Ajibade ‘Kunde’ Babalade: The life and times of a shooting star
By Kayode Ogundare
As Ajibade ‘Kunde’ Babalade begins his final homebound journey today,
It is meet and proper to reflect on the life and times of this amazing human being with a dual personality.
As a footballer for clubs and country, Babalade was a no-nonsense defender who took each game as a war that must be won.
From the moment he filed onto the pitch until the last whistle was blown, his face was permanently etched with a scowl as if daring you to intrude into his personal space.
But the moment the game was over and until the next one, he became as soft as a teddy bear, cracking jokes and laughing with everyone.
Babalade played for Housing of Akure, Stores of Lagos and Iwuanyawu Nationale of Owerri
But 3SC Shooting Stars and the city of Ibadan have a permanent claim on him, more so than his native Ekitiland.
He played, lived and built his life in the city of love which opens its hands to all and sundry, welcoming you like a long-lost son.
I’m reminded of the first time Ajibade Babalade landed in Ibadan as a player of 3SC.
Club chairman, the late Chief Femi Olukanmi had concluded his transfer from Iwuanyawu Nationale while he was still on national duty with the Super Eagles at the Senegal ’92 AFCON.
He won Bronze with Nigeria at the AFCON but, more importantly, he won our hearts with his performance and was nicknamed Kunde after the Cameroon legend Emmanuel Kunde.
His first day at training was like a carnival for the fans.
He came in one of his cars and wore the Cameroon jersey no.6 of Kunde.
He was soft-spoken as he joked with other players and the Press but, as soon as training got underway, he became a Lion on the pitch.
Soon he was the fans’ favourite player and we trooped to his car after every training at the Lekan Salami Stadium.
Some went as far as following him to the club house in Jericho. Such was the cult status he enjoyed among the fans.
He led our defence, forming a fearsome partnership with the late Ogbein Fawole, as 3SC took the league by storm, losing by just a single point to Stationery Stores of Lagos.
He was also an important part of the CAF Cup success story although things nearly didn’t end up happily for him.
After the first leg of the semi-final against Tunisia’s CA Bizerte in Tunis which we lost 2-0, it was declared that six members of the team had defected when they had a stopover in Rome, Italy.
Ajibade Babalade, Benjamin James, Tarila Okorowanta, Isiaka Olawale, Taofik Malik and one other player were mentioned.
Two goals down and six key players missing ahead of the second leg in Ibadan two weeks later.
There was a mourning mood among the fans and you could practically feel the sadness around the team.
Few days later, it was announced that the players were back, blaming missed flights or whatever for their disappearance.
Training that evening was jampacked as we waited to catch a glimpse of the returnees.
All but Ben James and Tarila Okorowanta had come back and, all of a sudden, there was optimism again that Bizerte are beatable.
You couldn’t stay mad at Babalade for long and his explanation was readily accepted by the fans.
Game day, a 3-0 victory overturned the first leg result and 3SC zoomed into the final where another 3-0 win over Nakivubo Villa of Uganda delivered another continental title for Nigeria.
Kunde led the team to many important victories, including to league and FA Cup double in 1995 as he paired with others in the heart of the defence.
And during the 1996 CAF Champions Cup campaign, he usually popped up from the back to score very crucial goals, most notably the free-kick against Zamalek of Egypt in the first leg final at the Liberty stadium.
He went abroad, playing in Ivory Coast, Austria and South Korea before coming back home to hang his playing boots.
Kunde took up the job of Team Manager at 3SC and helped the team gain promotion back to the top-flight under the GM Mutiu Adepoju.
He never lost the love for the club and the club never left him either.
That he died in Ibadan and would be buried in his Ibadan residence tomorrow, Friday 15th January is testament that his and the city’s story will be forever entwined.
He was my friend in his lifetime.
Incidentally he called me exactly two weeks before his death and I promised to meet him next time I was in Ibadan.
Now, I will have to delete his numbers from my phone but never his memory from my heart.
Ajibade was really a volcano, easy going and affable until he’s called into action in defence of any of the shirts he wore in his active playing days.
Kunde, Ibadan will miss you.
You gave your best to our favourite club.
And you rest in the bowel of the city.
May you find eternal rest in your journey to eternity, Ajibade Olaniran Babalade.