Super Eagles Uyo Diary: Coming out of football retirement

So, it was another trip to Uyo for the Super Eagles game and as usual, we, the travelling journalists had planned to play a football match against a team based in the city.

This whole idea started randomly about seven years ago when we visited Kano for the Super 6 playoffs of the Nigerian League. We hadn’t had a game in a while so we started planning for this. Eventually, it was against a Nigeria Football Federation Executive Committee member, also known as Indo, but real name is Otuekong Nse Essien and his team called Indo Rockets. He was still recuperating from a recent medical challenge but would get his team to play against us, and even be at the stadium.

Usual departure hitches and my American friends

The lot of us discussed while waiting for our bus to get fixed

I had met Mike Safosnick four years ago after he bought a copy of my book, A Thousand Times On The Same Road on Amazon. He caught up with me on Twitter and I was a guest on his podcast. He travels a lot to watch sporting activities and had never been to Nigeria, so we immediately started planning a visit to Nigeria for him.

After three years of planning, he would finally be in Nigeria to watch the Super Eagles against South Africa game, so he would come with two other friends. A lot had been put into this planning, and they were initially supposed to make cameo appearances in our novelty game on Thursday.

They would fly to Lagos, on Sunday, June 2, tour Lagos and then head to Lome on June 3, watch the World Cup qualifying match between Togo and South Sudan, and then return to Nigeria, and Port Harcourt on June 6, we drive to Uyo, and stay three days, return to Port Harcourt on Saturday, June 8, watch the Nigeria League game between Rivers United and Shooting Stars on June 9, and then they depart to their bases on June 10. However, a logistics nightmare ensured they would not be able to land in Port Harcourt on Thursday, so would rather fly straight to Uyo on Friday, the day of the match.

About six of us decided to drive to Uyo, regardless, Carl Orakwue, Victor Sampong (Ghanaman), Benjamin Okenna (Sawadinho), Andrew Randa, and Femi Balogon, so we opened a WhatsApp group to help with the planning and logistics, but two days to departure, we were called by a member of the Rivers State chapter of the sports writers Association of Nigeria to join their bus, rather. This was to give them more numbers and we thought it would not be a bad idea. Before then, we had pre-planned our lodging and sought the services of a lady to prepare food for six of us and paid her upfront. We had it all sorted out.

The strike by the Labour Congress almost scuttled our plans, especially for Randa and Sawadinho who were coming to Port Harcourt from Abuja and Lagos, but good thing the strike was called off on time and they made it to Port Harcourt.

On departure, we found a minor issue with the brakes and had to stop to fix it. This took about one hour of our time and delayed our arrival in Uyo, but we got in, had a quick lunch and off to the game. I will talk about the hotel later. I have told our hotel plug, Faith Oluchi that this will be the last time I will give her the job to sort out a hotel for me on any trip I make out of Rivers State. I’d rather sleep in the bus terminal than accept her hotel suggestion, but we move.

The SWAN Selected Game

The General Manager of Enugu Rangers, Amobi Ezeaku got a brace on his debut

I never planned to play this game. I have not been active for a while, and haven’t played any real football since 2019. I had to stop because of a recurring muscle spasm in my lower back that would come with excruciating pain. I would rather take walks in my area and try to average eight to ten thousand steps daily and on weekends I push for twelve to fifteen thousand steps. So, I just wanted to be part of the game, make some noise, join them in their pre-match warm-ups, take pictures and leave. However, a pesky young lady from Lagos State, Yewande Atinuke Esan would not let me be. She kept on asking If I hadn’t taken my jerseys, then she threw a pair at me.

Atinuke Esan and Sam Areo

I had carried my football boots, though. Then Atinuke would ask, “Sir China, dress up na. Go and join them.”

What on earth was wrong with her.

I joined in the prematch warm-ups, then sat on the bench, hoping I was not going to play the game. Amobi Ezeaku opened scores for us on his debut game then Sulaimon Adebayo, also known as Pooja made it 2-0 just before halftime. At the start of the second half we conceded two quick goals, and then they scored a third. Our coach, Tobi Adepoju was determined that everyone would play which was not a bad thing. When we were 3-2 down, he threw me in to replace Henry. I had my fair beat of run around. We equalised, again an Amobi Ezeaaku goal, then conceded another, before they got a second penalty to end the game at 5-3. Well played, lads. It was time to head to the stadium to sort out our accreditation tags for the game and do the press conference.

Bench warmers: Ghanaman, Tunde Bello, Okey Onwugbonu and yours truly

Mathew Edafe and Deji Omotoyimbo

One of the first to greet me as I walked into the Godswill Akpabio Stadium was Mathew Edafe, a good friend and brother. We would tease each other all the time and like I will always tell him that he no get sense, but na correct person every day of the week. Then I saw Deji Omotoyimbo. This na one of those guys I would watch on and on and on and wonder how he had all that wealth of knowledge talking about sports as though he was talking about his own self. Now we are contemporaries, how? We exchanged pleasantries. I stayed with them until the South Africans came to train and chased us out so I went upstairs for the pre-match press conference.

I did not get an accreditation tag even though I applied for four of them for me and my friends, Mike, Eddie and Harris. I got three tags, though, so I decided to give it to them when they arrive, and then buy a VIP ticket for myself. As soon as I am in the stadium, I could go anywhere I wanted in it. My face and name speak for itself anywhere in Nigeria, Africa and the world, so I wasn’t bothered that I did not get a tag.

Pre-match press conference

Press Conference for an international football match. What a shame

As we waited for the press conference to start I saw how rowdy it was. For a long time, I had decided to stay away from Super Eagles press conferences in Uyo. As great as that stadium was with the best pitch in the country, those who built it did not understand the need for a conference room that can take a sizeable crowd. Another defect was the media tribune.

I only decided to attend the press conference because it was the first for Finidi George and I wanted to be there.

As I was mulling over my thoughts, Finidi walked past me with Kelechi Iheanacho, and Wilfred Ndidi, and I went, “Ah! Finidi! Na so I small wey you no see me?”

He turned around and said, “Ah! Sorry o. My mind no even dey here. I just wan pass do this thing.”

We exchanged pleasantries, hugged and I whispered some good luck words into his ears.

Colin Udoh had sent me two questions to ask Finidi George, but there was no way I was going to pass through that crowd to ask, so I sent one to Carl Orakwue, and I planned to call up Finidi later that night to ask the second question.
The first question was As important as a win is to get back on track for the World Cup Qualifying, does he feel like he also needs to win against South Africa to prove himself to some Nigerians who still doubt his ability to handle the Super Eagles?

And the second question was, In his first game as interim coach, he beat Ghana. In his second game, he lost to Mali. Some people looked at that Mali game and used that to judge you, especially his reluctance to use his subs. What changed between those two games that led to such a disparity in results and performance?

I eventually failed to call him because there was no time. That’s because Indo hosted us to a lavish reception at his Carabana Resort.

It was a tiring day, a lot of travelling, a bit of running, watching a press conference, and then being hosted to lots of drinks, but little food. We had to look for food later that night because we were hungry and could not sleep. Did we get food? No we did not. Some of the boys were able to get just meat pies at an eatery.

Later at night, I asked my hotel kitchen to get me some hot water for coffee and biscuits, and then I slept like a baby.

It’s match day, and the Super Eagles must win this one.

After buying VIP tickets, the gates have been thrown open

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