SPORT FLAKES: OPERATION SHOW YOUR CERTIFICATE

SPORT FLAKES: OPERATION SHOW YOUR CERTIFICATE

Admiral Alison Madueke was Defence Attache at the Nigerian Embassy, Wahington D.C. before he was  recalled to serve as Military Governor of old Anambra State in 1984. At that time, Dominic Ezeani, was also sojourning in the United States.

Ezeani led Enugu Rangers to their first Challenge Cup victory in 1974, a year after winning All Africa Games with the Green Eagles. He was a member of the East Central State Academicals team that lifted the Adebajo Cup in 1971. That squad had such stars as Christian Chukwu, Patrick Ekeji, Ken Ilodigwe, Damian Odoh, Obed Ariri and Skipper Godwin Ogbueze.

The left back moved from St. Anthony’s College Ubulu Uku near Asaba to Christ the King College[CKC] Onitsha and was more interested in education than soccer. After the Challenge Cup victory, Ezeani traveled to the United States with Ilodigwe to begin life as a fresh man at Howard University.

Both players made the school team alongside other Nigerian mates like Sunday Izevbigie, Muyiwa Sanya, Yomi Bamiro and Tunde Balogun. There was also the Ghanaian, Henry Acquah.

The Flying Antelopes were in the CAF Champions League, in 1975, for the second time. When the going got tough, the duo of Ezeani and Ilodigwe were called up . Unfortunately, Rangers , captained by Chukwu ,lost in the finals to Hafia, Guinea.

When Madueke arrived Enugu, he brought back Ezeani to Rangers as Sole Administrator. The Coal City Boys had not been able to better their 1975 continental record. The new governor thought Ezeani could make things happen.

Rangers were double champions in 1975 and by 1976, became the first and till date the only team to win the Challenge Cup thrice consecutively. In 1977, they won the Africa Winners Cup. Then followed three years of empty shelves until 1981 when the Flying Antelopes became double champions again.

Rangers retained the National League in 1982,grabbed the Challenge Cup in 1983, with Chukwu as coach and lifted the League again in 1984. The players wanted a pay rise and told the Sole Administrator.

Ezeani who with Ilodigwe became the first undergraduates to play for Rangers, in 1975, came out with a strange rule. The players were going to be examined for higher wages through their West African School Certificate[WASC]. That was like a punch below the belt.

At the end of the season, Rangers lost 16 players who were not sure their certificates were good enough .  Ezeani had his way. Stars like Luis Igwilo[Commander],Sunny Ikwuagwu [Hardor], Mike Obi, Justus Ewendu, Godwin Nosike and the Adi Brothers, Albert and David, quit the club.

Operation Show Your Certificate sent the Flying Antelopes to the grass, from grace. It was so bad that they could barely raise a team for the very First Champion of Champions Cup match with Challenge Cup winners, Leventis United of Ibadan, a Third division outfit.

The Rangers spirit came on against Leventis. The rag tag Antelopes looked unbeatable and had a respectable 1-1 result at the end of regulation time. It took Bunmi Adigun’s extra time goal for the Ibadan side to win 2-1 during over time. It took another 34 years for Rangers to win the Premier League, in 2016.

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Ezeani found his way back to the United States. However, Operation Show Your Certificate, also encouraged players not to put their all in soccer without planning for the future through further studies.

At the end of the 1984 season, some players pursued University Education in the US. Ben Okaro left in August to join his brother, Francis. Chris Ogbodo followed in September. Today, Ogbodo is doing well with a degree in Political Science from the University of California. Ben Okaro is a Boston University trained Economist.

 In August 1985, Mike Emenalo linked up with Okaro at Boston to study International Relations and Political Science. It is no surprise that he has combined academics and soccer to soar. Emenalo was at the USA’94 World Cup and you cannot talk of modern Chelsea without giving him some credit.

Rangers and Education bring the best out of players. The first University graduate to play for the team should be Dr. Johnny Egbuonu. Like Ezeani, he began as an Academical, from Zixton Grammar School, Ozubulu to Stella Maris, College, Port Harcourt before qualifying as a Vet. Doctor in Europe.

Patrick Ekeji played as an undergraduate and earned a Masters. Adokiye Amiesimaka qualified as a lawyer. Many players joined the US train. Odoh, Ignatius Ilechukwu, Ikechukwu Ezidinma, Charles Adimorah[Wagner],Nnamdi Nwokocha,[Camel],Donald Igwebuike, Ibezim Ofoedu, Chibuzor Ehilegbu[Mkpurumkpu], Ikechukwu Ofoje, Totty o. Totty. They are all there.

Arthur Egbunam who left in 1979 bagged a degree in Textile Engineering from  New York University. Kenneth Boardman, joined the Yankees in 1983 and is equipped with an MBA from San Francisco University. Even Ikwuagwu who left Rangers in 1984 because of certificate moved to the US in 1990.

Ezeani, from Agulu in Anambra State, made a valid point. Soccer, plus skills, minus education equals poverty in later years. Hugo Harris, as Ezeani was called, could get a hug from Emenalo.

“I am happy I acquired a degree…why should I ever regret going to school,” Emenalo told late Sports journalist, Sunday Orelesi, in 2003.

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