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Odegbami: Remembering El haj Mudashiŕu Babatunde Tiamiyu Lawal, MON, MFR

Odegbami: Remembering El haj Mudashiŕu Babatunde Tiamiyu Lawal, MON, MFR

Who is the greatest mid-field football player in the history of Nigerian football?

The country is replete with a few footballers that can fit that bill – Sunday Oliseh, Mikel Obi, Jay Jay Okocha, Henry Nwosu, Friday Ekpo, Etim Esin, Samuel Garba Okoye, Haruna Ilerika, and one or two others, all exceptionally gifted players that excelled playing different roles in the midfield of Nigeria’s national football team.

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Oliseh was a tough marker and brilliant passer of the ball. Jay Jay was a dribbling machine and creative genius. Henry Nwosu was a skills-workshop, great passer and deadly shot with both feet. Samuel Garba Okoye was a ballerina on the ball, masterful at linking defence and attack with grace and effortless ease. Kanu Nwankwo was elegant, skilful and a great thinker with the ball.

In this constellation of superstars, however, one player stands out in my mind, and in my humble opinion was the greatest of them in combining all the different skills and roles – dribbler, marker, passer, holding, scoring, and tireless, endless marking and running.

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In versatility, he stands atop the pile.

To crown it all, to set him completely apart, on March 22, 1980, probably the greatest day of his career, he played as a centre forward. That’s was the clearest demonstration of how good a player Muda was.

So, he stands alone in versatility. That’s why he also stands out as the most decorated home-based footballer in the country’s football history.

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I am writing about him today in humble tribute to my friend, my Egba brother, and my team mate who died at the time when he was about to start a new chapter in his life, to start to reap bountifully from his illustrious service to Nigerian football and to the country.

It is hard to believe that it has been 31 years since the gentle, very handsome, always-smiling, hardworking football genius died ‘prematurely’.

By the time he left the world for eternity on July 6, 1991, he was only 37.

Mudashiru Babatunde Tiamiyu Lawal, ‘Haji Shiru’ as most of his fans all over Nigeria called him, was the only African at the time to have participated in 5 African Cup of Nations Championships (he was decorated by the Confederation of African Football, CAF, for that feat); the first footballer to be appointed Nigeria’s Football Ambassador (with an office space within the premises of the Federal Ministry of Youths and Sports in Lagos); the longest serving player in the national team of Nigeria; the first and only football player to be adorned with two National Honours, MON and MFR.

Until Rashidi Yekini, Jay Jay Okocha, and Kanu Nwankwo came to dominate conversation on African footballers with their exploits in Europe, Muda Lawal was one of the most talked about and celebrated in-field player in African football playing entirely locally in Nigeria, from the time of his exploits in Dire Dawa in 1976, to his captaincy of the Green Eagles at his 5th AFCON in Libya.

Muda left Shooting Stars FC in 1984 following the disbandment of the team by the Governor of Oyo State when the team lost the final match of the African Club Championship. Muda’s departure 10 years later to play for two of the most unlikely clubs in Abiola Babes FC in Abeokuta and Stationery Stores FC in Lagos for his last few years as a player was a ‘sad’ chapter in his relationship with the club that gave us all a foundation upon which we built a great name for ourselves, for the club and the country.

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Muda Lawal

His time in those clubs were not memorable. Only fanatical supporters of the two clubs would recall any great exploits of his to any great length.

Incidentally, Muda joined Adekunle Awesu and I in Housing Corporation FC in 1973, and all three of us joined ‘Sooting Stars’ a few months apart in 1974.

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It was inevitable that he would return to Shooting Stars International FC to cap his career in football, to his roots and to the club that gave him the biggest platform to exhibit his genius on the biggest stages in African football.

Muda loved football with a passion. He lived the game completely, sleeping and dreaming it.

Up till that point in 1991 that he passed on, football had given him everything he dreamt of in life – a great career, numerous national awards, an official position in government upon which he would build his life-after-active football, a great wife and beautiful children, and tons of close friends around the country, including Ayinla Omowura, the legendary Egba ‘Apala’ musical maestro who died shortly after Nigeria won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980.

Muda and Kunle Awesu were the best of friends as a result of their mutual love for Ayinla and his music. Kunle was fanatical about Ayinla. He would only play Ayinla’s songs in his car after the three of us bought our first cars in the wake of our victory, winning the Africa Cup winners Cup, in 1976. Haji Shiru was, like Awesu, a die-hard Ayinla fan.

Muda and Kunle would always head to Abeokuta from Ibadan at the end of many of our home matches inorder to attend the man’s gigs in those days.

The music that ‘bored’ me out of joining them on their nocturnal trips to Abeokuta, even though, occasionally, we participated in some other escapades as young bachelors around Ibadan in those days.

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IICC Shooting Stars’ legends, Kunle Awesu (r) and Muda Lawal (l) pose for a photo with music icon Ayinla Omowura in November 1976.
Photo credit: @YorubaHistory (Twitter)

I was a great influence in Muda’s marriage to my best friend’s sister. That I was also a foitballer, very close to Yetunde’s family, was Muda’s biggest ‘credential’ to get her family to succumb to pressures, and finally accept that their ‘special’ daughter whose beauty was a magnet for many a rich suitor in Ibadan at the time, was not doing a disservice to the family by marrying a footballer.

That’s how Muda married Yetunde and they settled into a great life together throughout the latter part of our football career. When children started to arrive and Muda had to take his football odyssey to Abeokuta and finally to Lagos, the displacement created a slight turbulence that was only finally calmed by his eventual return to Ibadan to rejoin Shooting Stars FC as a member of the technical team.

At that time, Shiru had started toying with several options of business to retire into. I never quite saw him settling down into the role of a football coach. He loved to play and not to coach. His choice was business! So, he spent a lot of time with his friend, another Lawal, near the old Kingsway Stores in Ibadan planning, I believe, several business ventures.

Then, on July 6, 1991, the ‘world’ ended.

It was hard to deal with at the time. How could such a young, healthy and extremely fit man suddenly collapse
and die?

Time has not healed anything for those that knew the great man, his humanity, his genius and his friendliness with everyone. But life has trudged on and it all seems like yesterday.

That Muda died so young is what makes the pain of his passage 31 years ago still this fresh.

Muda Lawal came, saw, and achieved a great deal in Nigerian football. He now rests in our minds in the great memories of him – a man most distinguishable by a wide permanent laughter dancing on his face.

I have a giant portrait of him hanging on the wall of The Sports Lounge in Abeokuta, in dedication to the greatest midfield player in Nigeria’s football history, in my humble reckoning.

Continue to rest Shiru!!!!

Segun Odegbami

 

 

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COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 11
  • Ben K 3 weeks ago

    Rest in peace brother. What a great writer, Mr Segun. You answered every questions on my mind on trying to know about the great midfielder. I think writing is your calling after football.

     
  • Continue to RIP Shiru “jo-jo” Lawal.
    The greatest midfielder to play for GE/SE till date.
    Pleasure to watch you play for both clubs and country.

     
  • RIP one of the best Naija to ever play the game but for me, Okocha remains the greatest Nigerian Mid-Fielder/Footballer ever. Iwobi playing in Many positions like Muda Lawal doesn’t make him the greatest. I remembered Iwobi started as a Striker, Played as a winger, Right back, Central and even defensive for Lampard recently and that doesn’t make him the greatest.

    Stats don’t lie.

    *Late Mudashiru Lawal Scored 11 goals from 86 appearances for Nigeria from his all round positions including as a striker,
    *Jay Jay Okocha Scored 14 goals from 73 appearances from his midfield position. (13 apps Shorter). And Jay Jay was among the best 100 chosen by the great Pele and Okocha even played when the football had really advanced not when a back pass wasn’t foul etc.

     
  • I have not stopped loving “de mathematical” for always reminding us of the labour of our heroes past, no one links the past to the present like you, thank you Lord for giving us “Haji Muda” and the DE MATHEMATICAL..

     
  • Ayodeji Abdulfatai Oyinloye 3 weeks ago

    Another great literary episode from most likely the greatest scorer of football/finisher yet in the history of Nigeria senior national football side, De Mathematical, Chief Olusegun Odegbami. I can remember still in my memory commentaries of journalists sportcasters in the late 70s and 80s, “… It is a goal Odegbami…”, which was a sing song once Odegbami, a master dribbler, great runner and superb finisher of football play strategy approached opponents’ eighteen yards box in the days of his glowing career. I was a child in the late 70s but was quite conscious, was scantily following radio and television commentaries and coverages of key matches and could make a lot more sense of the great national contributions of the class of late Muda Lawal, Olusegun Odegbami, Christian Nwosu, Emmanuel Okala, etc., to sports and entertainment.

    Thank you sir for another timely, nostalgic and vivid remembrance of the hugely self exerting and greatly contributive career of a Nigerian late footballer. Great contributions that had made Nigeria’s name etched on the consciousness of football lovers the world over and brought honours to our yet potentially great country since decades before now. We appreciate your successful skills and practice of linking the past with the present, as a commentator her wrote, thereby helping to shape the future, our own Chief Odegbami.

    I want to suggest that Ogun state government rehabilitate and upgrade the sporting facility named after him, the Muda Lawal Stadium in Obantoko, Abeokuta, so it can host at least national league matches and further serve to etch the late Muda’s memory on the minds of upcoming generations of Nigerians.

    My warm regards to the late uncommon talent’s family, friends and Nigeria on this glorious occasion of his remembrance.

    May Nigeria achieve true greatness!

     
  • Always enlightening to read Engineer Chief Segun Odegbami’s column. Mathematical Odegbami and his generation of Nigerian players should be celebrated not disrespected by a few, choking on noodles. The late Mudashiru Lawal was a great footballer. Midfield-over lapper, some of us his ardent fans used to call him in those days. Those players served Nigerian with unimaginable dedication. Green Eagles of those days we used to refer to as, ” Eagles, they never say die.” And you never heard about squabbles or complaints over bonuses. Thank you, Engineer Chief Segun Odegbami [MON] and your colleagues for what you did for this country. May the late Mudah Lawal’s soul continue to rest in peace.

     
  • Diora K.O. 3 weeks ago

    Mathematical Chief Olusegun Odegbami, the unforgettable Nigeria number 7.You are appreciated for this write up on Muda Lawal as we used to call him. Thanks for reminding us about the legacies he left in the world of football. I almost shed another episode of tears but controlled myself because my Children started saying Daddy you are crying and demanding why. I now narrated who Muda was in football. Consoled by my Children and I should pray for the family he left behind. My Chief Segun Odegbami, thanks for reminding us about your friend, our great no 9 if I am right.Once again, adieu my indomitable midfielder. Brother Segun, thanks for charging our consciousness over Kunle Awesu. I have Commander Ebeneezer Obey Fabiyi song for you great football. “”** Segun Odegbami se gbe iyawo, gbogbo IICC lo peju.

     
  • KOLA AJAKAIYE 3 weeks ago

    Each to his own, but I think I agree with Uncle Mathematical’s choice of Mudah Lawal.

    Mudah’s greatness lies in the fact that he excelled in his versatility. He could do virtually everything and very well too. He delivered consistent and golden performances in every position that he had to play. His ability to deliver great results from various positions remains uncommon.
    A few examples;
    In the 1976 AFCON, he had a very good tournament playing behind Haruna Ilerika, the attacking midfield maestro, but he still advanced forward to score a great individual goal, a solo virtuoso against Egypt.

    In the critical 1977 World Cup qualifiers against Tunisia in Tunis, he was instructed to police and man-mark the star of the Tunisian team; Tarak Dhiab. He marked Tarak out of the game, which ended in a goalless draw.

    In the final match of the 1980 AFCON in Lagos, Nigeria won the trophy for the first time with a 3-0 victory over Algeria. Mudah was instructed by the coach, Otto Gloria, to play as the central and main striker; number 9. He put up an effervescent performance, even dropping into midfield when required, and scored a goal.

    IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan made unsurpassable history by being the first Nigerian club side to win an African club competition trophy; the African Cup Winners, in 1976. “Shooting” also won the Nigerian national league in that same year, becoming the first Nigerian club side to win a domestic and international competition in the same season. In the autobiography “Football Missionary” by Allan Hawkes, the then “Shooting Coach”, he states that Mudah was the final and critical piece in the jigsaw that completed that glorious team.

    Some have said Mudah did not play in the World Cup. They forget that he played in an era when FIFA allocated just one spot to Africa. Later, the gates were open, yet Nigeria, with all its vaunted modern stars, did not qualify for the 2006 and 2022 competitions!

    Some have said Mudah did not play in Europe. Well, in those days, “Shooting” players were well taken care of. Football players in Europe did not earn the fantastic figures they get now. And more European youths were interested in football, unlike later when European club sides had to fill up with foreign players from all over the world.
    Haji Shiru, R.I.P.
    PS
    Uncle mathematical, i have just finished reading Pat Ekeji’s autobiography.
    Many people, like me, are waiting for yours!

     
  • Hashi Hashim Bamgbade 3 weeks ago

    Emotional piece. Feel like crying 4 the good old days.Up Sooting ! Remembering Chief Lekan Salam as well! The great Mathematical Odegbami . We hope to see another Odegbami. Weekend is great then . All roads lead to the Liberty Stadium. Not much money then in football. The youths nowadays need to learn.That excellence bring everlasting joy than money

     
  • Zakariya 3 weeks ago

    May his ever smiling and gentle soul continue to rest in perfect peace insha Allah

     
  • Machaveli 2 weeks ago

    My greatest memory of him is hearing a commentary on a radio in 1984 nations Cup final by the ubiquitous Ernest Okonkwo saying ‘ here goes mudashiru Babantude lawal playing like the old Jonny walker of 1927’ he went on to score the only goal by the Eagles in that match. For me, the mathematical is right in judging him as the best Nigerian midfielder till date. His overall footballing abilities definitely put him at the ecklon of all the great midfielders we have produced in my opinion. My decision is based at the time and circumstances he played his football. Thank you uncle mathematical for bringing this great story/memories of our heroes past to the present so that these gullible footballers of this generations would understand the sacrifices made by people that laid the foundations for them to excel.May he continue to rest in peace.