Emeka Obasi

Lifting the African Winners Cup in 1977 earned Enugu Rangers 25,000 naira from Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo when he hosted them at Dodan Barracks. That was a huge amount,.enough to buy a luxury bus at the time. Talk about 50 million naira today.

The players were happy, expecting the award to trickle down to each and everyone. Shooting Stars who won the same trophy a year earlier, in 1976, smiled home with 50,000 naira from Gen. Obasanjo. The Oluyole Warriors also got car gifts from the Oyo State Government.

Shooting Stars were the first Nigerian club to win a continental soccer tournament. That explained the higher reward. Rangers missed that tag by a whisker in 1975 when they lost to Hafia, Guinea in the elite Africa Cup for Champion Clubs ( today’s CAF Champions League).

When the Flying Antelopes got back to Enugu, expectations were high that Yuletide in 1977 would be different considering the extra cash from Obasanjo. It never happened. Management held on to the money and adopted a formula that did not make sense to some of the players.

There was a mild protest by senior players and Management’s reaction was to suspend about a dozen stars for daring to ask questions.

One of the insiders bared it all to me in a recent interview. I have chosen not to disclose his identity. One of those powerful officials, is still very much around and visible in high places.

My source said : ” There are things that happen outside the field of play. Fans do not understand. Rangers deliberately lost to Canon Sportif of Cameroon in the semi finals of the Africa Cup of Champion Clubs in 1978.”

The players’ grouse was that they were not factored into the sharing formula of the money they got from the Federal Government for winning the African Winners Cup in 1977.

“Some of the senior players rallied round the younger ones and what they got was suspension. I am talking of stars like Christian Madu, Stanley Okoronkwo, Chimezie Ngadi, Okwuchukwu Anigbogu and Francis Nwosu.

“We paid management back in Yaounde. The first leg in Lagos had ended goalless. There was no zeal to win. The second leg also produced a barren draw. In the ensuing penalty kicks, some of the players decided to face the sky, ” the very reliable source told me.

I am inclined to agree with this story. In 1978, Rangers paraded the best squad in Africa. They had won the African Winners Cup in 1977, without losing a game. In 1978, two new formidable players, Adokiye Amiesimaka and Patrick Ekeji were hired to fortify the all conquering side.

The Flying Antelopes had hammered Canon Sportif 5-2 aggregate to win the Cup in Yaounde in 1977. It was the same Canon team they faced in 1978. The Cameroonians were scared stiff.

At the beginning of the 1978 season, the Supreme Council for Sports in Africa (SCSA) organised what would have been the the first African Super Cup. Venue was Libreville and a trophy was donated by Gabonese President, Omar Bongo.

Rangers, African Winners Cup champions in 1977, were billed to play Hafia, Champions Cup winners,1977.

The Flying Antelopes landed in Libreville. Hafia assured the organisers that they would play. On match day, there was no Guinean in sight. Hafia chickened out at the last minute, afraid of Rangers.

The organisers coupled together a Gabonese national team. Rangers secured an emphatic 5-2 victory. Curiously, the Nigerians were not awarded a Walk over and the trophy remained with the organisers.

Smart Hafia, they got to the final of the 1978 Africa Cup for Champion Clubs and their opponents were Canon Sportif who were gifted the semis by Rangers. The Cameroonians won the trophy.

Rangers officials probably did not know that cornering money meant for players led to that ‘Yaounde Yahoo’ of November 6, 1978.

“Yes, we had to teach Management a lesson. If we went ahead to beat Canon and win another trophy in1978, they would have made more money, leaving out the players as usual. The players made a point, we won’t win for others to take credit and share our money”, my source added.

The Rangers line up in Yaounde looked like this : Emma Okala, Innocent Obi Ekwo, Mike Ochiagha, Pat Ekeji, Christian Chukwu, Okey Isima,Arthur Ebunam, Aloy Atuegbu, Sam Onyeaka, Adokiye Amiesimaka and Nnamdi Nwokocha. Subs : Patrick Okala, Patrick Iluno, Christian Madu, Chimezie Ngadi, Ogidi Ibeabuchi.

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To be fair to the Flying Antelopes, they were hot in the earlier round. After gaining a walk over against Olympic Niamey, they qualified for the Quarter final against Kampala City Councillors of Uganda.

President Idi Amin who described himself as a Rangers supporter, hosted the Enugu team who beat his boys home and away. Prior to the game, he ordered the stadium opened for the visitors to train.

Rangers players gave management a long rope. Ten months after the Obasanjo Bonanza, the issue was not properly addressed. And those who shared the money were put to shame as the team did not take part in a continental tournament until 1982.

Watch out for more inside stories on the fall out of that Obasanjo largesse.You can only read it here.