President General of the Supporters club, Dr. Rafiu Olalere Ladipo, is a delight any day. If he is not singing praise and worship christian songs at the stadium, the man makes out time to commune with God. Quote any popular verse in the bible, you will attract his attention.
Born to Alhaji Busari Oladipo Oloyege and Alhaja Raliat, the Supporters club boss joined in 1977 and was the flag bearer who led the Green Eagles into the field of play for 13 years. He found it better than his motor boy job at Transcap, an arm of CFAO. Ladipo was used to crowd since his produce merchant father had five wives and 40 children.
As the flag bearer of the Supporters club, many of the players did not know that beyond the glamour, Ladipo was also lacing himself with some ‘African insurance’ which was supposedly prepared to help the team win matches. This particular supporter who joined as an apprentice under Deacon George Osho wanted more than the grace of God.
He bared it all to Sports journalist, Joe Apu, in 2010. That was 32 years after he began to do the job which was hidden from the eyes of millions of Eagles supporters.
Ladipo said: “Yes there is juju in football. Infact, I used to carry the juju made for everyone in the team, from 1978 to 1990. It sounds funny that while a man whose name depicted Christ led the Eagles between 1978 and 1980, there were incantations underground. It is most likely that neither Captain Christian Chukwuemeka Chukwu nor Patrick Olusegun Odegbami , his successor knew about this spiritual support.
The Eagles did not win more than the African Nations Cup in all those years. They won the when Nigeria hosted in 1980. It is interesting that the Supporters club had to travel to Ladipo’s town, Ibadan, to pray against Ghana defeating Morocco in the final group B match. God was kind and listened to their supplications.
Ladipo went back to God later. Hear him: “But at a time when we would finish the game, I would begin to experience pain all over my body. My temperature too would be very high. When I asked what the solution was, I was asked to drink palm oil.”
It was not as easy as the charm makers prescribed. ” If I gulped palm oil and still felt pains, they would advise me to pluck seven strands of hair from my head and eat them. Incidentally, until I did that, the pains would not subside,” he added.
Things got better for Nigerian soccer after Ladipo stopped carrying man made burden for the national teams. Between 1984 and 1990, the Eagles lost in the grand finale of three African Nations Cup tournaments. By 1993, the team qualified for the World Cup. And the ticket was confirmed in Algeria, the same country that defeated Nigeria home and away to deny an Espana’ 82 Mundial place.
The Super Eagles have since lifted two more AFCON trophies, both outside the country. The Dream Team grabbed Africa’s first Olympic Soccer medal at Atlanta’96. Enyimba broke an almost four-decade CAF Champions League jinx by winning the cup in 2003. The Elephants retained the trophy in 2004. And many Nigerians including Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amuneke, Nwankwo Kanu and Victor Ikpeba were voted African Footballer of the Year.
Give it to the Supporters club, they have also gone places singing religious songs. According to President Olusegun Obasanjo, the real lesson to draw from the club is that muslims sing christian songs while Christians dance to islamic injuctions all in the bid to cheer the national team to victory. That is when intolerance disappears.
Ladipo and his erstwhile clap, clap band have received several FIFA Fair Play Awards. At the Trinidad and Tobago Under-17 championships in 2001, President Sepp Blatter said they were free to attend FIFA organized competitions whether Nigeria was there or not. In 2005, they were voted CAF Supporters club of the year.
At the Tunisia 2004 Africa Nations Cup, Eagles lost their first match 1-0 to Morocco. The Supporters club arrived Monastir after the game. Ladipo led them to the team’s hotel. An excited Captain Austin Okocha promised a better outing in the next match since their opponents were not only going to confront the team but also the supporters.
South Africa got a 4-0 drubbing in the next game. Benin fell 2-1 and defending champions, Cameroon, were dethroned 2-1 in the quarter finals. Hosts, Tunisia, were lucky to win through penalties in the semis. The import is that after the Supporters club visit, the Eagles did not lose a match in regulation or over time until the end of the championships. And they returned with what Obasanjo called a golden bronze. Christian Chukwu was the coach.
Tough times also came. In a Senegal ’92 qualifier against Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou, bees were released on the supporters after a Eagles earned a 1-1 draw against the Etalons. In 1998, unable to raise enough funds for flight tickets to Burkina Faso, the supporters hired two Chisco luxury buses and made the 48 hours journey by road.
Ladipo has also done well for himself after his wife left him in 1995. In March of that year, he was received by General Sani Abacha Aso Villa. Two years earlier in Las Vegas, United States, the dancing chairman met with Pele at the USA ’94 World Cup Draw. It was from his Dipson Hotels, Egbe, Lagos that the Golden Eaglets flew out to win the FIFA Under-17 championships in 1993. Ladipo was also publisher of Sportstar, a weekly newspaper, in 1994.