FEATURE ARTICLE

Cyril C. NwokejiTuesday, September 16, 2014
cyril.nwokeji@wol.be
Belgium

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ERNEST UFELE: A NIGERIAN SOCCER LEGEND; ADIEU!

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recently learnt of the demise of Ernest Ufele; the erstwhile, rugged "Rangers International," defender of yore. Yours sincerely, was a young man when Ernest Ufele, was at the peak of his career, at "Rangers International," football club of Enugu; but over the years, one gathered enough information about him to be able to write this tribute.

He was a founding member of the famed "Rangers International" Football club of Enugu; that set the Nigerian soccer scene on fire, in the seventies. He was in the Rangers along with players like: Cyril Okosieme; Emmanuel Okala; Foster Ikeagu; Nnamdi Anyanfo, alias "the Police man," or "Waskie; "Charles Adimora; Nwabueze Nwankwo, alias "Mr. Long throw;" Skipper Dominic Ezeani; Christian Chukwu; Ignatius Ilechukwu; Emeka Onyedika, alias "404; "Mathias Obianika; Samuel Oyeaka; Kenneth Ilodigwe; Ogidi Ibeabuchi, alias "Ogidi Nma ;" the opportunistic centre-forward: Chimezie Ngadi and the fair -skinned, slow-playing and highly stylish Stanley Okoronkwo, to mention but a few.

The "Rangers International "football of Enugu, was not just a football team, it represented the peoples' movement; specifically the Igbo peoples' movement. Through the team's numerous successes, in the aftermath of the civil war, the Igbos regained the confidence needed to reintegrate themselves to main stream Nigeria, after the devastating effects of the lost civil war.

" Rangers International," football club of Enugu, won among other successes: three "challenge cup,"competitions, in a row: in 1974, 1975and 1976. They also won the "national league"title, a number of times. Played the finals of the 1975 "African champions' league, losing narrowly, to the famed "Hafia "football club of Guinea. "Rangers "of Enugu, became the second Nigerian team, to win the "African cup winners "cup competition, in 1977.

Ernest Ufele, played a key role in these huge successes of "Rangers." He was a very prominent member of the famed "Rangers," defence line; the famed back four, that gave little or no spaces away to oppossing attackers. A defence line that kept the nul, in many a match, even right in the opponent's backyard ! A defence line that rendered many a brilliant and dangerous attacker ineffective. Segun "Mathematical" Odegbami, in his hey days, was renderd ineffective by the "Rangers "defence line during the "African cup winners," cup semi-final clash between "Rangers "and the "IICC shooting stars "of Ibadan. In that match, Nnamdi Anyanfo, was detailed to mark- out Segun Odegbami; and he did the job excellently, and subsequently got the nick name: "the police man ;" and a subsequent call-up to the Super Eagles. "Rangers "in their hey days, were neither blessed with highly creative mid-fielders, nor top attackers, but had a rugged defensive organisation, that formed the basis of the team's success.

Ernest Ufele helped popularise the use of wrist bands by soccer players, as he constantly wore two wrist bands in his arms, during soccer matches.

Ernest Ufele, belonged to a generation of soccer players that played merely for the love of the game; with very little material rewards as a consequence. They gave their all to the game they loved and virtually for nothing; and by so doing brought joy to millions of their country men and women. Unfortunately, these highly patriotic soccer players, were generally left unutilised in further soccer development, in Nigeria. It must however be pointed out that former Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra state, appointed Ernest Ufele, an adviser on sports, to the Anambra state government.

I will like to use this medium, to express my sincerest condolences to the family of Ernest Ufele, on the huge loss; and wish them God's guidance and protection, at this difficult time.

Ernest Ufele, Adieu!

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