I am Writing This On Christmas Day
As the world is about to draw the curtains on the year 2014, I’m taking stock of sports in the outgoing year, and thinking of how best to capture their highlights!
I am thinking about how the sport of table tennis appears to be enjoying a resurgence in the country; how Blessing Okagbare has finally come of age and has blossomed into an authentic world-class sprinter and long jumper; how the Nigerian women’s national football teams, the Falcons and the Falconets, are eclipsing the men’s teams in football; how football administrators have diminished domestic football with their endless internal crisis following poorly organized elections; how there is very little else of substance once again to celebrate in the whole of Nigerian sports!
I am in that sombre mood made even worse by the telephone call that had come last Monday, interrupting my reverie and bringing the sad news of the death of Moses Otolorin that morning.
Moses was one of my contemporaries in football, my co-striker in the IICC Shooting Stars International FC of Ibadan, the club that made history as the first in Nigeria to win a continental club trophy in 1976 – the Africa Cup Winners Cup (ACWC)!
I had seen Moses a couple of months earlier during an event in Ibadan, and had remarked when I saw his shrunken frame and massive limp as he walked, both knees bent to a very awkward angle revealing the obvious effect of acute Arthritis that had set in.
Several of us have been suffering from the pains of arthritis as we got older, the product of the strains and stresses we exerted on our bodies for years during our playing days for club and country.
I had jokingly remarked to Moses and a few others that we should set up an association of aro (Yoruba for deformed) ex-footballers and revive my once aborted plan to sue the State and Federal Governments for not providing all sports persons representing the country with all the information on the possible consequences of the prolonged use of our limbs for high-level sports. After retirement such athletes, now living in pain, should be entitled to some form of medical aid, compensation and support for the rest of their lives!
Moses and I had been in contact with each other several times on telephone in the past few months. He had needed some support to go for surgery at the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital for a prostrate problem. I remember telling him that most men over the age of 60, are prone to developing challenges with their prostate.
Indeed, when I returned from Tunisia some two weeks ago, Moses’ call was one of the first I received. In telling me his plight, worries and fears he had wept on the phone. I could only assure him that all would be well.
Last Monday morning death came knocking on his door. I was devastated and frustrated.
In 1976, I recall, only 16 of us in the Shooting Stars Football Club actually played in one match or the other during that year’s Africa Cup Winners Cup! Of that number, 9 have now passed on – Muda Lawal, Kunle Awesu, Adeleye Abai, Folorunsho Gambari, Joseph Apiah, Samuel Ojebode, Dauda Adepoju, Best Ogedegbe and, now, Moses Otolorin!
It has been a sobering realization of our mortality, ‘seeing that death is a necessary end, will come when it will come’. It is not a question of ‘if’ for everyone, but ‘when’!
On the eve of 2015, we grieve and we mourn.
Moses Otolorin holds a special place in the annals of Nigerian football yet he never actually played for the national team. The only time he was invited to the national team, it was on the strength of my recommendation to the national coach at the time.
For several years between 1977 and 1981, the Green Eagles were in search of a replacement for Thompson Usiyen who had left the team to pursue an academic/football career in the United States of America.
Otto Gloria had tried many players for the role at the time. Meanwhile, Moses Otolorin was banging in goals for Shooting Stars FC at an incredible rate at the time. En route winning the continental trophy in 1976, of the total of 16 goals scored by the Nigerian team, Moses had 8 to his singular credit. He was, indeed, an amazing goal scorer.
In 1981, as captain of the national team, I had sought and received the permission of Coach Otto Gloria to bring Moses for trials in the national camp. That’s how he joined us in camp and was tested. The respected Brazilian professor of football was not very impressed with his physique and his style of play and asked him to return to Ibadan, without playing a full international game for Nigeria! Even then, his goal scoring ability was never in doubt, he was big and powerfully built.
Moses was aptly captured in a narrative by Allan Hawkes, the English coach of the Shooting Stars FC in 1976 in a new book on the team published and presented in Ibadan barely one week before Otolorin’s death.
These are Mr. Hawkes’s words taken from the book:
“I feel I would not have covered all of the highlights of my experiences in Ibadan without mentioning possibly the best goal I have ever seen scored in all my years in football. Indeed, I have repeatedly bored my friends in England with this story for many years and I never tire of repeating the tale whenever I get the chance, particularly when I have had a beer or two”.
“The centre forward of our regular first team on this occasion was a cracking lad by the name of Moses Otolorin. Everyone will remember Moses. He had legs the size of Oak trees, a fantastic physique, and superb skill, and could throw a ball in from the corner flag more or less onto the far post – a feat which helped us get two goals against Zamalek (of Egypt) in the semi’s of the ACWC”.
“… he kicked the ball into play to start the game off and the ball was played back to him by his inside forward. He then proceeded to dribble the ball past an opponent and by this time found himself around four or five yards past the centre circle inside the opponents half of the field. Then, as if he had nothing better to do that day, he drew his right leg, and took a shot for the oppositions’ goal from a distance of some fifty yards. Such was the power of his kick, I think it would be fair to say that the reserve team goalkeeper never actually saw the ball hit the back of the net and neither did many others playing that day. Such was the look of surprise and disbelief on everyone’s face at what they had witnessed; we all stood there, speechless, and then burst out into spontaneous applause. Thank you Moses for that experience and I’ll tell you now, I never saw Pele score a goal as good as that.”
Playing side by side him in the Shooting Stars FC squad of that period was a great honour and delight for me. He was a great partner upfront, always creating problems for opposing goalkeepers with the ferocity of his shots and long throws.
I too, had watched him score a goal from a free kick taken at the centre circle of the field at the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, when he was playing for a team from Ilorin then.
He had rolled up his shorts, moved back some 10 or so metres like a bull preparing for a fight. He ran at almost full speed to the ball and released a cannon of a shot. It was unbelievable. The ball zipped through the air over a distance almost half the length of the field, swerving, bending and dipping. The opposing goalkeeper stood rooted to the spot as if in a trance as the ball zoomed into his goal! That was the day Shooting Stars FC immediately recruited him to their squad, Moses was that good.
It is on that memorable note that I bid Moses ‘Fantasia’ Otolorin, as well as the year 2014, adieu and good night!
I wish all a very happy and terrific 2015!