Sport Recorder


Sports Recorder Edition, Monday June 26, 2023. By Emeka Obasi

Okey Emmanuel Isima was top striker of Holy Ghost College, Owerri ( Hogosco) when they won the East Central Schools Cup in 1974. As defending champions in 1975, they were battered by Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha ( DMGS ).

Hogosco had a formidable squad and everyone thought the trophy would remain in Owerri. Isima was well known by Dengramites but he beat their defence and fired into the net. The ball was nowhere to be found so the referee failed to acknowledge it as a goal.

Emma Merenini, who operated from the flanks for the Arugo Boys was sure the ball went in. His team mates also saw the the net shake. However, the DMGS goalie, Sylvanus Unogu ( Abuma ) did not bother about the round leather because it was outside the field of play.

Merenini explained the mystery : “That match with DMGS was my worst game. Our first goal was not counted because the net had hole. It was a goal by Okey Isima,” he told me from his Houston, Texas base in the United States.

DMGS gave the defending champions a 5 -1 drubbing. It was a huge humiliation and Isima did not forgive the referee for not recording his goal. He found a way to punish the official and executed it perfectly.

I am in touch with Isima’s friend, Stan Okeke, who was also part of the Hogosco squad and had advised the former to move from Abbott High School, Ihiala to Owerri. He relived this story through another old boy, Mathew Emeka Chigbo.

” Isima told me after the match that he was so sad that he collected a pass from Tony Merenini ( Takwa ), put it between the legs of the referee, mercilessly brought him down and pleaded it was a mistake”, Chigbo said.

The Merenini Brothers, Emma and Tony, played for Holy Ghost College. Captained by Charles Kagha ( Charlie Pisces ), the team also had Godwin Gbenimacho (Mature ), keeper Mathew Onyeacho ( Stormy Weather ) who was replaced by Kingsley Ufere when the goals began to rain, Godwin Gbenimacho, Bruno Obi ( Banquo Santana), Titus Okere, Adolphus Dike ( Sukana) and Libero Cardinal.

DMGS had a powerful force that had not yet earned recognition. This was the team of Skipper Nnamdi Anyafo ( Waskey, later nicknamed Policeman by Ernest Okonkwo ), Mike Ochiagha ( Ochiwar), Nwachukwu Onyekwelu ( Igaliga ), Vincent Chika ( Macbeth ) and Clement Nwuba ( Arugo Style ).

Also part of that squad were Charles Ononye ( Penalty Specialist ), Vincent Moneke, Onubogu ( Abule Scissors), Obinwa ( Sabata Killer ), Onyechi Obi, Paul Okafor, Ibekwe Hercules, Anosike, Obegolu, Odife and reserve goalie Dume Nnamoko.

My friend Vitalis Eke went down memory lane. “In that grand finale, Igaliga scored a hat trick for DMGS. The other goals came from Anyafo and Abule Scissors’ powerful left footer”, he said. Eke was at Government Secondary School, Owerri, bombed 4-0 by Hogosco in the early round.

Arugo coach, Sunny ‘Soccer’ Aguta, was crest fallen. In the 1974 grand finale, his boys had massacred Government Secondary School, Afikpo by the same 5 – 1 margin. He threw in Ufere, instead of Mathew Ohanu, to take over from Onyeacho.

Ufere was not only Senior Prefect of Holy Ghost College, he was as big as Igaliga. His job was to get rid of the DMGS striker but the damage had been done. Merenini said Arugo defence found it difficult to handle the hat trick hero.

Ufere was converted to keeper by Aguta. He started as a striker at Township Primary School, Works Road, Port Harcourt. The reverse happened to Okey’s younger brother, Ndu.

The junior Isima was the goalkeeper of Ogidi Boys High School before his elder brother influenced his move to Hogosco and encouraged him to play as a striker instead. Popularly known in Ogidi as Atakama, Ndu Isima played for Hogosco Juniors before leaving for Christ the King College, Onitsha ( CKC ).

Chigbo will not forget the humiliation of Holy Ghost College. His buddy,Andrew Kekeocha, described it as ” a disaster in the History of schools football.” Chigbo’s bad day was extended.

” The bus I hired left about eight students stranded in Enugu so I had my own special match when they came back three days later”, Chigbo told Okeke. Isima invited Okeke to Europe for a professional career but his dad, Prof. Ambrose Okeke, stopped the young man from travelling.

That 1975 final was all some of the players needed to excel. Enugu Rangers coach, Dan Anyiam, waited for them to get out of college and grabbed school boys. Gbenimacho, Anyafo, Isima, Igaliga, Emma Merenini, Chika and Ochiagha, became Flying Antelopes. Tony Merenini and Nwuba joined rivals, Vasco Da Gama.

DMGS coach, Ogugua, was encouraged by school principal, Chief Austin Ezenwa, to keep the school on top. Agbalanze was a Biafran Army officer and had taught at St. Patrick’s College, Asaba before the Civil War. One of his students, Paul Ogbebor, fought on the Nigerian side.

It was emotional when at the end of the war, Biafran officers were asked to report at Government Secondary School, Owerri. One of the Federal officers who interrogated Ezenwa was Ogbebor, his former student.

The year DMGS retained the trophy, 1976, Maj. Ogbebor was sentenced to death on allegations that he was part of the Bukar Dimka coup. At the last minute, Col. Domkat Bali looked at the list, saw the last name and cancelled it. That was how Ezenwa’s student and member of the Nigeria Defence Academy Regular Course One escaped execution at the Bar Beach.

Ezenwa was also a good politician. They nicknamed him UPGA ( after United Progressives Grand Alliance, a First Republic coalition ). Coach Ogugua was known as ‘Coke and Stout’.

Friendship grew after the 1975 grand finale. Anyafo and Merenini left for the United States in 1976, on the same day, same flight and headed to the same school. They shared room at Huntsville University, Alabama. Both have lived in Houston since 1982.

Okey Isima turned professional in Portugal, played for Club de Belenenses, Uniao Madeira and Vitoria SC, respectively. Ndu Isima was at Asabatex, Standard of Jos and Julius Berger before flying to the US. He graduated from University of Alabama, Huntsville ( UAH).

Okey Isima is late. He won the African Nations Cup with the Green Eagles in 1980. The Isimas lived in America. Ndu later relocated to Durban, South Africa. Tony Merenini is also late.

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