Two captains stood out in Nigerian football just one year after the end of the Civil War. Godwin Achebe and Godwin Ogbueze were from the East Central State, still it was difficult to believe that as Biafrans they were defeated by the might of Federal forces. In soccer, they became field marshals.
Godwin Achebe had captained the Green Eagles as early as 1959 as a teenager and by 1965, led Electricity Corporation of Nigeria [ECN] to win the Challenge Cup. When crisis erupted, the central defender hurried back to the East and fought gallantly before retiring to the Biafra School of Infantry.
In 1971, Achebe led a new team, Enugu Rangers, to the grand finale of the Challenge Cup. It was remarkable for the Flying Antelopes were barely one year old. Their opponents, WNDC Shooting Stars of Ibadan, were captained by the equally experienced Dejo Fayemi and were running away with a 2-1 victory. Then came a late minute penalty.
Achebe as a Nigerian, never lost a penalty kick. Shooting Stars were sure he would equalize for Rangers. Well, unknown to many, Achebe had lost a penalty in 1970. Young Emmanuel Okala, in goal for Onitsha Red Devils, had stopped the Rangers skipper’s kick in a game. After that match, the goalie joined Rangers as second to Cyril Okosieme.
Against WNDC, many believed Achebe was going to draw Rangers level. They apparently did not reckon with goalie Amusa Adisa. And they were shocked when the Shooting Stars goalie thwarted Achebe’s effort. Shooting ran away with the Cup after a 2-1 triumph.
Godwin Achebe was not done yet. He put the loss behind him and went ahead to win the Amachree Cup which earned Rangers the CAF Champions League ticket. And the Coal City Boys enjoyed a good laugh when they defeated the Nigeria Army team on the way to glory. That game was like a Second Civil War. Most of the Rangers players had fought on the Biafran side.
Dominic Nwobodo, who was a commando and lost his elder brother, Chris, at the battle of Owerri,, was also bloodied in the game against the Army team. His head was bandaged and he returned to complete the match. That was how he earned the nickname,’Alhaji’. Nwabueze Nwankwo saw it as sweet revenge. He had stayed put in the Mid-West in defiance of Nigerian military genocide.
Godwin Ogbueze came with the East Central State Academicals and conquered Nigeria. The school boys were all out of school during the war and it was a surprise they could come on strong in 1971. Many of them were teenage soldiers. Centre back, Patrick Ekeji, who failed recruitment into the Biafra Air Force eventually joined Army Signals and also fought across the Niger.
The ECS Academicals were so poorly equipped that they played all their matches wearing the same set of yellow- on- black jerseys. At the end of every game, the jerseys would be dry cleaned by club officials.
Before the Adebajo/Manuwa Cup began at Onikan, Lagos, all eyes were on Lagos and Mid-Western States. The Lagosians boasted of Tunde Martins, Emilio John, Eyo Martins and goalkeeper, Marcel Obinatu. When they confronted the ECS team in the quarter finals, they looked so ordinary. The Benue Plateau team had fallen in the earlier round.
Then came almighty Mid-Western State. They marched into the field in grandeur. Their jerseys sparkled and each of them carried a white ball to delight the crowd. There was the very popular Patrick Adinkwe, a member of the Nigerian Academicals team. In 1969, he had played against Ghana alongside captain Felix Adedeji, keeper Richard Manuwa and striker Richard Ajibade.
Ekeji caged Adimkwe and his mates rendered the trio of Clement Okwufuleze, Raph Uwechue and Patrick Ezeocha ineffective. A swift move by Moses Nweke found the feet of daring Kenneth Ilodigwe [Kendo] who made no mistake in firing into the net for the Easterners to advance to the grand finale. They beat Kwara State to lift the trophy.
Godwin Ogbueze was simply the Player of the Tournament. He was a great dribbler, in the class of Sam Garba Okoye and Haruna Ilerika but he also showed his stuff as a strategist. His team mates were a bunch of hungry players who later became superstars.
Christian Chukwu came from National Grammar School, Nike and would later captain Rangers and the Green Eagles. Dominic Ezeani. like Ogbueze, was one of the five players from St. Theresa’s College, Nsukka. He also played for the Eagles and captained Rangers after Nwobodo and before Chukwu. Damian Odo joined Rangers just like Chike Ikebuaku and Johnny Azinge.
Ekeji and Obed Ariri, were part of the Holy Ghost College, Owerri, squad that won the East Central State Schools championships in 1971. The Arugo Boys defeated St. Theresa’s 3-1. Both players moved on to P and T Vasco Da Gama Enugu with Paul Agu, Nweke, Chukwuma Nwankwo and Innocent Nwokeji.
Other members of the ECS Academicals team were keepers Obi Nwobi of Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha and Ahamefula Umelo, from St, Augustine’s Grammar School, Nkwerre [ he also joined Rangers and much later Enyimba] and Emma Chimezie [Chimebro]. Coach Dan Anyiam prepared them for the competition before handing over to Paulinus Nzerem.