Ebola was here before Liberian mass murderer, Patrick Sawyer, imported his own version, a deadly virus in 2014. Soccer fans in Benin City may not remember one Ebola Mbenga.
This Ebola wore jersey no. 2 when Kalamu of Congo Democratic Republic tackled Bendel United in the 1989 Africa Winners Cup at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium. The hosts won 2-0.
Led by coach Kigona Kalongo, the Congolese were fourth in their country’s league at the time and felt they could get something in Benin. Kwaka Ibua who came in as a substitute wore a red head band. The Nigerians were red hot.
You can imagine the stuff the Ufere Nwankwo boys were made of. Players like Ben Iroha, Austin Eke, Isaac Semitoje, Humphrey Jebba and Frank Njemanze. There were keeper Paul Yusuf, an Aba brought up like Iroha, Godwin Kanu[ Nwankwo’s elder brother],Larry Kubeyinje, Friday Salami, Sylvanus Nsofor and Austin Izedunor. Emeka Agboh and Greg Ikhenobah made the squad too.
Ebola Mbenga did not attract as much attention as no. 6 jersey Kunde. Many thought he was the Indomitable Lions’ Skipper. That one turned out to be a quasi Kunde. Kalamu were captained by Banza Nbo.
They also came with one Yaba Kiyeni. A popular Nigerian name, there was Yaba Cassidy at the University of Benin four years earlier. And of course, Yaba in Lagos.
Bendel United moved into the Winners Cup finals in their first attempt but fell to El Merreikh of Sudan. A 1-0 loss at away could not be cancelled as the Benin second leg ended goalless.
That last game was historic. It was the valedictory performance of Ethiopian referee, Gebreyesus Tesfaye. Many would remember him as the man who handled the explosive Winners Cup semi finals between Enugu Rangers and Shooting Stars of Ibadan in 1977.
Tesfaye was match referee in the two legs. After the first leg in Lagos which ended 0-0, the Federal Government asked him to leave and return for the second leg which was moved to Kaduna because the Flying Antelopes felt Lagos gave the Oluyole Warriors undue advantage.
It was another goalless at the Ahmadu Bell Stadium before Rangers dethroned the defending champions 4-2 penalties. They moved ahead to win the cup and keep the trophy in Nigeria for another year.
Bendel United lost in the finals a year after Ranchers Bees, Kaduna did the same, in 1988 against CA Bizerte of Tunisia. In 1990, BCC Lions of Gboko won the cup, defeating Club Africain of Tunisia. The Cement Boys lost the trophy to Power Dynamos, Zambia in 1991.
One interesting story about Bendel United and their journey in 1989 was when they met Burkinabe side, ASFB [Association Sportive des Fonctionnaires Bobo-Dioulasso].
The visitors were shocked on their way back. They discovered that the military aircraft that conveyed them to Lagos had been vandalized at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. Compass, Chart, Fire extinguisher, all had been stolen.
Their Nigeria-born star, Sakiru Olubodun, from Saki, Oyo State was the butt of expensive jokes as the team travelled back by road to Bobo-Diaolasso, a distance of about 1,300 kilometres, on May 24, 1989.