It’s believed that traditions are the guide posts driven deep in our subconscious minds. However, the most powerful ones are those we can't even describe, and don’t have idea of.
Traditions are not always based on fact. Sometimes it's based on history, on habits that come out of a time when kitchens were fuelled by charcoal.
The Nigerian academicals was an exclusive culture and tradition that slowly reduced. A particular generation of footballers passed through this tradition. This tradition was instrumental in the coming of age of many a young footballer in an earlier, and in some respects, a more innocent time; a time when it was more of fun than anything else to belong to a select group. How times have changed.
For you to really feel proud and initiated, you must first of all pass through the old Anambra state academicals. And most did. It was the creme de la creme of young boys that held the promise of a greater tomorrow. They came from all backgrounds, but mostly from working class and middle class families. None incidentally came from very rich backgrounds. The reason was obvious; it was considered to be a profession of school dropouts at the time; most parents didn't think that their kids could make a decent living out of sports, especially football.
Donald Amechi Igwebuike was among a select few who went through the academicals of his generation. He is a Nigerian-born former American football kicker who played professionally for the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1985 to 1989. He is the fourth place all-time scorer for the Buccaneers with 416 overall points. Not much is known among some Nigerians, save for Igbos, and the true Rangers International football club Enugu fans. He was among the most promising set of young footballers who played for Rangers for a couple of years and left for the USA for further studies and became hugely successful in American football.
I believe that the training he had both as the captain of the Anambra state Academicals, and his two year stint in Rangers propelled him to become a huge star in the American football league.
Looking at what he has gone on to achieve in one of the most competitive sport, it is easy to project what he could have achieved in Nigerian football if he had not gone away for further studies abroad. If you made it big in American football, or British Rugby union, it tells you a lot about the character of a man. For some sports are not for Lily livered men.
He was co-captain of the 1973 East Central State Greater tomorrow team, that won silver medal in the first Nigeria National Sports Festival in Lagos. In 1976 he was among the Anambra State academicals that won Gold during the National School sports festival in Enugu. And in 1977 repeated the same feat, this time in Kaduna.
In 1977 he joined Enugu Rangers International, and was subsequently invited to Green Eagles same year by Father Tiko.
Hear him; "playing for Rangers was a great honor for me. I was blessed and had the opportunity to play alongside my Mentor, Christian Madu (RIP)
I left for Clemson University in 1980 after turning down opportunities in 1978 and 1979.
At Clemson, I played both soccer and American football at the same time. I was instrumental in winning the first ever National football title for Clemson University in 1981; scoring 15 out of 22 points, against Nebraska University in Orange Bowl in 1981.
In 1985 I started playing professionally in the NFL (American Football) Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings for a total of 6 years.
I was the first vested Nigerian to play in the NFL history. First VESTED BLACK African to play in NFL history. First VESTED BLACK to play my position in NFL history.
It is important to note that one must play a minimum of 4 years to be VESTED in NFL."
Talking from my own personal experience, the journey would have been extremely hard for someone like him to have gone through the rigours of the academicals as a boy, to his eventuall achievement of playing both as a professional footballer and an NFL professional. In the academicals back in those days, there were usually up to thirty boys picked from different schools in the state. Made to camp in a chosen school dormitory for weeks on end, training vigorously for a particular inter-state competition. We already knew a handful who were sure to some extent to make the final team. The rest battled it out for the few remaining spots, or atleast, to make it as one of the reserve players. From a very early age, between the ages of 15 and 18, the pressure was on. This pressure toughens one up, and prepares one for different challenges ahead. Those who couldn't handle it, or were not good enough, fell off the wagon.
If you naturally made it to the very first eleven, then you are a sure banker to atleast get into the two best teams in the state at the time because you were among the very best among the school boy players in the state. It was like an exclusive club. I can't recall any player who made the first eleven and didn't go on to play for a top team. Majority also made it to the national team eventually. The very best went straight into Rangers, or transited from Vasco Dagama and eventually into Rangers.
During camping periods, it was like young soldiers undergoing military training. There were no luxuries. Players slept in double bunk beds. In the mornings after vigorous exercise and training, we had just tea and bread for breakfast. In the afternoon we had beans and yam, or rice with tasteless stew for lunch, before training in the the evening. But we did not complain. We were just happy to be there. To be counted. We were proud. We knew we were among the very best in the state. The only thing on the minds of everyone was to make it into the final list. Donald Igwebuike must have experienced exactly the same set up, no doubt. He and his group were just a couple of years ahead of my generation.
Donald was among the second generation of Rangers players who paved the way for others to follow. In my opinion, had he not left that early to further his education in the USA, like many others before him during that period, he would have been in the Eagles team that won the African cup of nations for the first time in 1980 for Nigeria.
When people talk about the history and achievements of Rangers, it is important to remember that so many individuals, from the very inception of that great team, and to this day, contributed to the success of the club. Some of these individuals are no more with us. Some of us that are still around have a duty to keep flying the flag, or keep the candle burning in order to hand it over to the next generation.
Donald was a true Ranger, and currently the chairman of the ex Rangers players association in the United States of America.
As usual, just my opinion and some hard facts.