Bad news has gripped the Italian city of Palermo after a Nigerian footballer, Akeem Oluwashegun Omolade, died inside his friend’s car on Monday after doctors failed to deal with the strange ill-health that plagued the former striker, Completesports.com reports.
Omolade, 39, was a professional footballer in Italy for several years. He lived for some years in Palermo and worked as a translator in a court before his death.
As at the time of this report, the cause of Omolade’s death was unclear. His corpse has no external injuries, which rules out any suspicion of death through violence.
According to PalermoToday.it, Omolade started to have pains in his leg during his last few days, and he went to the hospital three times, but couldn’t get well. In his last morning he tried going to the hospital again, but wasn’t able to walk. His friend then came to pick him up in his Peugeot car. But Omolade became very ill as soon as he got into the car. His friend called for help, but it was too late, and the ex-footballer died.
Omolade, born in Kaduna, had a long year’s of football career in Italy, playing for different clubs and scoring many goals . Italian first knew his name in a very particular story in the media. He came to Italy when he was a 17 years old boy and was signed by Treviso, a football club of the same city in the North East of Italy, not very far from Venice, whose players are also called Biancocelesti.
Treviso, due to financial difficulties, now play in Eccellenza, the Italian Fifth Division – a Regional League. But the club was in the Serie B [the Second Division] when Omolade arrived, and they were also a very important Italian football side .
Omolade will forever be remembered with what happened when he made his debut for Treviso and his talent stood us against racism.
Exactly on May 27, 2001, in the 67th minute of the match, Ternana vs Treviso, Omolade replaced Nicolella on the pitch. It was the Nigerian’s debut in a professional league. But some Treviso ultras [fans] didn’t like that a black man was playing in their favourite team. So they went outside the stadium to protest about it.
That very bad event didn’t go unnoticed. Seven days later, there was Treviso vs Genoa, in the next Serie B match at “Omobono Tenni”, which is the Treviso home stadium. All the Biancocelesti players came out on the pitch with their faces painted with black colour, in strong solidarity for Omolade. In fact, the whole of Tenni Stadium crowd clapped for that.
The photos of that situation went around Italy and all Europe. And the same Nigerian striker, Omolade, found glory also on the pitch. He replaced Nicolella in the second half, and in the 86th minute, with a very good headed shot, he scored the Treviso’s first goal, making the score sheet 2-1. some minutes later, Carparelli made it 2-2.
After that season with Treviso, Omolade went on to play for many other Italian clubs, namely; Torino, Novara, Biellese, Reggiana, Gela, Barletta, Vibonese, Mazara and Ribera.
Maybe his career never took off, but he became and was an hero and a symbol of anti-racism.
One of his teammates in Treviso was Alessandro Gazzi, 39 years old, who for a long time remained a very good midfielder. He also played in the Serie A for Reggina, Bari, Siena, Torino and Palermo.
In an exclusive interview with Completesports.com, Gazzi, remembers Omolade and that particular afternoon at the Tenni Stadium when Treviso players stood up for their teammate against racism.
“Omolade trained especially with the Youth Team, with him there were other important young players like Sarr and Reginaldo. At the end of the League he graduated into the first team,” Gazzi recalled
“I remember him as a solar guy, polite and well integrated with everyone. I am really very sorry for his death. About that afternoon, I was young and it was also my debut in the League. I was eighteen and so I didn’t realize the greatness and importance of our gesture [black-painted faces].
“The atmosphere wasn’t easy because the team was almost being relegated. But when we entered the field with the colored faces, everything went in the background. It is no coincidence that our gesture is still so relevant, even if twenty-one years have passed. I was very happy for Omolade, also because in that match, he scored his first goal”.
Another player of that team was the goalkeeper, Marco Fortin. He spares his thoughts on his onetime very loved teammate.
“I’m saying this just because of this terrible news. I really remember Omolade as a bright guy, clear and with very good principles. He was a young boy who, like many other people of his age, was trying to emerge and show his qualities”, Fortin told Completespsorts.com in an exclusive interview.
“That afternoon at Tenni, we made a gesture that was instinctive. I personally have always been very careful to these issues, and that time, which unfortunately wasn’t even the last, I was very sorry that our supporters made a thing like that.
“I have always wondered if these ugly and shameful gestures are done for ignorance or because you are in a group and therefore you feel carried away by the herd. I am convinced it is more the second hypothesis, and that if I speak individually to each of those people, almost all of them would condemn it”.
By Raffaele Campo