 legends and ex Rangers players in USA?
"Yes we have something like ex Rangers, where we meet every last Tuesday of the month and it's just starting. They are doing their best so far, but it's really not easy.
4. What is wrong with Nigerian football now compared to your days as a vibrant player?
"There is a lot of difference, when we played we played what you call amateur football but now it's a professional football and I could remember during our days we played because we loved the game with passion. During our days also it's just the love and the way people care for us in their little way, they see us in the market and gifts us with goods but now the game is all about money.
5. Do you support bringing back the academicals tournament in Nigeria?
"Okay, I could remember we don't talk about football during our own days, but now you can see parents bringing their kids to the stadium by themselves to play.
Again, the organization if the game now is so coordinated and government owns some of the clubs now, but I will urge them to remove their hands from that and provide that facilities needed in those clubs.
6. How do you see playing or starting from the scratch in Football, do you support it starting from the academicals.
"Yes definitely football should start from school, from primary to secondary then to the academicals.... Then from there you go to club level... Like Rangers, IICC and the rest.... These clubs are supposed to have reserve teams and from there the teams are built up.
7. How good was East Central state academicals?
"Oh it was a fantastic team, when we came out from war, we were able to be drafted into a team of young minds to represent from this area...... Infact football also contributed in what made Igbo men to be bold..
8. In the Semi-final match against host Lagos State in 1971, immediately after the war, You won the game 4-0, it was described by Daily Times of Nigeria as the Magic at Onikan by Godwin Ogbueze..... Tell us more about it.
"Well as I told you, people did not expect us to he t to that level, Ogbueze mesmerize their team and we made them look little, but at the end we were able to beat them 4-0,...... We had a very strong team.
9. The same team also defeated the Original Rangers in Enugu
"When we won the academicals cup, we came and it happened that Rangers won the Amakiri cup..... So when we came back they asked that the two sides should play against each other to mark our reception, when we met ... It ended in a draw, then from there three of us were drafted into Rangers, while the rest went into the Vasco team..... So myself, Ogbueze and Dominic Ezeani went into Rangers team...... And what attracted us into Rangers was the kind of names we were hearing... The likes of Godwin Achebe, Okesieme, Ufere and so on.... These are all great players those days.
10. How did you get into Rangers and Eagles... How does it feel playing for them?
"Yeah, the feeling was nice... I felt fulfilled because immediately I got job with E-central club, then it took me two to three years to break into the senior team of Rangers.... It's not a place you'll come and own an automatic shirt... You must fight for it and earn it..... Just imagine greats like Godwin Achebe, Luke Okpara.... It wasn't that easy, so we kept playing and learning from them and we took over immediately they retired.
11. From Rangers you became a national team player, how did it happen?
"Yeah, from Rangers we were invited to the national team and those days it was mainly Rangers and IICC players that made up of the national team.... It was in 1974 that we were invited by late Dan coach Anyiam, by then all the Achebe's then have all retired .... Dominic Ezeani was the captain, we were called the Green Eagles and we won the All African games then.... We had a very strong team..... When Dominic Ezeani left for the United States, I was handed the captain band and held it till 1980, when we won the nations cup.... In 1974 we played the nations cup, also in 1976 we played and came back with the bronze medal, same in 1978, when Ghana hosted the tournament, we came back with bronze medal the second time..... But in 1980 we have already formed a formidable team, you could see how long it took us to get to that level and God being on our side we won the Nations Cup trophy on our soil for the first time.
12. As a Rangers and National team player and captain, Wich team can you say were tough to face?
"We have so many of them, you can't day IICC is not a good side, though during these days we stay in a place of location, like I was in Enugu while those in IICC stayed in Lagos.... And they were our fierce rivals then ... It was so tough that we had to meet in the Champions Cup in Kaduna and it ended in a draw and we later won in penalties.... That's to show the level of rivalry between us.
When you come to African, we have teams like Haifa of Guinea, Morudia Charri, we have other teams in Tunisia and Morocco, and they provided us with stuff competition when ever we meet.......... Then the national team, our games with Ghana is always difficult and tough, also with North African countries... No team was an easy one to beat.
13. Tell us about your overlapping goal against Egypt during the world qualifiers, is it the best goal you have scored?
"Well, I will say it was a very wonderful goal because when out attackers were held tight to operate by our opponents, then I came from behind unknowingly to them and overlapped, as I came nearer to the eighteen yard box, I took a very good shot because I aim alot with a good direction.... They never believed a central defender can overlap and score such a goal.... That's an advantage to my teams and also as a captain, it's a way of motivating my teammates.
14. What really happened at Mehalla, when Okala was substituted midway in the first half.
"Well, the Mehara game was a funny one, we went to Egypt, trained for the match, but was taken to a long journey and unfortunately Okala has problem with his sight, and when he complained, we objected for him to be in goal as one of the top talents on our side, and Mehara beat us 3-0 and couldn't happen had it been Okala never had such problem..... Then he was later changed and Who came in for him and fortunately we got a goal there...
With what they did to us Egypt, we had to retarliate and decided to play the match under a scotching sun not that it favoured us but because they will feel it more than us..... And with that before you could say jack, we have cancelled out the three goals..... That's is where the slogan came from 'Mehara saw Wahala'.
15. Is it true that NFA bungled the 1975 African Cup game against Hafia of Guinea by insisting it should be played in Lagos to get larger fees.... You were in Enugu until the last minute before traveling to Lagos.
"Yes, you know by then we were not the administrators, we came back from a game and was training in Enugu but then they decided we have to play in Lagos... The officials were surprised as to why the game should be shifted to Lagos, they said it because it's the capital..... And this was happening during the weekend and we the players had to struggle with passengers at the airport just to get to Lagos that faithful Saturday.... So it wasn't a pleasant move as we couldn't settle down well and with that we lost the match by 3-1..... It was so unfortunate, because we never believed the game location will be shifted from Enugu, whether it was political motivated we never knew.
16. In1977 challenge Cup, schedule miscue , you dropped out of the competition because NFA schedule clashed with your international competition.
"Yes, by then we were virtually living in Lagos because there were plenty competition to prepare for, we were playing to qualify for the Challenge Cup, National league and so on...... So at a stage we do play three matches in a week and it wasn't easy ... You know we were double Champions in 1974, 1975 and 1976, it wasn't an easy task back then..... Within those three years we played Champions League.......Then in 1976 we decided to leave IICC and chose the league, the Champions Cup was more mature than the Winners Cup competition.... So unfortunately for us, IICC won the Cup for the first time and we missed out, then in 1977, we became the Champions of the Challenge Cup and lost out in the league Cup..... We have to meet 3SC in that competition, so they were our main rivals because when they win, we also want to win..... When we had a match with Senegal, we played a draw here and everyone thought that we will lose out when we get to Senegal for the return leg... We went there and they tried all they could but with determination we saw them off..... Our people were afraid because of the rumour that they the Senegalese will try and cause fight during the night.... So the then head of state Olusegun Obasanjo had to send aircraft to come pick us to Nigeria, as we have qualified to meet IICC in the semi-final.
17. The 1977 semi-final African Cup match against IICC was recorded as the greatest derby in Nigeria football, please describe the feelings and atmosphere.
"That 1977 final, we played IICC first in their home in Lagos and it ended in a goalless draw, so now we were supposed to play the return leg in Enugu, they refused, maybe because of politics, they said Lagos was never their home that it was a neutral ground and that brought a lot of of controversies and problems, then the late Yaradua who was second in command then, moved the game to be played in Kaduna..... So we had to go to Kaduna.......... The late chairman of the IICC said that they will like to use us in the national team, we declined that we want to represent our clubs and that affected our qualification to the world Cup against Tunisia..... This made us lose to them and that would have been our first ever world Cup we would have gone to..... The crowed also revolted because the gate fees was increased and that also affected us generally.
18. Back to the national team now, you were the most valuable player in 1980, so how did you feel about that honour?
"Well, it was great and I never expected it because all our aim was to win the Nations Cup, it never came to our minds on who will be the most valuable player..... And when we won it, all this other trophies started coming in.... And in the same 1980, Shehu Shagari showered us with a lot of gifts...... National honour for the first time, I rode a horse in Lagos as the captain.... They gave my colleagues MON and I received MFR and other companies showered us with houses in Festac and other big cities....... I think that also changed the face of Nigeria football.
19. Some soccer pundits have been arguing between 1977 Eagles of Thompson Usiyen and 1994 ones, which team is the best.
"Well, I can say it's difficult to predict which is the best, all of them are very good and solid, but the 1977 Eagles were amateur, while the 1994 ones were professionals.... Both teams were all good.. the 1994 Eagles had edge because they qualified for the World Cup for the first time, while we could not in 1977... I was a coach with Westerhof during the 1994 and also the captain in 1977.
20. An accident happened at the 1980 Nations Cup against Algeria, Eagles were leading 3-0 with less than two minutes to go and Otto Gloria asked Okala to warm in appreciation for the years of service but was waved off by NFA officials, what happened?
"Well, like I told you earlier, we were players and we're on the pitch, so we don't know the politics behind that decision...... But we learnt after that game that certain people were against the decision by the coach.... There was no time the Algerian team could have equalized the game owing to the fact that we had just few minutes and were leading by 3 goals to nil.... Otto Gloria did all he could to accommodate all the players then to make us all happy, but that incident didn't affect Okala or the players as we know Okala had edge more than a the goalkeepers with us.
21. We congratulate you for being part of the team that won the Nations Cup for the first time... We want to know about the Museum at your hometown at Obe Nkanu West, how is it?
"I think I don't have a museum but I know that when the former governor came to a field in Obe and named it after me, maybe that's what they meant by museum, but unfortunately that field have not been developed till date, it was Omeruo that named the pitch after me, but I hope that soonest a governor will come and develop that field as an honour and respect.
Let's put you on the spot, you played with Rangers, can you tell us your all time first eleven both for Rangers and the National team.
"It's quite difficult because in Rangers in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1978, had great players, and as at then you can never say this is the best team because in 1974, when I came into the National team as captain, we were a team to beat, so many players were all around then.
But will have to pick some of them I feel were outstanding...... Like in Rangers... In goal- We have Okala, Right full-back- Ernest Ufere, Left full-back- John Iweala Nwosu, then the right half-back - Nwabueze Nwankwo, then myself in the Central defense, Dominic Ezeani, Luke Okpala-, Achebe had retired.... Outside right - Adimchukwu / Nwachukwu Onyeibe, Inside right - Kenneth Abanah/ Dominic Nwobodo, Mathias Obianika, Kenneth Iloh and Ogidi Ibeabuchi all in the front there...
Then the National team, I will chose the team that won the Nations Cup.... Okala with Best Odimgbe, Right full-back- David Adiele, left full-back- Okey Osinmah, Mudal Lawal, then myself as Godswin Odiye, Segun Odegbami, Alloysius Atuegbu, Ifeanyi Onyedikachi, Igwelumo, Adosi... These are great players because those days you can never know who to start.
Thanks for granting us this rare opportunity...... We're grateful Sir.