By Emeka Obasi

Rivalry between Igbo and Yoruba was ignited in 1977 when defending African Winners Cup champions, Shooting Stars of Ibadan confronted Enugu Rangers in the semi finals. The hero of that game was one dark horse, Nnamdi Anyafo.

The young Flying Antelopes left back did the almost impossible: check rampaging right winger Olusegun Odegbami. The job was so perfectly executed that ace radio sports commentator, Ernest Okonkwo found a new nickname for Anyafo. He became ‘Policeman’.

Odegbami was world class. Okonkwo called him ‘Mathematical’. If he had played in Europe, the stormtrooper would have ended up as one of the best globally. How Anyafo neutralised the Green Eagles hitman continues to attract attention.

Rangers dethroned Shooting and advanced to win the African Winners Cup trophy in Yaounde, Cameroon just like the Oluyole Warriors did in 1976. The Coal City Boys defeated Thomas Nkono’s Canon Sportif. IICC dethroned Tonnerre Kalara and Roger Milla.

Unlike in politics where some Lagos All Progressives Congress ( APC ) chieftains declared war on everything Igbo, football brings joy to the Yoruba and their Igbo friends.

Odegbami and Rangers goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala, shared room in the Green Eagles camp. Christian Chukwu and Odegbami can still share ugba and ishi ewu in Enugu and Lagos.

Enugu Rangers Veterans have a powerful union and they meet regularly in the United States, the abode of many of them. In 2017, they invited Odegbami as Guest Speaker. Highlight of the Congress was when Mathematical and Policeman were introduced.

Donnie Ikpa captured that meeting and gave graphic details of what transpired in Houston, Texas.

“We actually dubbed the Houston event the 40th Anniversary to that epic match,” Ikpa said. We wanted to provide a set of handcuffs and a key for a ceremonial uncuffing but scrapped the idea. Odegbami, in his usual grace, was game to the idea.”

When that did not happen, both veterans were invited to the stage for a memorable handshake instead of trading tackles as was seen in 1977.

“Eventually, we decided to have the two meet on the floor for a handshake. The MC, Dombraye Ibe, was very knowledgeable about that encounter and joked that Anyafo even followed Odegbami to their dressing room at half time.

“Nnamdi, on his part, mentioned that his performance was borne out of fear after Nwabueze Nwankwo (Bulldozer, a former Biafran Army officer and Green Eagles wing back ) threatened fire and brimstone if Odegbami took a shot on goal, let alone score. The meeting of Odegbami and Anyafo was the highlight of Houston 2017,” Ikpa explained.

Ikpa did not play for Rangers but grew up as part of the Rangers Family. He was a famous Ball Boy and knew almost everything about Rangers players from 1971 to 1975.

He played for Enugu Greater Tomorrow alongside Louis Igwilo, Benedict Ugwu, Christian Ogbodo and Geoffrey Madueke. Ikpa was at National Grammar School, Nike with Arthur Ebunam ( before he went to Christ the Kings College, Onitsha for Higher School) and Emeka Nwosu, whose elder brother Francis ( German Wall ) starred for Rangers.

Ikpa is equipped with degrees in Economics/Finance and Computer Science from South Eastern Oklahoma State University and Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas respectively.

Maybe that explains his ability to compute veterans’ movement. He told me about David Adiele, Nnamdi Egbukichi, Emma Merenini, Charles Okonkwo and tennis star, Anthony Mmoh.

“Adiele lives in Houston. He used to live next building to Egbukichi and Tony Uzoka at the Vasco Da Gama P and T quarters. Adiele was at the Houston 2017 Reunion. He looked very fit and was having fun at the event.

“His Vasco Da Gama team mate goalkeeper Ahamefula Umelo was at the inauguration meeting, Maryland 2014. Emma Merenini, I call him Camp Commandant or School Boy International, is a very busy person.”

I got more. “Nnamdi ‘ Stability’ Egbukichi was the Golden Boy at Methodist College Uzuakoli ( Uzumeco) before his Nigerian Academicals exploits against Ghana, in 1974. He briefly featured for Vasco before leaving for Seattle University.

“I benefitted from some of his football memorabilia. Egbukichi gifted me the No. 5 Nigeria Academicals tog when he returned from Lagos.”

Ikpa was close to Charles ‘Hurricane’ Okonkwo. ” That’s my guy, Charlie! Top to bottom, family of athletes. I didn’t know about his uncle ( Olisa Chukwura, UK Tourist, 1949 ) but Tony ( my classmate ) and Victor ( Oduah Last Man ) were great.

“Victor Okonkwo didn’t realise he he had great potentials, or maybe, he wasn’t interested. Charlie could have played for Nike if he wanted (he ended up playing for Rangers and Green Eagles ). He was that good and could play 10 positions, save for goalkeeper.”

Tony Mmoh played tennis for Nigeria and took part in the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games. He was also at the French and American Open respectively. His son, Michael is doing well in tennis too.

Ikpa said: “Wow! You just brought me back to my days at Ogui, Enugu where Tony and I grew up. We were classmates at National Grammar School, Nike (Christian Chukwu was there earlier), where he excelled in everything but chose tennis. Glad to know that Michael is his son.

“In Ogui, oh yes! No. 3 Denton Street by Morehouse Street, to be precise and basically all over Enugu township, soccer was our right of passage. If you didn’t play soccer, something was wrong but tennis was a better calling for Tony.”

Donnie Emeka Ikpa is a happy man. Married to Tina for 41 years, their first son, Emeka, was an officer of the United States Navy. There is another son, Emenike.

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