By Emeka Obasi
African Nations Cup 1980 winner, Okey Isima became a superstar playing for Holy Ghost College, Owerri in the Mid 1970s. He moved from Abbot Boys Ihiala and one of those who lured him to Imo State, Stan Okeke was going to be dragged to Portugal by the Eagle.
Okeke, son of Prof. Ambrose Okeke could not make the trip to Europe because all the dad wanted for his son was academics, not soccer.
It is an interesting story. " I was quite close to Isima and his brothers, Azubuike and Ndu. We were so close that he almost successfully took me abroad to play professional football but for my father," Okeke said.
"I was actually one of those who persuaded Isima to join us at Holy Ghost College because we were treated like professional footballers and he was too big a player to remain at Abbot even as it was the School that produced John Azinge," he added.
Azinge was a member of the East Central Academicals team that won the Adebajo/ Manuwa Cup for Nigerian secondary schools in 1971.
The former school boy joined Enugu Rangers but his career ended in 1975 following a motor crash around Ijebu Ode along the Benin- Sagamu Highway.
Azinge was injured alongside reserve keeper John Uwanaka and Chike Ikebuaku. Left back Chukwuma Onyeaghala lost his life with five supporters. One of them was known as Rainbow.
Holy Ghost College, threw up good footballers. Also known as HOGOSCO or Arugo, the school was blessed with stars like Patrick Ekeji, Johnny Nwadioha, Obed Ariri, Godwin Gbenimacho ( Mature), Emma Merenini, Alphonsus and Adolphus (Sukana) Dike.
The school produced Titus Okere, Jones Habor, Uche Ejimofor, Chimeziri Igoni, Kingsley Ufere, Bruno Obi ( Banquo Bruno), Robert Amadi, Tony Merenini ( Takwa) and international athlete, Daniel Ogidi.
Prof. Fabian Osuji, Arthur Nzeribe, Elkanah Onyeali and Charles Oputa ( Charlie Boy) passed through Holy Ghost College.
"At Holy Ghost, some of my team mates were Isima and Merenini. I changed to the school from Christ the King College (CKC) Onitsha", Stan added.
Prof. Okeke kept eyes on his first son especially after he did not scale the school certificate exams in 1976. The young man went to Obizi High School, Mbaise to resit the exams in 1977.
"My father actually cut short my soccer career so apart from some local clubs in Owerri, I didn't play further. I was a star player at Ihiala XI".
Isima had a rewarding career, winning the African Nations Cup with Nigeria in 1970 after lifting the African Winners Cup with Rangers in 1977. He was at the Moscow Olympics before turning to Vitoria SC in the Portuguese league.
Merenini, who doubled as East Central State 100 metres champion won the African Winners Cup with the Flying Antelopes in 1977. He flew to the United States for further education at Alabama A and M University.
Prof. Okeke was a lecturer at the Alvan Ikoku College of Education Owerri before moving up to the University of Nigeria Nsukka. The Okekes lived at Shell Camp, Owerri and I am sure the man wanted his son to dig into oil as an Engineer.
With soccer ruled out, the younger Okeke settled for a career in journalism. His father could tolerate that.
"Emeka, that my father sef, he had this aura that made him seem larger than life, a strict disciplinarian who would never do you any special favour as his child, you must earn everything.
"However, his name opened doors for us , his children as some people in very high places were his students either as principal or in the university. The man tough, Emeka, " he revealed.
The tough man died at 92 in 2016. Stan cried like a baby. " It was so painful to me for several reasons, " he said.
Journalism was a bed of roses until General Sani Abacha visited Enugu as Chief of Army Staff in 1986.
"I will never forget my encounter with Abacha. You don't interview especially while in motion. I braved it. I walked up to Abacha and interviewed him. That was at 82 Division, Enugu.
"Afterwards, his Security Officer, Hamza Al Mustapha craftily arrested me as he didn't want people around to know what was happening. NNL.