7 minutes with China: What’s the big deal about counting to 1000?


With the Big Boss, Stephen Keshi, my GOAT! Match No 803, Nigeria v Malawi 2013

For about a year now, random figures had been appearing on my tweets plus the hashtag, #ThisFootballSef and I believe a lot of people at the time were lost as to what it meant.

As time went on the hashtag changed to #Ikwerreman1000 with some form of explanation to clear the air.

I had been counting down games I had witnessed at stadiums ever since I watched my very first game in 1989 in Port Harcourt, an Old Division 2 game between Sharks and NEPA, who were based in Lagos.

Sharks had a decent team that year and I was proud to be a fan. Coached by Monday Sinclair with Simeon Dumbor and Davidson Bobmanuel as his assistants, Sharks blew away all opposition that came their way, at least in Port Harcourt. Their style was out of this world and I maintain till this day that everything Barcelona has done in terms of style in the last fifteen years, Sharks did between 1988 and 1995.

The goalkeeping duties were shared between Yusuf Husseini and Savior Etuk, though Ghanaian born Yusuf was first choice.

The defence had the likes of Noel Anyanwu, Kayode Solomon, Kingsley Ezemuze, Osagie Eson and Amadi Nnadozie. Godwin Odey was a bit part player in that defence.

The midfield featured the likes of Kennedy Okogba even though he didn't really play until the 2-0 win later that year against Ibukun Oluwa as he was out with an injury for most of the first round. There was also Finidi George, Alari Geroge, and Fubara Owonaro in midfield. Okwuchukwu Waobikeze played from the wings and the man leading the lines was Missah Ibrahim Allotey, the Ghanaian-born predator who ended up with sixteen goals that year.

Boma Thomas and Loolo Nwike also played upfront for Sharks that year.

Why the record keeping?
Match No 571, March 6 in Fiokpo, Togo. Maranatha fans thought they could scare us. Dolphins still won

In 1985 as a 3rd year student in Secondary School I had followed football and sports a lot, on television and the newspapers/ magazines and I had an early impression that in Nigerian football we do not keep records.

That year, Davidson Owumi, then a political science student of the University of Port Harcourt and playing for Sharks won the Bournvita award for top scorer in the league. He scored nine goals.

Efosa Osayi, who played for Bendel Insurance then, put up a claim that it was he, with ten goals who should be top scorer and not Owumi.

After series of arguments, deliberations and probably setting up a committee, the Nigeria Football Association came up with a ruling that Owumi was top scorer in the League and then allocated 8 goals to Efosa Osayi.

I hear Osayi is still bitter till this day for being denied an honour he thought he deserved.

From that point on, I opened files on the league and other football competitions in Nigeria.

I had notebooks that recorded match scores and goal scorers every week, even though I lost a lot of them during house moving and all, but I started taking notes.

In 1989 when I watched my first league game, I naturally recorded it and never stopped.

Sometime in April 2017, I was going through some old records and my tally showed I had witnessed 949 football matches and I thought to myself, “I am close to 1000, why not celebrate it?”

I am not celebrating one thousand games because I think I am a special breed of human or the best, certainly not. I want to believe that people like Emeka Enyadike, Kunle Solaja, Sab Osuji, Paul Bassey and Emma Jemegah possibly could have done more than I have.

As I type this blog post at exactly 7:38 am, March 24, 2018, I have successfully witnessed 998 games live at a stadium and this journey has taken me to 60 Stadiums in 49 Nigerian towns, 17 Stadiums in 16 African cities, 2 Stadiums in Spain and one in Brazil.

I am simply just celebrating a personal achievement because it is not easy journeying through all of these and have no accident, armed robbery situation or plane crash and I am happy to be alive after all the traveling I have done in 29 years.

Of the 998 games I have seen so far, 778 were league games, 73 were in the Cup competitions, 65 in the Women League, 31 in CAF Confederation Cup, 24 played by the Super Eagles, 15 in the CAF Champions League, 12 in the Africa Women Championships, 6 were foreign league games while others are some pre-season friendly matches involved here, especially between 1990 and 1995 when I used to watch a lot of them.

On Sunday, March 25, 2018 at the KrisDera Hotel Stadium in Omoku, I will watch my 999th game as Go Round FC take on Rangers while a week later on April 1, 2018, I clock one thousand as Go Round FC play MFM FM.

GOOD, BAD AND DANGEROUS
With Victor Moses and Victor Anichebe, Match no 709 Nigeria  v Ethiopia 

In my 29 year trip around the world, I was never involved in an accident on Nigeria’s dangerous roads event though a lot of traveling through the night was done with Dolphins.

I was never a victim or armed robbers even though we had lot of close shaves while traveling.

There was no plane crash even though there were two close shaves in 2005. While returning from Abidjan after watching ASEC Mimosas v Dolphins (Match number 468) at some point some of us thought the Sosoliso carrier we were flying in had dropped into the sea. It was shaking like person down with malaria and it’s altitude was dropping faster than a fighter jet that had been shot. There was lots of screaming, praying and crying while that happened.

Later that year, while returning from Cairo where we played Arab Contractor (Match number 498), the landing gear or something refused to activate as the Egypt Air carrier tried to take off. Three attempts to take off failed as the nose lifted and came down.

And just when the pilot realised that plane won’t fly, he screeched to a stop. The plane stopped just about twenty meters to the end of the run way. There was a residential complex a hundred meters away.

So I am celebrating because a couple of people lost their lives or got maimed doing this same thing I have done.

But what was the good really? The good was the opportunity to have this experience at all.

In November 2003, the Rivers State sports commissioner, Allwell Onyesoh put call to me, asking that I do not leave the office, until he comes over to see us… Us, meaning myself and the late Henry Kalio, my boss then.

We waited for him from noon until about 7pm and as Henry Kalio got agitated and a bit angry, Allwell Onyesoh turned up telling us he had been in Government House and that the governor, Peter Odili had just dissolved the boards of Sharks and Dolphins led by Adokiye Amiesimaka and Monday Ngbor respectively.

We put it on the news and he stayed back chatting with us until the news was read by late Cleopatra Tawo.
Match No 595, Sekondi, as Nigeria lost to Cote D'Ivoire 1-0 at the AFCON

After the news, he asked to take his leave and as he opened the newsroom door, he turned around to us and said, “Ehen, from now, Henry you will be with Sharks and China you will work with Dolphins as media officers.”

That was how this journey of a thousand games was enhanced.

At the time of this appointment I was on my 400th game which was the FA Cup final between Lobi Stars and Sharks in Kaduna. It had taken me fourteen years to watch four hundred games but from this point on things moved wildly.

I began to cover an average 45 games a year cutting across Dolphins, home and away in the League, FA Cup games, Enyimba and Dolphins on the continent, Rivers Angels, Super Eagles, Falcons… I was watching football voraciously, not married and no girlfriend, I was wild.

In 2004, I watched 45 matches including one crazy weekend of June 4-6 of that year.

After Rhythm Sports at 8am on Friday, June 6, I left my car in the office and hopped a motor bike to the park and traveled to Calabar for the game between Rivers Angels and Pelican Stars.

I slept in Calabar and on Saturday morning I was back in Port Harcourt and straight to the airport where I flew to Abuja for the game between Nigeria and Rwanda. After the game I slept in Abuja and the next day, Sunday I had done the five hour road trip to Gombe for the game between Gombe United and Dolphins. I was back in Port Harcourt on Monday and it was difficult to convince my family I had done that trip in three days, but that was me.

In 2005, I witnessed 68 games at Stadia across the country including trips to Malabo, Accra, Abidjan, Midrand, Tanta, Mehalla, Cairo, Rabat and Libreville.

The good was that I was living my dream.

The bad was simply the shenanigan in the Nigerian League and I saw a lot of them. Pages will be exhausted if I try to explain in detail but I was watching a really messed up league. I saw fan violence in Port Harcourt, Ilorin, Jos, Makurdi, Gusau and a lot more towns in Nigeria. I saw referee sell their consciences for pots of soup. I saw a referee stop a game and tell our captain that we would lose a game no matter what we did because my team gave him nothing for the game and had made a promise to give hime something for a previous game but did not fulfill. He said we were owing him. We lost that game successfully. It was terrible, but what then is the ugly?

With Uriah Rennie in Gambia. Match no 561, Hawks v Dolphins
The ugly was the near death experience when a group of street urchins threatened to kill me and at some point I had to hire my own private security to escort me to the stadium in Port Harcourt. That was in 2004.

These hoodlums trailed me to Kaduna where Dolphins were banished to and I was almost too scared to go out to watch the game number 438 against Enyimba until a friend of mine put a call through on my behalf and a group of private security guards drove to my hotel and escorted me to the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna.

I saw a fight at the airport in Ghana when “area boys” from Port Harcourt engaged at least four commissioners and five legislators, Special Assistants and other dignitories to a fight, a real physical combat where punches were thrown and blood spilled. It was mayhem at the Kotoka International Airport in Accra and at some point airport security was called in to make arrests.

I am drifting, I know I am. But a thousand journeys simply means a thousand stories to tell and I am telling my story and will tell it in a book later on.

HOW WE ARE CELEBRATING?

After the hashtags and all the campaigns on twitter, the 1000th game is nigh. From Monday, March 26, 2016 to Friday, March 30, we will be visiting selected Secondary Schools in Port Harcourt to talk to the kids. On Monday we (my team and I) shall be at the CITA International School, Igbo-Etche in Rivers State.

There will be other schools, at least four of them happening next week.

Like I said earlier, 1000 games means 1000 stories to tell and we well be hoping our stories would be enough to inspire them to have a liking for Nigerian football and sports since we have a generation coming behind us that are only interested in European football.

It took me watching Yinka Craig and Akinloye Oyebanji at the 1984 Olympic Games opening ceremony to make up my mind that I wanted to be a sports broadcaster, so who knows what the next one week can produce? Maybe the next Nigerian kid that will do 2000 games?

At Omoku on the day, it would be a carnival like atmosphere as one thousand balloons will be released to mark the event, players of both teams would file out in our Ikwerreman 1000 T-shirts, an award presented to me by a body that appreciates this feat and most of all, we party until we drop.

SPECIAL THANKS

My wife, Naomi and my boys for living without a husband and father most of the last 10 years we have been together; Ufuoma Egbamuno, MD/CEO, Foskolo Media Productions Limited for putting this together; Nduka Orjinmo; Ekine Moseph of the BBC for the ideas; Aitel Nigeria; Go Round FC; MFM FC; Krisdera Hotel Stadium; Kingsroom Unisex- our beauty partners; Rivers State Signage and Advertisement Agency, RISAA; Wazobia FM; Nigeria Info FM; Today FM; Wish FM; Sanipe Damiete of Sanitz Konsult; Kelviano Media; League Management Company; Chief Nduka Irabor; Mallam Shehu Dikko; Barrister Seyi Akinwumi; Barrister Isaac Danladi; Paul Bassey; Chief Emeka Inyama; Chief Goodfaith Etuemena; and all others who have been a part of this event in some way or the other.

Match no 581, FA Cup final, Dolphins v Rangers in Lagos

With Dickson Etuhu, AFCON 2008

With Bode Oguntuyi at the Media Center, AFCON 2008

Was honeymooning in Kumasi but couldn't help it. Match no 609 Kotoko v Al Itihad

With Nollywood man, Emeka Ike in Brazil, 2014

With former Bayelsa State CPS, Ebimo Amugo, Match no 498, Arab Contractors v Dolphins, Cairo

June 6, 2009, Promotion day, Dolphins v First Bank, Match no 637

Bus broke down on our way to a game. who else would push it?

With renowned football manager, Ebidowei Owefei, Match no  727, Nigeria v Argentina 

After that AFCON loss to Cote D'Ivoire we went clubbing to wipe our sorrows

With Olalekan Ige in Addis Ababa, 2007

With Valencia's Montoya, NPFL All Stars v Valencia, Match no  930

With Athletico Madrid's Saul Niguez

With Uche Okechukwu in Aba, 2007

When you've done 1000 games, you deserve the occasional kiss from the likes of Remi Sulola

With Blogger, Andrew Randa and Dare Art Alade June 2013

With Mfon Udoh, Match no 909 Rivers United  v Enyimba, 2016

With Danny Shittu in Spain

With Diego Simeone in Spain

With my buddy of 17 years, BBC's Oluwashina Okeleji, 2016 FA Cup final, Match no 938

With Deji Omotoyimbo in Abuja, 2011

With the Uche twins, Okechukwu and Emeka


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1 comments:

  1. Wow,I gbadu you. God bless you more and more

    ReplyDelete