A season of death | The Guardian Nigeria News


Segun Odegbami

Previously one month, 4 former worldwide soccer gamers, a former Chairman of the Nigeria Soccer Affiliation and a superb sports activities journalist have all handed on.

It has been a really painful interval for these of us within the soccer fraternity, a reminder of the fragility of life and of our mortality.

When quite a few journalists referred to as me a number of days in the past to pay tribute to Yisa Sofoluwe, I turned it down just because it felt like I used to be nearly sounding like a damaged document. By no means has there been a interval corresponding to this – 4 colleagues in a month? Might the Creator of the Universe, who sees and is aware of all, who is aware of the why and the how, intervene within the uncertainties of our current occasions.

After I take a look at what essentially the most superior international locations are doing to cease the rampage of the Coronavirus and the gradual successes being recorded, and evaluate these with the non-challence and unseriousness of our fast surroundings the place individuals are happening with life as if we belong to a different planet, I realise that we’re all sitting geese.

In 2021, I’ve misplaced 4 cousins, and three shut pals to the Coronavirus. With the variety of individuals privately admitting to having survived it, a really scary image of the state of affairs in being painted.

In the meantime, I need to pay my tributes to our soccer heroes, whose deaths might not have being from Coronavirus, however are undoubtedly collateral throughout this season of loss of life.

Protection minister – Yisa Sofoluwe
A couple of days in the past, Yisa Sofoluwe died in a hospital in Lagos. At 53, his loss of life is extraordinarily painful. Yisa was a fantastic soccer artist, one of the vital elegant defenders to look at on the soccer subject. He was all the time cool, calm, and calculative. He by no means did the pointless factor, like dive into harmful tackles, or kick an opponent. He all the time saved his deal with for when it mattered essentially the most.

Smallish in stature, fragile wanting, this right-footed participant might play on each defensive flanks. I all the time noticed him as a participant that was born to play in protection, but he had the flexibility to glide down the flanks and be a part of assaults with beautiful passes and crosses that have been delivered with some delicacy and precision. Yisa was a magnificence to look at throughout matches.

He was given the nickname ‘Protection Minister’ by late Ernest Okonkwo, the long-lasting sports activities radio commentator, due to his mastery of the artwork of defending. Yisa made it look straightforward, easy and delightful. Not for him the crunchy, bone- breaking tackles that the majority establish with defenders. But, beneath his easy fashion lies a steeliness, a ‘poison’ that solely those that ever performed in opposition to him can confess to. He was a tough participant to play in opposition to, a nuisance to opposing wingers, and arduous to beat with a dribble or velocity, due to the extent of his clever play.

Exterior of his soccer profession, like the remainder of us, he was a struggler, on the transfer on a regular basis to discover a solution to survive and stay effectively. He was a nomadic coach, going from one small membership, or academy, to a different in my studying of him each time we met.

Soccer in Nigeria was by no means constructed on a strong basis, or on fertile floor to cater for its exponents when their enjoying careers are over. I’m now sounding like a the chorus of a tune.

So, I bumped into Yisa occasionally on the struggling circuit, and I used to be by no means happy along with his fragile appears to be like regardless that he all the time assured me he was doing superb. He was a humble pilgrim, sort and mild, a relentless smile on his face, unassuming along with his innocent, ageless and fragile body. Whenever you met him, you needed to hug him.

At 53 or 54 years of age, he died too younger.
His place within the unofficial (as a result of there’s none formally until now) Corridor of Fame of Nigerian soccer is safe. In a current unofficial polling recreation that I created on social media, he was listed amongst the best full backs in Nigeria’s historical past. That, absolutely, speaks volumes.
Relaxation in excellent peace, Yisa.

Sam Ikedi
I knew Sam, however not sufficient to do justice to his place within the annals of Nigerian soccer. He was too removed from the circuit after his profession in soccer. Amongst different issues, he was a former Bendel Insurance coverage FC participant who additionally performed briefly for the nationwide group.

Besides one was round within the early 1970s, one is unlikely to know much more about him.

He performed briefly however very effectively. His very mild pores and skin stood him out and shone brilliantly wherever he performed in these days.

Sam was barely forward of me within the technology of Nigerian footballers, however we performed in opposition to one another a number of occasions. I don’t recall a lot about his soccer, however we turned pals outdoors the sport.

I didn’t observe his profession after he retired, however from what I now have gathered from the tributes by those who knew him higher, he was additionally a struggler like the remainder of us.
Might he relaxation peacefully additionally with our Lord.
Joseph Erico – NEPA One
Joe Erico was my buddy.

I met him within the nationwide group. He was one of many causes I used to be invited to the nationwide group. I scored a fantastic objective in opposition to him with him in objective within the opening match of the 1973 Nationwide Sports activities Pageant when he saved for Lagos State and I used to be a striker for Western State. I used to be instantly, thereafter, invited to the Inexperienced Eagles in December of 1974.

He was the goalkeeper for NEPA FC, and that’s why I personally nicknamed him ‘NEPA One’ once we met once more within the nationwide group in 1976 and have become pals.

Everybody else referred to as him ‘Jogo Bonito’, which in Portuguese language interprets to ‘lovely play’, an apt description of the type of soccer Joe Erico taught all of the groups he coached when he transformed from participant to teach. His groups performed like Brazilians, a soccer philosophy he adopted once we returned from our Brazilian journey in 1979 preparatory to the 1980 African Cup of Nations.

Joe Erico occupies a really particular place in Nigerian sports activities. He was an athlete and an on-field soccer striker. He excelled in each. Till his harm on the soccer subject that gave him a knocked-knee and a limp, he was adequate for each the nationwide athletics and soccer groups. Then the accident.

He gave up high-jumping, transformed to goalkeeping and have become certainly one of Nigeria’s first selection nationwide goalkeepers, sharing the limelight with Emmanuel Okala. He saved objective for a lot of the 1976 AFCON in Dire Daybreak, Ethiopia, the place Nigeria gained her first Bronze place.

When he couldn’t make the 1980 squad, he turned a coach, went to Brazil together with Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, Jossy Lad, Amodu Shaibu, John Zendai, and some others to be skilled within the Brazilian philosophy of soccer. He got here again and have become the best trainer of ‘Jogo Bonito’.

Joe and I labored in my sports activities academy for MTN for a number of years through the interval of the MTN Scholar/Athlete Soccer program. Below him, many younger footballers ended up in American schools.

He did very effectively as a businessman, coach, and father of very gifted kids who’re all US-based, enjoying skilled sport and doing extraordinarily effectively.

When it comes to life after our soccer careers, Joe Erico made a fantastic success of his. He is likely one of the few very profitable ones. He travelled extensively with the help of his spouse who labored then with Nigeria Airways, and was a powerful pillar. He labored all around the United States throughout a number of summers, teaching children in clinics organised by Sam Okpodu, for a number of years.

He was a keep-fit fanatic, a every day face within the gymnasium of the Nationwide Institute of Sports activities, NIS, contained in the Nationwide Stadium, Lagos, for his exercises.

As he returns dwelling to our Father in heaven, I want him a peaceable journey.
Goodnight, NEPA One
Nwabueze Nwankwo – Dan Vadis
I had not absolutely absorbed the shock of Joe’s loss of life when the ‘messenger’ got here calling once more to tick off yet one more Nigerian soccer hero.

This time it went Eastwards to Abakaliki, the place my buddy, the one I referred to as Dan Vadis, after the favored American war-film actor, had settled to battle for his personal survival within the night of his life.

Nwabueze was the final word ‘warrior’ within the Rangers Worldwide FC of Enugu when the group emerged from the Civil Conflict in 1970 and began to play like wounded troopers.

The primary ‘destroyer’ of groups and a terror to opposing gamers stood within the coronary heart of the Rangers FC Midfield like a Trojan, reminding all that to enter the Rangers protection, opposing gamers wanted steel-plated armour. Nwabueze was ‘depraved’ on the sector and a terror to a number of groups. He regarded, walked and performed menacingly, encapsulating in his play on the sector, the preventing, die-hard spirit and fame of the Biafran Soldier, which he was through the Civil Conflict and bought a fearsome fame.

On the peak of the period of the good Rangers Worldwide of Enugu in Nigerian soccer, he was certainly one of 10 Rangers gamers that finally wore the nationwide Inexperienced and White Jersey of Nigeria’s Inexperienced Eagles.

Nwabueze turned my buddy a few years later, and collectively we championed the reason for the welfare of retired Nigerian gamers. He moved to Lagos for this trigger and have become a really shut disciple of Prophet TB Joshua.

He went again to the East about 15 years or so in the past, to be part of creating grassroots soccer in Ebonyi State. For a few years we nonetheless labored collectively on the Shell Cup programme for secondary faculties in Nigeria, with him as my ‘eye’ within the East of Nigeria.

We misplaced contact a number of years in the past. Lately, I used to be harassing Okala to get me his quantity so I might reconnect with him, when the about two weeks later, the identical Okala referred to as me after Erico’s loss of life to announce Nwabueze’s personal passage, and apologise that he saved forgeting to ship me his quantity till the person died.

Dan Vadis might have been a terror on the soccer subject however he was a very innocent gentleman outdoors it. He beloved soccer with a ardour and took the welfare of retired Nigerian footballers as his calling on earth.
Journey effectively, my buddy, and relaxation in excellent peace with our Father in Heaven.

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