By Emeka Obasi
Secondary Schools soccer in the old East Central State was dominated by Holy Ghost College (Hogosco) Owerri until 1975 when some Protestants from Onitsha stopped the Catholic School.
Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) came out with a killer squad. Their hitman, Nwachukwu Onyekwelu, better known as Igaliga, was unstoppable. In the grand finale, he roasted Hogosco, forcing coach Sunny ‘Soccer’ Aguta to introduce keeper Kingsley Ufere.
It was an unbelievable scoreline. Arugo, champions in 1971 and again in 1974, had never been so humiliated. Igaliga scored three goals and the Anglican school stood 5 – 1 above their opponents.
Ufere told me his job was to finish Igaliga.
“Our squad under Aguta was indomitable. I came in as the substitute goalkeeper. I did exactly as the coach instructed, to remove Igaliga as soon as I entered.”
Soon the well needed opportunity came. My friend, Vitalis Eke recalls that Igaliga already had three goals to his name while captain Nnamdi Anyafo and Abule Scissors helped to keep scores at 5-1.
Ufere said: “Igaliga tormented us so much in that match. A corner kick ensued as soon as I came in. I left the ball and punched Igaliga’s face. His game ended and my coach was happy. He would have scored more goals. Igaliga was simply unstoppable.”
Onyekwelu was as strong as a bull, it must have taken a killer punch to knock him out. The Dengramites were led by Anyafo, then known as ‘Wasky’ but changed to ‘Policeman’ after he neutralised Segun Odegbami when Rangers met Shooting Stars in the semis of the 1977 African Winners Cup.
Others in the team were Vincent ‘Macbeth’ Chika, Mike Ochiagha, Clement Nwuba whose nickname was ‘Arugo Style’, Hercules Obiekwe, Vincent Moneke and Goalkeeper Nwuba.
Superstars represented Arugo. Okey Isima, Emma and Tony (Takwa) Merenini, Godwin Gbenimacho, keeper Mathew Onyeacho, Jones Habor, Titus Okere, Chimeziri Igoni, Adolphus (Sukana) Dike, Banquo Obi (Bruno Santana), Gibson Njemanze, Cardinal and Skipper Charlie (Pisces) Kagha.
In 1977, Igaliga, Isima, Anyafo, Chika, Ochiagha and Emma Merenini United in the Enugu Rangers team that won the African Winners Cup in 1977.
Ten years later, Nwachukwu Onyekwelu died in a car crash on the way to Onitsha in February 1987. That was exactly one year after a member of the 1977 Rangers squad, Ogidi Ibeabuchi lost his life on the Benin – Asaba Highway.
Igaliga flew to the United States for further studies in 1978 and returned to Nigeria equipped with University degrees. Ogidi had passed out from the Physical Education department of the University of Benin.
Ufere continued with education and studied Biochemistry at the University of Lagos. In the soccer grand finale of the NUGA Games in 1978, the Akokites defeated University of Nigeria Nsukka ( UNN ) to win gold. Patrick Ekeji played for the losers. Adokiye Amiesimaka was in the winning team.
Ekeji and Ufere shook hands at the end. Both were products of Holy Ghost College. Ekeji was a champion with the school in 1971, with stars like Ones Ariri and Johnny Nwadioha.
Ufere said: “It was after college that I really played soccer. I was goalkeeper of Unilag throughout my stay there. After NUGA gold in 1978, we won silver in 1980.”
During NYSC in 1981, Ufere was so impressive that Ondo State governor, Adekunle Ajasin asked that he be posted to Housing Corporation Akure.
“The governor caused the NYSC to post me to the Ondo Sports Council after he watched me stop four penalty kicks against Housing. That was how I joined Housing Corporation. Their goalkeeper, Zion Ogunfeyimi had played for the Eagles and Shooting Stars.
“I kept for Ondo State at the Edo ’81 National Sports Festival. So I displaced Zion in goal for Ondo State as a member of the NYSC. That was the year full time footballers were excused from the National Sports Festival,” Ufere added.
I was in Benin to watch some of those games. Defending champions, Imo Trojans lost the gold medal to Ogun State on inferior goals difference. The Sports ministry adopted a league format instead of the usual knock out basis.
East Central State Spartans had won gold in 1973 and 1975. Trojans took over in 1977 and retained it in 1979. Apparently, Trojans would have won for the third time if the format had remained the same. Keeper Alex Opara and Chimezie Nwanaga were Trojans in 1981.
Ufere picked that DMGS demolition as his worst outing and will not forget the semifinals game in 1974 when Hogosco defeated Azia High School 1-0, thanks to Isima.
Presently, he is a big player in Imo politics. Until 2023, Ufere whose title is Ikenga Izuogu, was Special Adviser to Imo State governor, Hope Uzodinma on Mining Matters. He has also played in various boardrooms, from the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) to Imo State Consumer Protection Council.
His family has registered some firsts. His wife, Carol Ufere, left Rivers Ports Complex as the first woman to rise to the position of Ports Manager. Their daughter, Adaku, was named Attorney of the Year, in 2017 by the African Legals Awards. She has moved from South Africa to Delloite Consulting in the United States.
Their last daughter, Munachi lives in the United Kingdom. The boys, three of them, are playing big overseas. Two are Electrical / Electronics Engineers in the US. One is a Google Accountant in the UK.