It is Saturday the 19th of November, 1977, and the Nigerian Air Force MIG Fighter above the Kaduna Stadium performs slow, lazy double ikebes, more for show than added security.
The stadium itself had been packed since morning and thousands of fans were still lingering outside in the hope that some miracle would create more standing room in the sweltering concrete bowl of a stadium.
The Atilogwu dancers, assorted Amadioha dibias, revered babalawos, and “talking” drums from both sides were trying in vain to neutralise and drown each other out.
The fans, after waiting a whole month for this return leg, rather than the normal 14 days, are chomping at the bit. The first Leg at the Lagos National Stadium, deemed to be IICC’s “home” game, had ended goalless.
This second leg in Kaduna was deemed to be Rangers’ home game and the date had been extended for several reasons. Firstly, the military regime of Obasanjo / Yar Adua wanted to avoid any hint of inter-ethnic tension between Igbos and Yorubas. So, the semi finals between the two behemoths of Nigerian football – IICC of Ibadan and Enugu Rangers – were moved to Lagos and Kaduna respectively. Secondly, there was the Green Eagles’ World Cup qualifiers on October 21 vs Egypt and against Tunisia on November 12. This was the game in which Godwin Odiye scored the infamous own goal that kept Nigeria out of World Cup 1978. Thirdly, the authorities wanted the players fully refreshed from their Eagles duties and hopefully fullyrecovered from injuries.
So, November 19th became the best date by default. However, IICC had showed up for this game in October and purportedly strolled around the stadium and “walked over” Rangers. They awarded themselves a 2-0 victory !! Those were the days of NITEL when a phone call could take a week to get through and P & T took 3 weeks to deliver a letter from Lagos to Kano. In the end, “common sense” prevailed after Brigadier Shehu Yar’ Adua called the teams to a meeting, put his gun on the table and stationed armed soldiers outside the meeting room. Stomachs were soon prostrating on the floor and order was restored.
In any case, Rangers certainly used the extra 14 days to their advantage and arrived fully recharged with all their barrels loaded. Nothing was to be left to chance and they had even flown in Charles “Wagner” Adimora from the USA to make up for the absence of Emeka Onyedika and Stanley Okoronkwo, who were both injured.
As they peeled out onto the pitch they looked stunning in their brand new all-white Adidas kits, partially hidden underneath their equally brand new red tracksuit tops.
IICC, on the other hand, arrived wearing their traditional all-blue kit and though you could see the dark stains of perspiration on their jerseys, making their tops a shade darker right as they walked out, Odegbami later stated that the Kaduna heat (calculated around 75.52 degrees Fahrenheit) played virtually no role in the outcome of the game.
From the way the game commenced we certainly have to believe him because IICC started just the way they had left off in Lagos — on fire! They pinged the ball around with precision, refused to be intimidated by Rangers’ “shock and awe” display off the field, and showed that they were true defending champions by taking the game to the team from Enugu. Short rapid passeswere followed by zinging crosses and shots which were hurriedly cleared by Rangers’ defenders marshalled by Chairman Chukwu.
Like a phantom, Segun Odegbami danced past bewildered defenders as he wove his magic wand and spread stardust across the field. Twice, balls sizzled just off target, much to the trepidation of both Emma Okala and Chukwu.
Then something amazing happened. Rangers left back, Nnamdi Anyafor, discovered that his testicles were still in his shorts. Infact, he found his balls !! Spurred on by Chukwu’s cajoling and persistent orders, Anyafor decided to have the game of his life. He shackled Odegbami mid-way through the first half. Singlehandedly, he would do what the rest of Africa had been unable to do till that point — cancel out Odegbami in a football match.
Indeed, when Odegbami stepped out of the IICC locker room after half time he found a grinning Anyafor waiting for him. In the words of the inimitable Ernest Okoronkwo, Anyafor was “The Policeman” who arrested “The Mathematician”.
Rumour has it that the famed Italian hatchet man, Claudio Gentile, learned most of his craft from Anyafor’s performance in this game. Gentile would go on to do a “job” on Maradona and Zico as Italy knocked out the two giants of world football – Argentina and Brazil – enroute to winning WC 1982.
Odegnami recalls that IICC dominated the second game, especially the midfield and ball possession but just could not break through the Rangers’ defense. Chukwu was immense and Okala was the man of the match … but Nnamdi Anyafo, who was relatively unknown, was somehow able to keep nipping, kicking, tugging, and getting in the way. Odegbami does not want to remember the young man and echoed: “You are looking for my ‘trouble’ o. With Christian Chukwu yelling at Nnamdi and telling him what to play throughout the match the man gave me no breather! It was a good duel that he ‘won’.”
Gradually Rangers played themselves back into the match and, if not for horrible finishing, especially by Chimezie Ngadi, may have actually gone up by a goal or two.
The second half came in spurts, with each team playing more guardedly, knowing that probably the first team to score would win. The Grand Marshal Muda Lawal — who would go on to play in a record and still unmatched Five CAN Finals – was zinging his pinpoint passes all over the field. He delivered them to Odegbami and Awesu over and over again.
Segun changed positions repeatedly as he tried to evade Anyafor …. from outside right to centre forward and then to outside left and back to outside right. However each time he did so, Chukwu would make Anyafor match him move for move.
Just once did he get a chance and he took it. His shot flashed past Okala, whose six foot six inches frame sprawled beaten on the ground, as he watched the Mathematical wonder strike heading towards his goal line. Not since being poisoned in Egypt after drinking laced tea that blinded him momentarily, had he looked so helpless.
But there was a sting in the tail and the Flying Antelopes from Enugu were no wallflowers. Chukwu hurdled over Okala, like Edwin Moses, chased down Odegbami’s shot and cleared it away just as the ball was about to cross the goal line.
When the final whistle came the game was still scoreless. Both teams had without a doubt given it their all and, as they lay spent on the ground sucking on oranges and wolfing down Lucozade and Glucose concoctions, their fans sat almost dejectedly in stunned silence in the stands.
The rival drums had long since fallen silent. Amadioha had crawled back into its hut and the babalawos were nowhere to be seen.
Coach Hawkes, Sam Ojebode and Moses Otolorin did their best to lift the spirits of the IIC boys when the Ethiopian referee pointed to the 11-metre spot on the Rangers side of the field announcing the dreaded penalty kicks. There was palpable fear that this was Okala’s “goal post” and he had planted Onitsha charms there in the 2nd half.
However Odegbami remembers that the goalpost and pecking order for penalty kicks was already established before the game.
IICC took the first penalty. Odegbami, free from Anyafor’s shackles, hits a howitzer just past Okala’s gloves, making it 1-0 for IICC. Christian Madu, the Rangers free kick expert, shoots past a rooted “Best” Ogedegbe making it 1-1. Then the first wheel comes off the IICC bandwagon as Okala gets a paw on Asante’s kick, sending it over the bar. Score still 1-1.
Ngadi, bent on making up for his myriad of misses, then converts. Score 2-1 to Rangers. Then the second wheel comes off for IICC as well, as Ogedegbe soundly bangs his kick into the woodwork. Score still 2-1 to Rangers. Ilechukwu steps up and converts the most important shot of his life. Score 3-1 to Rangers. Seeking to breathe some life back into IICC, Otubusin hammers his shot past Okala. Score 3-2 to Rangers.
Then it was CHAIRMAN CHUKWU’s turn. Still resplendent in his spotless white jersey and shorts, he seemed to transcend the tension and cacophony in the stadium.
Above, the NAF Helicopter that had replaced the MIG right after kick off now banks away from the stadium for the final time, just as if the pilot knew it was all going to be over soon.
Chairman Chukwu strolled to the penalty spot with the nonchalance of an English gent going for a Sunday stroll. Perhaps, only Brazil’s revered SOCRATES has displayed similar insouciance in such trying circumstances.
Casually, Chukwu takes the ball from under his arm and places it in the middle of the white spot. He was renowned for his ability to always hit the “sweet spot” as his wife would readily testify. A short walk, a flick of the right leg ….”thud” … he hits the ball with the certainty of a virtuoso in total control of his instrument.
For a split second there is total silence in a stadium of over 50000 people. In slow motion, the ball evades Ogedegbe’s outstretched hands … and the net bulges after what seems like a lifetime.
Nigeria erupts with the thunder of 50000 voices and 30m primal screams all over Eastern Nigeria and in every Sabon Gari across the nation. Okala races from the sidelines and hoists Chukwu into the air, running with him as if he was the prized Christmas goat.
Rangers 4 IICC 2. Game over
That is our CHAIRMAN CHUKWU … when cometh another?
A long line of over 30 Ekene and Young Shall Grow buses took 3 days to convey fans from Kaduna to Enugu because the delirious assortment of supporters insisted on stopping every few hours to “top up” their alcohol reserves as they sang “Nzogbu … enyimba enyi” and “obi kerere nke” and “onye akpa na agu aka na odu” all the way back to the East.