I had a pleasant phone call from my dear friend, Benjamin Uzoka alias Avenger, who had the distinction of winning a world cup as a teenager! Incidentally, his teammate and also my friend, Arthur Ebunam has also called me up to fix up a date to go out for drinks.
Not many Nigerians know that the country won a world cup in football back in 1977. Most Nigerians would regale you with stories of 1985 when Nigeria won the maiden Kodak Under-16 world cup through the Nduka Ugbade-led team.
The unknown truth is that Christ the King College (CKC), Onitsha won the world schools cup in Dublin, Ireland back in 1977. CKC Onitsha was then under the iconic superintendence of the legendary Principal, Rev. Father Nicholas Tagbo, who was in his days a mesmerizing footballer alongside his bosom friend and classmate, Dr Fidelis Ezemenari, founding CEO of Ajaokuta Steel.
Nigeria must celebrate her world-beaters unlike the Americans, for instance, that would play a game that nobody knows of between two United States’ cities and loudly celebrate it as winning the World Series!
Now let’s celebrate our young lads from CKC Onitsha who after winning the Anambra State and Nigerian Academicals Cup in 1977 then went ahead to represent Africa in the global competition in Dublin, and ended up carting the coveted cup home.
It was in Awka, the capital of Anambra State that I ran into Hon Arthur Ebunam, the midfield maestro of the CKC team that made history. Arthur Ebunam would eventually play for Rangers International of Enugu and the Green Eagles of Nigeria before travelling to Clemson University, United States, for further studies on a football scholarship.
The CKC team that won the cup was made up of the crack goalkeepers Peter Ogbodo and Paul Obiakor; ace defenders Sylvester Ezeani, Amaechi Igweobi, Benjamin Uzoka, Valentine Nnadi, and Mbanefo Chukwurah; astute midfielders Arthur Ebunam, Patrick Ikeagu, and Ugochukwu Nebedum; wily wingers Chibo Offodile and Samuel Igwenagu; and of course the deadly strikers, Skipper Nnamdi Nwokocha and Okey Ozoh.
The CKC boys played seven matches in the competition and did not lose any match. Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and Turkey were the previous countries that won the tournament. Some 14 countries took part in the tourney. Aside from winning the tournament trophy, the CKC stars won the best-behaved team trophy.
The boys of CKC Onitsha beat Luxemburg 2-0 with Skipper Nnamdi “Camel” Nwokocha scoring both goals. The boys went ahead to pip France 1-0 with Nwokocha scoring the only goal. Finland fell 2-0 with Nwokocha also netting both goals.
The CKC boys annihilated Denmark 8-0 with the strikers Nwokocha and Okey Ozoh scoring hat-tricks while the wingers, Chibo Offodile and Samual Igwenagu, bagged the remaining two goals.
The all-conquering team had to settle for a 1-1 draw with the host nation Ireland with Skipper Nwokocha scoring CKC’s only goal.
Holland suffered a 1-0 loss as Okey Ozoh scored the winner.
In the pulsating final against Turkey, the CKC boys led with two goals from the lethal boots of Okey Ozoh before the Turkish lads equalized, thereby forcing a penalty shootout which CKC won 7-5, with the winning kick coming from Patrick Ikeagu who famously asked Coach Chukwuma Igweonu: “Coach, isi’m gbaa?” that translates to: “Coach, did you ask me to take the kick?”
Thus Nigeria won her first ever world cup in 1977, but the country is yet to give these breakthrough CKC boys there deserving due.
Some of the winners have passed away such as Skipper Nwokocha, but the living ones like Arthur Ebunam and Benjamin Uzoka are ready pointers to what needs to be done to honour our “heroes past” in the words of the National Anthem.