Monday, October 01, 2007
I wandered into a store last Friday looking for "Fruit 'n Fibre", my favourite cereal, and a toothbrush. In came an elderly man in glasses who said hello to the shop attendant and stretched a hand out to me. Out of courtesy, I shook his hand and continued with my business.
The attendant had a friend seated playing football on a portable Play Station. "Nice", I commented and said how much I liked the real game.
"You play football", the attendant asked? "Every Friday night, my shin-guards are always in the car", I said. That caught the elderly man's attention. He said his name was Israel Okome a.k.a. Izzy, he was aged 63, and he had played for Stationery Stores Football Club from 1967-69, and thereafter had played for Ashante Kotoko in Ghana before being part of the founding team called Vie-Pass(sic) of Benin that later became Bendel Insurance.
According to him, he had played in an era when there was little money in football, alongside greats like the goal keeper- Peter Fregene a.k.a. Apo (Bag), Austin Ofoku a.k.a. Mazelli, Paul Hamilton a.k.a. Wonderboy, Rigogo (now deceased), Willie Andrews in Ghana, Dan Ajibade in Ibadan and many others.
His point was that the lack of eduction of many players of that era had driven them to poverty after their careers were over. He said, "an Ibo chap told me in my footballing days that education was the best thing and football wouldn't last forever, so I obtained a certificate from the Institute of Purchasing and Supplies and worked for the Nigerian Railways Corporation".
"Izzy" is now a pensioner who lives off his NRC benefits but is saddened when he recalls the fate of his colleagues. He says he cried when he saw an old ex-footballer, P. Adelaja, with a hoe in his hands, digging at a work-site. Peter Fregene who was once Nigeria's greatest goal-keeper, has diabetes-induced hypertension and appears to have little to take care of his medical needs.
According to him, players like Segun Odegbami (civil engineering) and Adokie Amesi-Emeka (law), who came after his generation, were wise in getting an education. Odegbami is one of the country's best known sports administrators now and Adokie (who was known as "Chief Justice" in his playing days) was Attorney General of his state for many years.
So there will come a time when we might no longer be the newest kids on the block. It would be good to be prepared.