Sports Recorder edition, Monday September 11, 2023. By Amos Etuk
On Saturday, August 12, 1989 Nigeria’s Senior football team then known as the Green Eagles had a crucial World Cup qualifier against Angola for the 1990 showpiece which took place in Italy.
That crucial fixture took place at the Main bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos then a fortress of our football teams.
Two significant events remain vivid till date, the capacity of the Stadium exceeded its limit of over 60,000 fans filled up every available space as early as 2pm that fateful day, there were no empty seats as fans waited patiently till 4pm (then the usual kick off time) for the epic clash.
It was perhaps the biggest spectacle of fans ever witnessed in any Super Eagles fixtures especially after our Nations Cup victory in 1980 at the same venue.
That fixture saw several deaths of fans and our legendary midfielder, Sam Okwaraji who collapsed on the pitch and was later confirmed dead in a Lagos hospital.
That match witnessed one of the greatest moments of passion, support, patriotism for our football team who dominated matches at the National Stadium.
As the years rolled past with subsequent administrations in governance, the state of sports decay became a national embarrassment as facilities became dens for hoodlums, rodents and reptiles having new homes and corrupt Government Officials feasting with greed on the resources meant for sports development.
With these challenges, the national football team (later transformed to the Super Eagles) began the journey of rotation of new home grounds, sometimes based on political sentiments across the country that left the team uncoordinated, unable to adapt to joggled environments and a poor supporter base. It left the team with fluctuating results.
The years ahead especially during the return of democracy saw State Governments take particular attention in developing sporting infrastructure in developing talents, engaging talents and the possibility of boosting sports tourism.
One of the greatest asset of leadership was bestowed in Akwa Ibom State during the administration of His Excellency, Godswill Akpabio who during his stewardship of the Uncommon Transformation era left the legacy of the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo which was opened in November 7, 2014 and had three Presidents in attendance.
The stadium, a 30,000 capacity seater today is Nigeria’s best sporting facility to behold, and affirmed by CAF and FIFA as the home ground of the Super Eagles for the World Cup qualifiers starting in November 2023 and the last 2023 Nations Cup Qualifier in Group A which took place in Uyo over the weekend.
That mauling of Sao Tome and Principe by the Super Eagles on Sunday witnessed the biggest converge of football fans in Nigeria in over 30years in our sporting history.
As early as 1pm that Sunday, the gates to the Godswill Akpabio Stadium had been thrown open to fans who thronged the stadium to watch their darling team and stars.
Courtesy of Governor Umo Eno, the Governor of Akwa Ibom State who purchased 30,000 tickets for fans and gave the team and the management of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the best of hospitality in the State, the stadium was filled up before 4pm.
The support was massive all through 90 minutes, the atmosphere was electrifying, the organisation was top notch, facilities excellent, the pitch was lush green, the fans kept cheering, everyone assigned to a task ensured that the job got done and the Super Eagles soared, scoring a whopping six goals, the highest in the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium and in recent years across the country.
It has been a welcome reunion for the Super Eagles in Uyo and Akwa Ibom State. In their previous matches in the State, they recorded six wins, one draw and two losses, and also qualified for the World Cup with a game to spare in 2018.
On Sunday, our star boy, Victor Osimehin found a fertile ground in Uyo hitting a hat trick and attaining a personal 20 goal mark and is likely to surpass Yakubu Aiyegbeni’s 21 and Segun Odegbami’s 23 goals for the senior team respectively. With age on his side, he is certain to better Rashidi Yekini’s all time best of 37 goals.
The experience in Uyo left the team Coach, NFF, players, Minister and fans satisfied that the team has settled down in Akwa Ibom State to get more honours. With the best infrastructure, hotels and sporting facilities, the results of our matches signals the best confirmation on why this tradition must be consolidated.
Kudos to the Akwa Ibom State Government led by His Excellency, Pastor Umo Eno, Governor of Akwa Ibom State for being the perfect host. The State Commissioner for Youth and Sports, Sir Monday Ebong Uko has a winning touch on all he sets to achieve and the match on Sunday was just another cap to his winning streaks.
The organisation on the home front was perfect with the legendary Elder Paul Bassey serving as the Coordinator for Sao Tome fixture along with a team of patriots which included NFF Board member, Nse Essien, Commissioners of Transport, Special Duties, Information, Internal Security, SWAN, NUJ and the Akwa Ibom State Football Normalisation Committee which had a successful inaugural outing.
In November later this year, Akwa Ibom State will be waiting, ready to reel out once again the best professional service in excellence as we host Lesotho in our first World Cup Qualifier. It will kick start our journey to USA/Canada in 2026 and it will be another full house of the best converge of fans in Nigeria.
Welcome back home, Super Eagles. Everybody loves the team in Uyo.