Down Memory Lane: Competitive Soccer in Nigeria yester years!


By Atilade Atoyebi

I was growing up in Ogbomoso a semi rural community, now the second largest town in Oyo State, Southwest of Nigeria in the early 50s. Soccer was obviously not popular then beyond primary and later inter secondary schools competitions. When rediffusion as it was called in the early 60s got to Ogbomoso, then we started hearing about the big clubs in the big cities. With the emergence of Ishola Folorunsho of blessed memory on the radio commentary scene, the state of soccer in Nigeria became quite known through radio. Ishola whom providence allowed me to meet in Radio Nigeria when I was recruited to work there in 1973 brought glamour into radio commentary in this country. He set the pace that his contemporaries and others after him followed. Someday, we need to pay deserved homage to those behind the microphone at the stadium.
We began to hear a lot about the reigning teams all over the country. The soccer wizards too became household names. Dan Anyiam at the early period captain of the National Team, Okere, Goalkeeper Ibiam, Ayo Adeniji, Albert Onyeawuna, Asuquo Ekpe, Thunder Balogun and many more came into limelight. More on this in another post soon.
Referees known for their vigilance and strictness on the pitch were looming larger than life. Who was around then that would forget Sunny Badru as a centre referee of note? We will also talk about this subsequently.

Onikan Stadium was a rallying point for big time soccer then. It was originally known as King George the V Stadium, a name it got from the reigning King of England at that time. The news media idolized Muyiwa Pereira, a challenged individual as a no nonsense crowd controller at the Stadium during big time soccer competitions. I later met him as a pleasant surprise in the 70s at some joints along Lewis Street on Lagos Island.

The Governor’s Cup that later transformed to Challenge Cup was the coveted prize at stake. This is worth a separate attention later.

This is my own first hand knowledge of the game of soccer in Nigeria without recourse to Google even when I am not averse to doing so. Those with richer narrations are invited to go down memory lane and tell us where we were coming from in soccer as a nation. The past may help us to understand the present.

Written by Atilade Atoyebi