James Ogidinma Ibeabuchi scored one of the two goals that gave Enugu Rangers their first Challenge Cup in 1974. The Flying Antelopes defeated perennial grand finalists, Mighty Jets of Jos, 2-0 in Lagos.
In 1975, the left winger scored one of the two goals in Green Eagles’ 2-1 victory over Ghana Black Stars, at the Second Ghana/Nigeria Sports Festival in Accra. Emeka Onyedika hit the other goal.
In 1977, Rangers won the Africa Winners Cup following a 5-2 aggregate victory over Canon Sportif in Yaoundé. Ogidi was a member of that squad. Another attacker was, Nwachukwu Onyekwelu, the towering hit man, better known as ‘Igariga’. Not much was heard of the duo after that continental triumph.
Ogidi made out time to further his education. He chose the University of Benin and was admitted as a student of Physical Education. Uniben had some well known international sports stars at the time. There were Ogmore Okoro, national High Jump champion, Hilda Oseni, national sprinter,Africa Nations Cup winner, Henry Nwosu and Edema Fuludu.
Ogidi graduated quite alright and was on his way back to the East when he died in a crash on the Benin-Asaba Highway, in February 1986. It was a painful loss. This great player once escaped death at the National Stadium, Lagos in 1975 when some fans attacked him because Rangers played a barren draw with Young Africans of Tanzania in the CAF Champions’ League.
Another February came. It snatched another ex- Flying Antelope. Igariga, broke into the Rangers team straight from secondary School in 1976. He was defenders’ nightmare and played a huge role in Rangers’ Winners Cup success in Cameroon. Canon Sportif had such superstars as Manga Ounguene, Theophile Abega, Thomas Nkono and Paul Akono.
Rangers won the first leg 4-1 in Lagos. In Yaoundé, the hosts mapped out strategy to cancel their disadvantage. They were bent on that until Igariga shocked them with what has been described as ballistic missile in soccer. He took a powerful shot from outside the centre circle. Nkono did not know what happened until his net quaked.
The game ended 1-1. After Rangers goal, the hosts fought so hard to win the match. Okala stood between them and victory. The homers were so bitter claiming that Okala was one of them. They were not exactly right. Although Cameroonians bear the name, Okala is an Onitsha man.
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Nwachukwu Onyekwelu died in a ghastly accident, I guess, around the Awka/Onitsha axis. Ogidi passed on in a crash in February, 1986. Here again was another year, another February and another death.
When I met another Rangers of that golden generation, Francis ‘German Wall’ Nwosu, at Sportscity, Lagos a few years after the passages, he was still in tears.
Nwosu said: ” I can’t just understand it. Two of my1977 mates died in traffic accidents. What a strange coincidence that they both died in the month of February”.
The Coal City team would not forget in a hurry the first road accident that hit the team. It was in August 1975 at Ijebu- Ode, on the Lagos- Shagamu Expressway. Five persons died, four supporters and one player, Chukwuma ‘Newman’ Onyeaghala. One of the supporters was known as Rainbow.
That crash also affected three other players: John Azinge, Chike Ikebuaku and second choice keeper, John Uwanaka. Azinge, a defender, never fully recovered from the injury he sustained. Rangers went ahead to qualify for the finals of the 1975 CAF Champion’s League before succumbing to Hafia of Guinea.
Dominic Nwobodo who survived, was one leg into retirement and was called upon to fill the gap when necessary.