Odegbami: The Day Before The Final – March 21 1980

Odegbami: The Day Before The Final – March 21 1980

Everybody remembers the day of the final match in 1980.

People recall where they watched the match, who captained the gallant team, who scored the goals and how they celebrated that victory that night and several nights after that eventful Sunday, March 22, 1980.

For 4 decades, they have told and retold the stories.

At the same time, only very few persons can recall and tell the story of the day before the final.

That is what I want to attempt now, to recall what happened on the eve of one of the greatest days in the history of Nigerian football.

Today is Saturday, March 21, 2020.
It is exactly 40 years to the eve of Nigeria’s first and probably most memorable football match, where 100,000 Nigerians crammed like Sardine into a 60,000- capacity stadium, a trumpeter (legendary Highlife musician, Zeal Onyia) leading the choruses as the packed terraces became the theatre of song, dance and drums throughout the 90 minutes of a pulsating match that opened perfectly. Nigeria scored the first of three un-replied goals within the first two minutes of kick-off by the man nicknamed Mathematical. That goal became the fastest in the history of the African Cup of Nations and remained so for the next 39 years until the 2019 AFCON, when it may have been broken.

Let me take us back to Saturday, March 21, 1980.

Morning

It is 6 am in the morning. We wake up to the shrill, long drawn sound of Coach Isaac Nnado’s whistle. How we hated to hear it pierce through our deep sleep just before day break. It is the call for hard work – endless exercise drills, boring runs, set plays, and small sided games. The part we usually enjoyed the most are the actual ‘two-sides’ where we are divided into possibles and probables and play against each other. You often know after these games who is likely to be in the team that weekend. Today, there is no ‘two-sides’

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The team is almost roughly set from all the three previous matches we have played to get to the finals. There is tension in the team even as we limber through the very light exercises this morning, mostly stretches and jogging around the perimeter of the football field on the grounds of Trade Fair Hotel, on Badagry express road, after Festac Town in Lagos, a beautiful country-side-like holiday resort where the Green Eagles have been in camp since returning from their almost three months camping in Brazil, leading to the championship.

Segun-odegbami-green-eagles-1980-africa-cup-of-nations-christian-chukwu-otto-gloria-algeria-match

Captain Christian Chukwu leads the Green Eagles out against Algeria in AFCON 1980 final

It has been months of the best kind of training any team can have under one of the most experienced football coaches in the world, the man who coached Portugal (with the great Eusebio) at the 1966 World Cup in England and is the president of the Brazil Coaches’ Association when he is hired to take Nigerian football to a higher level, from the previous British, dribble, defense-to-attack, kick-and-follow style of play to the silky-touch, patient, flamboyant, expressive, quick and short passing Samba style of South American football.

In three matches, the country has seen the results as the Eagles march into the final match coming up tomorrow.

We are 22. We have become ‘brothers’.

It is dawning on us as we run around the grassy makeshift football field this morning that we are actually close to the finish line of an ‘impossible’ dream – becoming champions of African football. We are singing as we jog along, a mixture of determination and butterflies is our stomachs. We go through very light training, mostly of set-pieces, rehearsals of specific runs down the flanks with crosses to connect the waiting head of our central striker for that match, Muda Lawal, practicing to play that position for the first time in the championship.

Otto Gloria has something up his sleeve. He is changing our pattern for this final match. Muda, the best defensive midfield player probably in Nigeria’s history, is being prepared to play as a decoy centre-forward! The experienced professor of football intends to throw the Algerian plans for that match into disarray with that simple change in strategy. I can see it unfolding.

We finish training, return to our rooms, take our bath, change into our camp ‘uniforms’ (in camp we all wear the same sports outfits for every session of everything we do) and go for breakfast. The uniformity in our dressing whilst in camp is a tradition that still sustains till today. It embeds the spirit of a team.

After breakfast the tension starts to build up with unusual visitations.
The first is by renowned parapsychologist, Professor Okunzua, for the first time to our camp. I don’t recall which official’s idea it is to bring the celebrity professor to talk to the team, but he comes and does after breakfast. I can’t make out what impact it has. It is neither inspirational nor motivating. He assures us the stars have given victory to us.

Another parapsychologist also visits. He is a Yoruba man, also well known. I don’t remember his name. He wastes our time.

An army of football officials also come in and pretend to be offering encouragement by distracting us with words that impact little or nothing. We tolerate them until Raul Carlesso and Isaac Nnado, Otto Gloria’s assistant coaches, send everyone away and we return to our rooms.

Segun-odegbami-green-eagles-1980-africa-cup-of-nations-christian-chukwu-otto-gloria-algeria-match-nigerian-footballers-sports-law-nff-nigeria-football-federation-steve-nwabueze

Nigeria’s Green Eagles

I spend the rest of the morning reading in the room I am sharing with Best Ogedegbe this time. Usually my roommate used to be Emmanuel Okala.

Afternoon

Lunch goes well. We return to our rooms to rest till evening. I read a novel. I love reading books. They take my mind off the pressure of thinking about the most important match of my life.

Music is booming out of several rooms from stereo sets that late Lawyer Shola Rhodes, a popular supporter of Nigerian athletes (he has sponsored many athletes to the United States for schooling), distributed to several players in camp. He is obviously well-liked for his generosity.

Night time

Dinner is early. The camp is shut to outsiders. No one is allowed around the hotel premises anymore. There is palpable tension around the camp. Otto Gloria has not been seen since after morning training. He must be in his room.

We have dinner. Prayers are offered.
We retire to our rooms for an early sleep.

Sleep has taken flight. I am playing the match in my mind over and over again. Creating movements on the ball, and dreaming about goals, after all that’s my job. I have been Nigeria’s highest goal scorer for three years in a row even from playing from the wings. My head is a deadly weapon of destruction.

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In Ghana, two years before, in 1978, I was one of the three highest goal scorers of the Nation’s Cup. So, now, I am always expected to deliver the goods, so I create them in my mind before matches.

It is almost midnight. Restless, I leave my room. Best is sound asleep. I don’t know how he does it, but his confidence is unhuman. He never believes any attacker is good enough to score against him. Bestila!

I come out to the courtyard of the hotel for some air. On the other side, Christian Chukwu is also outside staring at nothing in particular. I walk over to him and we chat.

We decide to take a walk. We go past Professor Gloria’s room and it is ajar. The man is awake bent over his desk, working on something. We decide to go in and see him. He looks up, sees us.

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Nigeria fans take to the pitch of the National Stadium Lagos to celebrate their first Africa Cup of Nations title

He says he understands why we are unable to sleep. He advises we go take a glass of beer each to cool our nerves. Glass of beer? That is taboo in football. But, he is dead serious. It will help, he says.

We ask him what he is doing. We observe our names in different positions marked by arrows all over the chart in front of him.

He tells us he is playing tomorrow’s match on his chart, explaining how he wants his team to play, the team tactics they will use, and how they will counter what the Algerians will bring to the table.

Chukwu and I are mesmerized. Prof was actually playing the match on paper one day ahead of the actual match! We leave his room educated. It is probably the best 15 minutes of football coaching lesson I have had. I can almost read Otto Gloria’s mind.

We take Otto Gloria’s hint and go to the bar. We share a single glass of beer.

By the time we return to our rooms, I am in another world, transported by Otto Gloria’s genius.

For the first time that day, I relax completely. Tomorrow, Sunday March 22, 1980, is settled.

I am on fire, yet as cool as a cucumber.

I put my head on the pillow and fall into a deep sleep, the best in several days, dreaming of the goals that I will score when the whistle for kick-off is blown the following day.

Segun-odegbami-green-eagles-1980-africa-cup-of-nations-christian-chukwu-otto-gloria-algeria-match

Segun ‘Mathematical’ Odegbami takes on Algerian defenders during the final of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. The Green Eagles won 3-0 to lift Nigeria’s first ever AFCON title

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WORDPRESS: 6
  • Dr. Drey 2 weeks ago

    “…..We ask him what he is doing. We observe our names in different positions marked by arrows all over the chart in front of him……He tells us he is playing tomorrow’s match on his chart, explaining how he wants his team to play, the team tactics they will use, and how they will counter what the Algerians will bring to the table……Chukwu and I are mesmerized. Prof was actually playing the match on paper one day ahead of the actual match! We leave his room educated. It is probably the best 15 minutes of football coaching lesson I have had…..”

    The above is the reason why even if you play 1000 matches as a footballer, if you don train and qualify as a coach, you can never become one. As a footballer, all you do is carry out a coach’s instructions…..but the Why, What, Where, When, Who and How (5Ws and 1H) of how those instructions came about, you would never have an idea of, until you are specially tutored for that.

    As a footballer, you only play a match on the pitch, you never at any point in your career play a match on a piece of paper….and that is exactly what 4 years of coaching instructions in the classroom teaches you. “….Chukwu and I (despite being experience football professionals with 2 of the best and most successful clubs in Nigeria at that time, Sooting & holy rangers) are mesmerized…It is probably the best 15 minutes of football coaching lesson I have had”

    Serial top league, champions league and world cup winners go back to the classroom after an illustrious playing career to learn coaching, but in Nigeria, 100 caps is enough to become Asst Manager of the Senior Men’s National team. Ironically, it was a man who received in 15 minutes more football lessons that over 10yrs on the field had not given him, that championed this ridiculous plan.

    I seriously would have wished CAF didnt postpone these double header qualifiers with Seirra-Leone inspite of Corona Virus scourge. I looked forward, and it would have been nice to see our Fashion Runaway model Asst Manager assemble a team (in the absence of G.Rohr and some players who wouldnt have been able to travel) to execute both games. LMAO. Na dia breeze for blow, wey we for see tolotolo backside.

     
    • Mr Hush 2 weeks ago

      @ Dr Drey

      Exactly.
      The experiences of being a player and a coach is literally different.

      Players are more like the soldier in the battle field. The coach is the General that under studies and marshal the plans on that field.

      Coaches are meant to understand and understudy every player’s position, awareness,personal thought and set out tactics,guidelines towards such ; in addition to understanding and reading the opposition’s game plan and their players awareness and positional strengths accordingly. And most must be done pre,during or post-game.
      In other words;the coach is always in the game. The coach is paid for his/her mind. The player is simply pawn in the chessboard. The coach controls that every move on that chessboard.

      A player could be the best on the field since football on the pitch is all about physicality but not every player is intelligent enough to read and understand the game,no matter how good they are, simply because intelligence goes beyond physicality and that’s where the coach thrives.

      It takes a very tactical and technical in depth player that has the will and deep reasoning to make that transition from a player to a coach.
      Even as such,the player have to go to ‘school’ to unlock such gift and bring it to light.
      The gift could be there but it is through experience(schooling) you refine it.

      There might be a very thin line in transition between being a player and being a coach; but that line is the difference maker.

       
  • Mercy 2 weeks ago

    This is my own summation and I’m going to relate it to above article!!

    I have two friends in the medical field. One is a nurse and the other a medical doctor. It was clear as the day, that not even with his many years of experience as a nurse, My intelligent nursing friend can never carry out surgery, administer drugs without a directives or doctor’s prescription, nor treat a patient except the regular check up like reading the bp, oxygen level, sugar level and etc.

    So no matter many years of playing experience as a player, it does not make you a coach. Yobo do not have as many international caps, big European football exexperience as Kolo Toure yet ivory coast even in their lowest ebb do not appoint him as their assistance coach.

    I have said it before and it is now clear for all and sundry to see that people like odegbami, Pinnick etc do not just want GR. Odegbami knows the truth but his hatred for the coach made him to champion the evil cause of appointing a man who has no coaching experience or atleast coaching badge to be the coach of nigeria not minding the negative impact this will have on the team.
    I know some people will say atleast it is just an assistant coach. Need I remind you that the SE might not play any match before the expiration of GR contract in June. Then the fashionista/sport analyst/ 100 caps coach will take over.

    If care is not taking, Nigeria might not qualify for the next world cup and nations cup. Then our rating will nosediving and we will be back to the age of fasting and praying for us to beat Djibouti, Eritrea etc because of some evil people in power.

    I know by that time alot of anti-Gehnort Rohr in this forum will change their names, but those one who will not have anywhere to hide their face is odegbami, Pinnick, finidi George etc.

    Posterity will judge you. When history book will be opened in the future your names will be written boldly there as the ones who masterminded and plot our fall and puncture the joy of many football loving fans.

     
    • Dr. Drey 2 weeks ago

      Hehehehehe…@ Mercy.

      A popular member on this forum claimed he can allow a long serving nurse or a medical student on housemanship perform a major surgery on him o, just to justify the appointment of his paddy as the SE asst coach…Lolz.

      Black man and sentiments….!

       
  • All of you should take a chill pill. When klinsmann was appointed the German national coach to the 2006 world cup, what qualifications did he have? Like I said, y’all should chill on yobo matter.

     
  • Dr. Drey 2 weeks ago

    …..and you think DFB appointed him as coach simply because he had 108 caps for Germany…? Lolz

    Apart from having obtained his coaching licenses years before his appointment as national team coach, he was very much involved with teams in various capacities in the US leagues after retiring from active soccer. He wasn’t modelling for half a dozen years and expecting the choicest coaching job in his home country.

    https://www.iol.co.za/sport/soccer/bundesliga/klinsmanns-coaching-licence-determined-valid-ahead-of-bayern-match-40778332