As a police officer, Sunny Oyarekhua’s service pistol was enough protection. That was outside the field of play. When the Green Eagles tackled Sylli National in the soccer final of the Lagos ’73 All Africa Games, the cop remained a hitman.
The Guineans came to the Nigerian capital with a very strong team. Hafia had won the elite African clubs soccer championships in 1972. On the way to the Lagos ’73 grand finale, they humiliated reigning Nations Cup champions, Congo.
The statistics before the grand finale favoured Sylli National. They played four games and won all four. Egypt succumbed 4-1. Upper Volta fell 2-1 before the 5-1 humiliation of Congo. Ghana lost 2-1.
The Green Eagles had drawn 2-2 with Algeria after an impressive 4-2 opener against Ghana. A 2-1 victory over Tanzania and another win, 4-2 over Egypt brought them face to face with Sylli.
Guinea romped into the final with 14 goals for, five against and plus nine goals difference. They had neither lost nor drawn a game.
Nigeria had 12 goals for, seven against which gave them plus five goals difference. On paper, Guinea looked good for the gold medal.
When both sides hit the field, calamity befell Nigeria. First choice goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala was injured in the early minutes of the game. Eyo Essien took his place and gave a good account of himself. He even saved a penalty.
Oyarekhua rose to the occasion and fired from all angles. A brace from him was all Nigeria needed to win the gold medal. The police officer ended the tournament as top scorer, with seven goals.
Oyarekhua scored in all but one of the matches the Green Eagles played at the Second All Africa Games. He began with a brace against Ghana, one goal against Algeria followed, before another brace in the game with Egypt.
The first player to score in regulation time in the grand finale of the All Africa Games was Oyarekhua. At the inaugural games in Brazzaville Congo, 1965, gold medalists, Red Devil’s of Congo relied on 7-2 penalties to beat Eagles of Mali. Full and regulation time ended goalless.
The Lagos ’73 All Africa Games crowned Oyarekhua, Green Eagles and two other Nigerians. Modupe Oshikoya became the first from the country to win three gold medals in a continental event. She made it in the High Jump, Long Jump and 100m Hurdles.
Adegboyega Sunday Olorife, at 15, emerged as the youngest to represent Nigeria. He took part in Water Polo and swimming. However the pool was dominated by Faten Afifi of Egypt who left with seven gold medals.
Oyarekhua was ably supported by his mates. Yakubu Mambo who scored the first goal at the National Stadium, Surulere against Mali in 1972 got a goal in the 2-1 defeat of Tanzania. Tony Igwe was also on target.
Gideon Njoku, the first to make a hattrick at the stadium scored a goal in the 2- 2 draw with Algeria. Jossy Dombraye netted one against Ghana and Kenneth Olayombo beat the Egyptian keeper too.
Oyarekhua made it to the Ethiopia ’76 African Nations Cup. His position as top striker was conceded to Thompson Usiyan but right winger, Baba Otu Mohammed finished as Eagles’ top scorer with three goals.
The strike force included Kunle Awesu, Ogidi Ibeabuchi, Alex Nwosu and Olayombo. Playmakers, Haruna Ilerika and Muda Lawal scored two goals each just like left back Sam Ojebode. Nigeria won bronze, Awesu and Ilerika made CAF Team of the Tournament.
Oyarekhua was discovered playing for Benin Amateur Football Association (BAFA). In 1969, the young striker made the Mid Western State team that played against the great Pele when Santos visited Nigeria.
He later moved to Lagos to join the Police Machine. The club had won the FA Cup in 1962 but could not do any better with the introduction of Oyarekhua. It was not a bad decision. The officer rose to the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP).
Oyarekhua kept the ‘Olopa’ tradition. The first national team goalkeeper was Benjamin ‘ Ceremonial’ Williams. Emmanuel Omiunu followed much later and was first choice at the Ghana ’63 African Nations Cup. Melville Roberts, Willy Bazuaye, ‘Man Mountain’ S.K. Momodu, Chioma Ajunwa and Kikelomo’ Mamayaro’ Ajayi also came from the police.
Veteran journalist, Osaze Iyamu said Oyarekhua was known in Benin as Bisco. “He was fondly called Bisco, an alias from his early engagement as a Sales Representative with Bisco Biscuits, Benin in the late 1960s.” Some called him ‘Ozigi Zaga’.
Sunday Oyarekhua, earned 28 caps playing for Nigeria and scored 17 goals starting from his debut in 1971 against Upper Volta (Burkina Faso). He died in Lagos on October 4, 2021.