Emmanuel Okala, Africa’s best goalkeeper in 1979 did not spend all his active years playing soccer, he represented East Central State in Table Tennis at the maiden National Sports Festival, Lagos ’73. Although he won the soccer gold medal with the ECS Spartans, ping pong did not offer Tallest a prize.
Okala’s friend and rival in the Eagles camp, Joe Erico, won bronze in the High Jump for Lagos State.Okala had won All Africa Games football gold with the Green Eagles earlier in the year. Erico suffered humiliation when Zambia’s KK Eleven disgraced the the All Africa Games champions 5-1in Lusaka. Gen. Yakubu Gowon disbanded the team thereafter.
There were other Nigerian sportsmen who excelled in more than one event. Chioma Ajunwa took it to the climax when she won the country’s first Olympic gold in 1996. That was in Long Jump. In 1991, she was part of the Falcons female team that took part in the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup. The Flying Police woman was also an active boxer.
Another member of the Falcons squad, Nkiru Okosieme, played Table Tennis for Imo State during the Lagos’89 Inter Zonal National Sports Festival. Her father, Cyril,was the pioneer goalie of Enugu Rangers in 1970, after winning the Challenge Cup with Stationery Stores, Lagos in 1967.Her brother, Ndubuisi, bagged bronze with the Flying Eagles in 1985 and silver with the Green Eagles in 1988.
Uchenna Emedolu, World Athletics Cup 100 metres champion in 2001 and Athens 2004 Olympics bronze winner was indeed going for professional football in Europe. Not many know that Nathaniel Obijiofor (Obijay), National 400m Hurdles champion in 1979, was a good goalie,representing Government Secondary School, Owerri in 1976.
Emmanuel Emefuna(Goody Goody), who won gold, silver and bronze in swimming at three different National Sports Festivals was once invited to the Green Eagles camp. He played for ITT in 1982 and Lagos NEPA from 1983-1986. Emefuna, who took Aloy Agu to ITT, ended up as a coach in both swimming and football.
In boxing we had Suleiman Small Montana, national lightweight champion in the 1940s. He was also a fantastic footballer,played for Lagos Railways and Pan Bank, two teams that are on record as Challenge Cup champions. Demola Ali, began as a pugilist before one celebration turned sour and sweet at the same time.
Ali who was national table tennis champion for a long while was known as Young Ali Kid. He knocked out the Campos Square, Lagos Flyweight champion, Kid Lawal. As he was being carried shoulder high by supporters from Kakawa to Campos Square, his father beat him black and blue. Banished from home, Demola ran to his mother’s family house at 32 Taiwo Street, near Tinubu, Lagos. It was from there he switched to ping pong.
Albert Osakwe moved from Kings College to Yaba Higher College before travelling overseas to complete his education at Oxford University, England. He captained Oxford in a football match against Cambridge. That was a feat in those years of colonialism. Osakwe was a popular national cricketer and quarter miler.
From Christ the King College(CKC), Onitsha came Herbert Allagoa in the 1940s.After a great game against Kings College in the Federal capital, his future as a national team player in later years was guaranteed.Allagoa was well known in the Eastern Region as the school boy 400m champion.
Commonwealth Triple Jump medalist, Esiri, was not just heroic in Track and Field.He was a member of the Warri team that lost the 1952 Challenge Cup final.Sprinter, JMB Abadom, wore the jerseys of Zik’s Athletics Club (ZAC) Bombers in 1940.
Another powerful sprinter who played good football was Harding Ekperigin. He gained prominence representing Government College, Ibadan before rising to feature for the country in international Athletics. The national champion played alongside A.B. Fashola in the< Post and Telegraph (P and T) team of the 1930s.
The Lagos Marine team, formerly known as Harbour Eleven,enjoyed the services of one man who dominated the Lawn Tennis courts. Oranye, like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, played soccer as much as he loved the racket. Oranye was national Tennis champion and a big name in the Marine team of 1938.
When next you see Okala, remember he played tennis in the days of Babs Obisanya, Kasali Lasisi and Engore Toun.Do not let Erico’s legs deceive you. He could have learnt a few jump steps from Emmanuel Ifeajuna. Ajunwa is not to be taken for a ride.Without her pistol, she throws killer punches.
Next Edition… Always Ahead!