|Thursday, January 28, 2021|
he news of the death of Joe Erico, the erstwhile Super Eagles' goalkeeper and coach, came to me as a rude shock. He died at the age of 72 years; while noting that his age is quite advanced by human standards, but notwithstanding, yours sincerely didn't expect his demise at this time. Anyhow, that's life!
Yours sincerely took note of Joe Erico when one started watching/following/observing the Super Eagles of Nigeria and indeed Nigerian soccer in general in 1976. At that time, he was the regular goalkeeper of the "ECN" an acronym for the " Electricity Corporation of Nigeria", which later became known as "N.E.P.A", or the " National Electric Power Authority". At that time, soccer in Nigeria was still an amateur business and there was no professional national league, as it exists today. At that time, the various states organised their soccer leagues in addition to other competitions. The national league champions of Nigeria, were determined through "zonal play offs", which grouped league champions of the various states in different groups; and through play offs the winners of the various groups, converged in a particular Nigerian city for the final play offs that determined the Nigerian national league champion. In other words, unlike nowadays, there was no professional league that determined Nigerian national league champions through, "home and away" matches! The present Nigerian national league format was started in 1979.
Joe Erico played for N.E.P.A popularly known as the "Electricity boys", in the "Lagos state Amateur Football Association League", better known with the acronym: " L.A.F.A. league".
N.E.P.A. was a top L.A.F.A league side; and together with the then "Stationary Stores Football club" of lagos, "the Adebajo babes" - the fans' favourites - provided the biggest rivalry and - entertainment in the L.A.F.A league!
Joe Erico was an astounding goalkeeper for N.E.P.A! And certainly one of the then pillars of the team! They were quite successful in the Lagos state league : they won a number of Lagos state league titles, - F.A. ( Football Association) cups and the then "Oba cup" competition!
His good performance for N.E.P.A. was noticed by the national team selectors, who subsequently invited him to the Super Eagles of Nigeria, then known as the: "Green Eagles".
At the Super Eagles, at the time yours sincerely started observing Nigerian soccer, he was the reserve goalkeeper to the then Nigerian number 1 goalkeeper: Emmanuel Oguejiofor Okala. He had the opportunity to replace Emmanuel Okala a number of times and he did quite well.
He was a member of the Super Eagles team to the 1976 African Nations' cup competition in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. At that competition, the Super Eagles of Nigeria came third and, consequently, won the bronze medal. The details of the 1976 African Nations' cup story are chronicled in my book : " Super Eagles of Nigeria: Pride of Africa", which reference is provided at the end of this piece.
He was also a member of the Super Eagles team that qualified for the 1976 "Montreal Olympic games" in Canada; but whose participation was aborted due to political considerations. Details are also chronicled in my book.
At the end of his glorious soccer days, Joe Erico became a soccer coach. One remembers he coached the then N.I.T.E.L soccer team of Lagos. One remembers they had their training sessions on the grounds of my secondary school: ST. Gregory's College, Obalende, Lagos. Yours sincerely then watched attentively as Coach Joe Erico dished out instructions / tactically guided his team. One of the things I heard him tell his players( defenders), was to face the goalkeeper whenever he wanted to kick out the ball! This makes sense since the goalkeeper could inadvertently miskick the ball to an opposing attacker, if the defenders are not attentive, by watching the goalkeeper kick out the ball, the opposing attacker(s), could take undue advantage!
He later on coached "Julius Berger Football Club", popularly known as the "Bridge boys"! They evolved then in the National league, in division one. It was at this club that Coach Erico gave full expression to his soccer philosophy based on the famed Brazilian system of soccer known in local parlance as: "Jogo Bonito"! It is a system of soccer that emphasises ball possession and a gradual build up from the defence to the attack! In other words, a system of soccer that de-emphasises the use of long balls from one end of the field to the other by soccer teams.
Joe Erico, was an unrepentant disciple of this soccer philosophy; and once said on a Lagos Television programme, that the good thing about "Jogo Bonito", as played by the exponents: the Brazilians, is that through that system of soccer, the Brazilians would play their opponents to 'sleep', and when they have done this, they would then score! In other words, it was a system of soccer that provided both entertainment and results!
As earlier stated, Joe Erico's coaching philosophy was hinged on "Jogo Bonito" and the "Bridge boys" under his watch, were adept at it: they were a beauty to behold whenever they played! Spectators loved them a lot because of their entertaining style of play! Yours sincerely, as a young man, watched them a number of times at the "Onikan Stadium", Lagos, and was equally entertained and impressed by their playing style. The "Bridge boys" under Coach Joe Erico, won the 1988 edition of the Lagos state F.A. cup!
He later on became coach of "Iwuanyanwu National Football Club" of Owerri; and led the team to the "African Champions league" competition.
He together with late Coaches: Amodu Shaibu, Stephen Keshi of blessed memory, coached the Super Eagles. They took over the mantle of coaching leadership from the then sacked Coach Bonfre Jo, at a time Nigeria's 2002 World cup qualification ran into troubled waters. They successfully steered the ship to safe waters and to safety and, thus, earned for Nigeria, the much needed qualification for the 2002 World cup competition in Korea and Japan!
They also led the Super Eagles to a third place finish and the concomitant bronze medal at the 2002 African Nations' cup competition, in Mali!
However, due to internal wrangling between the NFF and some of the Super Eagles' players, they were sacked; apparently, for being considered sympathetic to some of the players. This certainly contributed immensely to Nigeria's dismal showing at the 2002 World cup competition. Details are chronicled in my book.
In conclusion, Joe Erico, through his performances as a player and coach and through his contributions as a soccer analyst, certainly, etched his name in the annals of Nigerian soccer history, as one of the true soccer greats of Nigeria!
May his soul find rest in the Lord's bosom! Amen!!!!!!!!
The book "Super Eagles of Nigeria : Pride of Africa", can also be gotten through the author. One can contact the author through : firstname.lastname@example.org Please note in this case, payment of postage costs will be necessary