Enugu Rangers will be crowned Nigeria Professional Football League champions on Sunday barring an improbable set of results. It will be the first time the Flying Antelopes will be winning the title in 32 years. One of club’s legends Christian Chukwu, who was part of the 1984 success, tells Completesportsnigeria.com’s SAB OSUJI how it feels to be so close to being a champion again…
PHOTOS BY GANIYU YUSUF:
You won the Nigeria League and FA Cups several times with Rangers as a player. After that came a whole 32 years of trophy drought for the club. How will the atmosphere be in Enugu on Sunday if Rangers win this year’s NPFL title for the seventh time?
It will be electrifying, I must tell you. It will be unprecedented. Thirty-two years without a trophy is not 32 days and you know what that means for a team like Rangers. As we speak, the entire city is already in festive mood and everyone is looking forward to seeing this happen. It’s still like some people here are still in the dream world and expecting to wake up to the reality on Sunday.
What makes this season’s expected trophy success something special?
Everything. Rangers as a club is the identity of every South Eastern Nigerian, I mean it is the pride of every Igbo man, whether you are from Enugu, Abia, Anambra, Imo or Ebonyi State. For them, it is a special brand, a mark of identity that you will always be proud to be associated with and you can see its support base cuts across the South East to the entire nation and Africa in general. And for such a club to go 32 years without a trophy and now get the opportunity to have a feel of that priceless silverware, I mean it is something special.
The name Christian Chukwu has always been synonymous with Rangers, can you recount your journey with the Flying Antelopes?
When I was playing for Rangers, we won several trophies including the league and Challenge Cup. That was when we had more dedicated players. Without taking any credit away from the present generation of players, at that time, during our generation, some called it golden generation of Rangers even though this set of players have equally written their names in gold if we win on Sunday.
We had the likes of Emmanuel Okala, Alloysius ‘Block Buster’ Atuegbu, Ogidi Ibeabuchi, Okey Isima, Nwabueze Nwankwo, Arthur Egbunam, Luke ‘Jazz Bucanner’, Louis Igwilo, and others. But I retired from active playing in 1981 and by 1982 I was named Rangers coach. By 1983, I won the Challenge Cup after we defeated DIC Bees of Kaduna in the final in a penalty shoot-out. The following year, 1984, I also won the League and that has remained the last time Rangers won the trophy till date including the Challenge Cup.
Now you are Technical Director of Rangers and you are close to lifting the cup again…
At present, we have a young and wonderful coach Imama Amakapabo who is at the helm of technical affairs. He’s starting his own CV and interestingly with a great team like Rangers under a special circumstance.
So what happened after you led Rangers to win the 1984 league trophy?
After winning the FA Cup in 1983 and league in 1984, I was invited to the Nigeria U-16 (now U-17) Golden Eaglets camp as one of the coaches. I assisted Sebastian Brodrick-Imasuen to win the U-16 World Cup in China. Don’t forget I had coaching spells at ASESA Warriors, a team I took from the amateur Division Three to Division One. I went to Lebanon where I coached SAFA FC and from there I went to Kenya to coach their national team, Harambee Stars.
Of course, I was Technical Consultant of Heartland when we won the Federation Cup back-to-back in 2011 and 2012. Here we are again, close to helping Rangers win the league title for 2015/2016.
In 1974 or thereabouts, Rangers were said to have been given Honda motorcycles for winning the league and Challenge Cup then…
We were given promotions in the office and cars in batches. Remember, we were playing and working in the Sports Council then.
Who was the governor the state at that time when Rangers won the league last under you in 1984?
It was Robert Nnaemeka Akonobi, a military officer. When I left for the national team, he appointed a new chairman for Rangers, Ben Ossy Umunna. Umunna in turn brought a Polish coach, Janusz Kowalik.
What else can you remember that made Rangers tick in those days?
One factor one cannot forget was the love, passion and commitment of our supporters then. Under the leadership of Chief Jim Nwobodo as their chairman, Rangers enjoyed the best of inspiring support then. Their impact was huge and intimidating. Nwobodo became a cult figure such that courtesy of Rangers, he later won election as governor of Anambra State then under the platform of SDP (Social Democratic Party).