Cyril C. NwokejiThursday, May 1, 2014




learnt with sorrow, news of the death of Albert Onyeawuna; a Nigerian soccer legend. Yours sincerely, was not yet on this planet, when the legendary Albert Onyeawuna, played for the "Red Devils," the precursor of the present day "Super Eagles." He played for the "Red Devils," between 1958 and 1963; at that time, yours sincerely, was in the stars between my father and mother; but nevertheless one read a lot of information about him, as soon as one became sensible enough to read and write. He was in modern day soccer parlance, the equivalent of the offensive mid-fielder, who impressed all and sundry with his enormous dribbling skills and more especially, had a knack for scoring goals. He was reported to have scored so many goals, during his career, that one sometimes wonderd if was a striker or mid-fielder. He rose to become captain of the " Red Devils."

He belonged to a generation of footballers that played virtually for nothing! They played for the love they had for the round leather and for their country; and not for material considerations! They gave their hearts and souls to the game of soccer; and won considerable honours for Nigeria. But helaas ,when their playing days were over, they were virtually ignored, by the country, they fought so had for, during their active playing days, and virtually cast into the dust bins of history! What a shame! The late Albert Onyeawuna, was reported to have spent his life's savings on his protracted ailment. He didn't make a fortune, in soccer, so it must have been very difficult for him and his family; but like the trojan, he was, he fought on with his resources and even refused the setting -up of an "appeal funds " on his behalf !

The fact that we don't take care of our past heroes, is the reason, the next generation of soccer players, in Nigeria, were' forbidden' from playing soccer, by their families. The families, preferred they went to school, which guaranteed better future. As a consequence, most highly talented ,young Nigerian soccer players, in the seventies and eighties, took advantage of the United States University scholarship programme, which enabled them to combine studies, with playing soccer, to pursue the proverbial greener pasture overseas. As a consequence, our country, lost the services of thousands of soccer players ,some of them potential world beaters, to the more secure future that the United States offered them. Nigeria, thus lost the opportunity of winning lots more honours in soccer. The fact that 'smaller' countries, like Egypt and Cameroun, with relatively lesser talent, have won the African Nations cup tournament, more times than Nigeria, is a clear testimony to this fact.

What can the Nigerian Football Federation and the Government of Nigeria do, to not only honour our heroes, but also to protect them, in their vulnerable old age? A lot can be done; it doesn't suffice to sing their praises only when they are doing well for the country. The system, must do more for them: important streets and monuments can be named after them; in the present case, this can still be done for the late Albert Onyeawuna. The system can set up special insurance schemes, to take care of these heroes of yore, in their non- active playing days. That way they will not feel abandoned and cast -off, when they are no more playing for Nigeria. This will further encourage the presently active soccer players and other sports men, representing Nigeria, to continue to do even better for Nigeria.

Failure on the part of the government, to encourage our sports men and women, in their active and non-active playing days, would result in reduced enthusiasm to represent Nigeria; this could manifest itself, by sports men and women, not wanting to answer national call-ups; and even when they do, not putting in their very best for Nigeria; and also making unreasonable material demands ,when they represent Nigeria. Signing a so called " code of conduct," to put them in line, wouldn't yield the needed results. Sports men and women must be patriotic and motivated enough, to do well for Nigeria; the use of' coersive,' means to motivate them, can't and can never be successfull !

We should learn to honour and protect our heroes past and present always!

Here is wishing the family of Albert Onyeawuna, all the strenghth and courage, needed to tide over the difficult time, occassioned by the death of Albert Onyeawuna.

Albert Onyeawuna, a true Nigerian soccer legend, Adieu! Nigeria ,will never forget you! Ka Omesia, Ije Oma !