The Making of the First Super Falcons

Stories By Mumini Alao (Complete Football, 1991)

THE DAY was Wednesday, October 9, 1991. I went to the Obasanjo Farms camp of the Nigerian female soccer team (Super Falcons) with my photographer, Supo Olusunde, to observe the girl’s final day at Ota as they were scheduled to leave for Holland the following day, October 10 (in preparation for the 1st FIFA Womens World Cup in China).

The previous day, October 8, I had met coaches Clemens Westerhof, Paul Hamiton and Jo Bonfrere at the NFA office and told them to expect me that Ota. Clemy said he wouldn’t be there but he urged me to go ahead and see the rigorous training the girls were going through. “They will continue the routine when they get to Holland,” he told me. “And by the time they’re through, some of them will cry for their mothers!”

The Making of the First Super Falcons 1

Routine

The girl’s routine was three work-outs per day. Roadwork at 7.00 a.m., morning training at Ten’O’ Clock, and evening practice at 4.00 p.m.

I arrived the camp at Noon and met Bonfrere waiting for the team to arrive from the morning session. “They’re taking rather long,” he said worriedly as we talked generally.

The team trains at the premises of the Honda Manufacturing (Nigeria) Ltd., which is about four kilometers away from the Obasanjo Farms. Presently, their sleek commuter bus emerged from the distance; here they come at last. I needed no telling that the girls were dog-tired as they dragged out of the bus towards their various rooms, amidst chatters and exchange of banters.

I had gone to the camp with many copies of the October 1991 edition of Complete Football which hit the stands just the day before. A colour group photograph of the girls was featured in the centre spread and as I offered one copy to coach Ismalia Mabo (I’d earlier given one to Bonfrere), the girls rallied round him to have a look and make comments about how they looked in the photograph. They all had a good laugh.

I quickly met team chaperon Phylis Amaechina and told her about my mission in the camp. She was very willing to assist and directed the girls to let Supo take their photographs after they’d had their shower.

Soon, the girls started to emerge from their rooms in their true feminine form after discarding their football tugs. One after other, they posed for Supo who snapped away. And one after the other, I gave them a copy of the October issue of Complete Football.

By 1.00 p.m, the girls started trickling into the farm restaurant for their lunch of jollof rice. Afterwards, it was relaxation time. Some of them retired to their rooms, others opted for a game of draughts, while others still spent the time to catch up with their laundry.

Chat

All the while, coach Paul Hamilton was away in Lagos, I leant, to sort out some administrative matters. I had a quick chat with him when he finally arrived camp, but he soon left again to sort out more administrative matters.

When it was time for the evening training, therefore, Hamilton wasn’t around as Supo and I joined the players in their bus en route to the training ground. It was jokes and chatter all the way. Once at the Honda grounds, the girls turned business-like. Bonfrere directed proceedings and I could hardly believe these were the same homely girls I’d seen dragging around the farm just moments before.

Rachael Yamala was dribbling everybody, Uche Eucharia was running like ‘mad’, Marvis Ogun was blasting shots from all angles, while Lydia Koyonda was diving like a cat between the goal posts. Once, Anna Agumanu ‘bagged’ a shot in the stomach and fell flat. Bonfrere ran to her aid. So did team physio, Bosede. Moments later, Anna was back on her feet. The courage of the girls was infectious. The training session lasted about two hours and we all headed back to the farm again.

Goodbye

The girls got ready for supper and bed while Supo and I got ready to wave them goodbye. But not before I got team captain Florence Omagbemi to talk on behalf of her colleagues. “Tell Nigerians we’ll do our best in China,” she urged me. “Tell them to pray for us,” she pleaded.

I left Ota where, incidentally, I’d spent seven years of my past feeling very strongly for the players. Here are young girls who had left their homes, their schools, their families and their loved ones to camp in one desolate farm just for the sake of doing their country proud.

If this was not patriotism, nothing is. And my opinion is that, irrespective of the outcome of the Amazons outing in China, Nigerians should give them a welcome good enough for heroins!

 

CHINA ’91: NIGERIA FIRST AGAIN!

As Coach Paul Hamilton speaks on expectation

IN August 1985, Nigeria became the first African country to win a FIFA organized world tournament when the Golden Eaglets clinched the U-17 trophy in China.

Six years after, FIFA is kicking off yet another project – the Women’s World Championship – at the same venue China. Once again, Nigeria will record another “first” as country to represent African representatives.

Questions as to whether the country could go on to equal the feat of 1985 and actually win the 1991 Women’s World Championship have, however, become merely academic as the odds clearly place the Nigeria girls as underdogs against most other teams that would be on parade.

Team coach, Paul Hamilton, a practical man that he is, knows the true worth of his girls and he’s not going to overrate them. But he’s not going to underrate them either. “Wonder Boy” says his wards may not win the Cup, but they will win respect in China.

“I know people may suggest we should win in China because of the precedent set by the Golden Eaglets in 1985, but such comparisons would be unfair to my girls,” Hamilton argues.

“Coach Sebastian Brodericks owed most of the boys he took to China in 1985 to the development programme of the Youth Sports Federation of the Nigeria (YSFON) just like I also are most of the girls I’m now taking to China to the same body.

“While Broderick’s boys had been well exposed to international football through various tournaments like the yearly Dallas Cup before going to China, my girls never had such opportunity until last September when a Dutch side visited Lagos – only two months to this World Cup.

“What this means is that while Broderick’s boys had been used to playing against the whites long before China ’85, my own girls are just learning the ropes and that was why they performed so badly at home to our Dutch guests last September.

“However, they learnt a lot from those friendlies. They’ve also learnt more about the way of the whites during our tour to Holland. And now, we’ve a better team. “If we’d had more time to expose these girls like Brodrick’s boys of 1985, we could have been talking of contending for the title in China.

“But this team was assembled only a year ago (November 1990). Some of the players joined only two months ago. The whole team has been exposed to foreign opposition for only two months now. Expecting us to now achieve in a matter of months what other countries have been at for years will be asking for the impossible. This is the simple truth. “I’m a realistic coach. I will not promise Nigerians the World Cup now, but I promise them a good performance. “It’s a good thing we’re the leader in Africa as this has afforded us the chance of playing against the world’s best in women football in China.

“Whatever our girls learn here should keep us ahead in Africa and boost our chances of climbing up fast in the world cadre in the nearest future. “Back to the present which is China ’91 where we’re grouped together with Germany, Taiwan and Italy, I implore Nigerians to watch out for some pleasant surprises from my ambitious girls.

THE DOUBLE DOZEN

Paul Hamilton, in concert with his Dutch partner Jo Bonfrere, took 24 players on their late tour of Holland. Eighteen of the lot will make the final trip to World Cup station China, but CF serves you the entire roll call of the Double Dozen on its centre spread.

Hamilton’s assistant coach during the African qualifiers, Ismalia Mabo, made the comments presented on each of the girls.

Picking the final squad

THE Nigerian female team had it’s own share of pre-tournament controversy as is now ‘customary’ with all sporting contingents representing the country in a big tourneys.

For several days before and up till the very moment the team left Lagos for Holland on tour, news of players and officials getting dropped, picked or dropped again  sent the whole camp uneasy as virtually everybody connected with the team was in one suspense or the other.

The climax of the whole drama was that while the chief scribe of the Football Association, Phillip Achebe, was announcing on TV on Thursday, October 10, 1991 that the Holland trip had been put off, the team was actually checking in for their take-off flight at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. In fact, the girls saw Achebe on TV at the Airport! And while some newspapers were reporting “authoritatively” that the Amazons had indeed been held up in Lagos, Paul Hamilton and his girls were already spending their second day in Holland!”

Complete Football presents the inside story of the Holland trip hullaballo…

DROPPING OF PLAYERS

The players dropped are Ogechi Duru, Angela Njoku, Yinka Kudaisi and Patricia Okorom whose case caused uproar.

CF learnt that Patricia had once been told point-blank by an influential member of the female team monitoring committee that she would be dropped because “you’re too fat”. When coaches Hamilton and Bonfrere drew up the final list after their last screening session, however, Patricia reportedly survived.

CF sources say the girl’s name was removed when the list reached the FA. Bonfrere allegedly returned to camp one day, and in Hamilton’s absence, read out a list which didn’t include Pat’s name. in her place was another player allegedly ‘sponsored’ by yet another FA member.

Hamilton was reportedly caught unawares while Bonfrere himself couldn’t help matters because he was simply “obeying orders from above.” That was how Patricia, regular team member during the qualifiers, was schemed out of the squad to China ’91.

DROPPING OF OFFICIALS

The dropped officials were assistant coach Ismalia Mabo and team chaperon Phyllis Amaechina (Mrs.). CF investigations reveal that FA secretary, Philip Achebe, had been irked by the noon-inclusion of any association officials in the contingent to Holland and he had also complained to the sports ministry that he was not being informed about decisions concerning a team supposedly under his jurisdiction.

The minister’s reported reaction was to request for the list of the contingent which had 24 players and six officials. Meanwhile, Achebe was made to understand that the trip scheduled for Thursday, October 10 might be postponed because the ministry was having problems raising funds. The chief scribe went to town with this piece of news, but soon after, the ministry reportedly found a lee-way for the trip to proceed. But no one remembered to intimate Achebe with the new development.

CONTINGENT

Back to the contingent’s list, the minister reportedly decided to cut it down to four officials only. Mabo and Amaechina got the chop allegedly “because they are not NFA or ministry staff per se; they were only on secondment from their various employers.”

Coach Mabo reportedly got wind of this latest ‘coup’ at about 6.00p.m. on flight day and didn’t bother to report at the airport again. But it was worse for Mrs. Amaechina. Nearly every other member of the team knew she’d been dropped, but none was bold enough to tell her. The poor lady arrived the airport on time for the flight, but got the shock of her life when Bondrere told her, “Sorry madam, you’re not going with us. Your name is not on the list.”

Her husband who had come to see her off shared in the disappointment as he took the poor lady back home. Many of the players were reportedly so confounded by all this drama that they became fidgety about their own hopes of making the trip: “Is my name on the list” they kept wondering. It wasn’t until their plane was air-borne that they relaxed that their name was, indeed, ON THE LIST. What a powerful list that must have been!

Coach Ismaila Mabo was expected to join the team back in China. CF didn’t know the position of Amaechina as at the time we went to press.

 

NIGERIA’S FULL SQUAD TO CHINA ’91, 1ST FIFA WOMEN’S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

FLORENCE T. OMAGBEMI: Delta State. Skipper and midfielder. Secondary School Student. Born February 2, 1975. Nickname: Keshi. Club: Ufuoma Babes, Warri. Hero: Diego Maradona.

Coach’s comment: Lithe, but skilful and very imaginative. Creative midfielder with vision. A good passer of the ball. Team’s penalty taker and big inspiration. But poor tackler who forgets herself easily.

UCHE NGOZI EUCHARIA: Imo State. Striker. National Certificate of Education (NCE) holder. Born June 18, 1973. Nickname: Abacha. Club: Ufuoma Babes. Hero: Phillip Osondu.

Coach’s comment: Good striker with great speed and a big shot. Very strong on the ball, but weak at trugling for possession. Team’s top scorer during the prelims. Has eye for goal.

OKUNWA GIFT IGUNBOR: Edo State. Striker. School Certificate holder. Born May 24, 1974. Nickname: Italian Pencil. Club: Kakanfo Queens, Abeokuta. Hero: Gary Lineker.

Coach’s comment: towering striker with striding legs and great pace. An unpredictable scorer who can confuse and tire opposing defences. Makes up for suspect skill Brawn and bravery.

ANNA OYEKEWA AGUMANU: Imo State. Goal keeper. School Certificate holder. Born February 14, 1974. Nickname: Badou Zaki. Club: Golden Star, Lagos. Hero: Oladimeji Lawal.

Coach’s comment: A bold and agile girl with a good sense of anticipation. Covers her goal area well and inspire her teammates. But she kicks the ball high, instead of far, and loses concentration easily.

MAVIS MIEBAIKEBI OGUN: Rivers State. Defender. School Certificate holder. Born August 24, 1973. Nickname: Glancer. Club: Ufuoma Babes. Hero: Pele.

Coach’s comment: a strong defender and regular goal-kick taker. Quick, timely and hard on the tackle. Team’s free-kick specialist because of her cunning but hot shots, bad thing: she tires out too quickly.

LOVE OMON BRANCH: Abia State. Defender. School Certificate holder. Born October 1, 1974. Nickname: Bruno Conti. Club: Ufuoma Babes, Hero: Henry Nwosu.

Coach’s comment: A reliable member of the defence. Tackles strongly, heads well and kicks the ball hard and far from goal kicks, Poor imagination and low skills, however, means she contributes little to the team’s offensive play.

SARAH OKOTIE-EBOH: Delta State. Attacker. Secondary School Student. Born June 2, 1975. Club: Ufuoma Babes.

Coach’s comment: A stylish player. Fast on the right flank and very skillful on the ball. But lacks the strength to play full time. Rather lazy, but she’s brilliant.

FRANCISCA ADIAWOOMI WILLIAMS: Cross River State. Midfielder. School Certificate holder. Born December 2, 1972. Nickname: Willie Dunga. Club: Kakanfo Queens. Hero: Dimeji Lawal.

Coach’s comment: Franca is a sound girl in the midfield. On her good day, she could frustrate the opponents. In all of the game, intercepting pass and killing their every move. She works for the team, but her weakness is poor recovery after an attack.

RACHAEL ABRUBAME YAMALA: Delta State. Attacker, Secondary School student. Born February 12, 1975. Nickname: Rachy Scatter. Club: Kakanfo Queens. Hero: Sam Okwaraji.

Coach’s comment: The best dribbler in the team. a skillful left winger, adept in feints and manoeuvres with the ball. Bad news for defenders any day although she can be childish when it matters most. Gets frustrated easily.

ESTHER DIANA NGOZI: Imo state. Defender. Certificate in Sewing & Catering. Born October 10, 1973. Nickname: Esther Lee. Club: Kakanfo Queens. Hero: Stephen Keshi.

Coach’s comment: A solid right full-back. Tackles sure and hard. Good header of the ball. But she rarely joins the attack and when she does, her pull-outs are poor. More at home in the defence.

ANN IGHO MUKORO: Delta State. Midfielder. First School Leaving Certificate. Born may 20, 1975. Nickname: Siasia. Club: Ufuoma Babes. Hero: Careca.

Coach’s comment: Another very skillful player in the side. Tricky, cunning and slippery in the midfield, but over-indulges in dribbling. Yet, she lacks adequate strength.

EDITH UZOAMAKA ELUMA: Imo State. Defender. National Certificate of Education (NCE) holder. Club: Jegede babes, Lagos. Hero: Stephen Keshi.

Coach’s comment: A stubborn full-back, keeps going at stopping the opponent until she succeeds. The true black-woman! But poor at joining the attack or taking good crosses.

CHIOMA AJUNWA: Imo State, Defender. School Certificate holder. Born December 25, 1971. Nickname: Chimmy Brown. Club: Rivers Mermaids, Port-Harcourt. Hero: Stephen Keshi.

Coach’s comment: Multi-talented and flexible. Very fit and reliable. Aggressive on and off the ball, but lacks enough cunning to outwit the opponent. Tackles roughly even though, thoroughly.

RITA NWA-DIKE: Imo State. Striker. School Certificate holder. Born July 27, 1973. Club: Rivers Mermaids.

Coach’s comment: A good striker and a great tormentor of defenses. Tireless and ambitious in front of the goal but poor at retrieving the ball when she loses it.

LOUISA UZOAMAKA AKPAGU: Anambra State. Attacker. General certificate of  Education, Lagos. Born December 22, 1973. Nickname: Kala Prieto. Club: Kakanfo Queens. Hero: Sam Okwaraji.

Coach’s comment: Here’s ‘Carl Lewis!’ Louisa’s very fast for her physique and could run an entire defence down from her right flank on her good day. Big minus is poor ball control, but once she straps the ball, she churns out good crosses.

ELIZABETH CHIKAWHUAGWU: Imo State. Goal-keeper. School Certificate holder. Born February 22, 1973. Nickname: Lizzy Black. Club: Kakanfo Queens. Hero: Cassey Keller of U.S.A.

Coach’s comment: Team’s third goal-keeper. Rarely tested in big match situations, but major weakness lies in stopping ground ball.

NKIRU DORIS OKOSIEME: Anambra State. Striker. BSc. Bio-chemistry. Born March 1, 1972. Club: Eagles Babes, Imo. Hero: Ndubuisi Okosieme.

Coach’s comment: Perhaps the most intelligent player in the team. The “Engine Room” of the midfield. Mobile, skilful, reliable and has a good shot. Scores vital goals and plays the ‘woman-maker’ role well. Her weakness is not falling back quickly enough to help her defence.

LYDIA AKPOUEGHON KOYONDA: Delta State. Goal-keeper. School Certificate holder. Born May 29, 1974. Club: Ufuoma Babes.

Coach’s Comment: Call her “The cat”. Lydia’s smart and agile and dives well to hold or parry goal-bound shots. Height is, however, her disadvantage. She’s only 1.72 metres tall, but you can’t wave off her other qualities.

PHOEBET OBOUKEBENA EBIAMIENKUMO: Delta State. Midfielder. School Certificate holder. Born January 17, 1974. Nickname: Rugged Oliha. Club Ufuoma Babes. Hero: Thompson Oliha.

Coach’s comment: Very strong defender, hard, very hard and with a big heart. Heads the ball fairly well but she’s rather low on the skill side. Makes up for that with toughness.

NGOZI PHILOMINA EZEOCHA: Imo State. Defender. School Certificate holder. Born December 10, 1973. Nickname: Bright Omakaro. Club: Jegede Babes. Hero: Pele

Coach’s comment: A left full-back with a big heart. Hard tackling, fearless and tireless. Over laps well to launch attacks and score the odd goals. But her recovery consciousness is poor.

ADAKU NNENNE OKAFOR: Imo State, Striker. Secondary School student. Born November 18,1974. Club: Onyekachi Angels, Lagos. Hero: Christian Chukwu.

Coach’s comment: A skilful striker, no doubt. Very sharp and scores good goals. Weakness is inability to fight for possession.

NKECHI MBILITAM: Imo State. Striker. School Certificate holder. Born May 1974. Nickname: Iroko. Club: Kakanfo Queens.

Coach’s comment: Another new comer, but her striking talents are transparent. Very mobile playerwhose blending will help the team.

ADESOLA ABIODUN ADEYEYE: Osun State. Defender. School Certificate holder. Born December 1, 1974. Nickname: Mayor. Club: Liberty Stars, Ibadan. Hero: Pele.

Coach’s comment: Another new comer, but she’s an aggressive central defender. Strong, intercepts passes well and she’s a good tracker of strikers. But she shoots feebly.

ELIZABETH EHIZOGIE OGIEMWONYI: Edo State. Defender. School Certificate holder. Born February 23, 197–. Nickname: Olopa (Police). Club: Kakanfo Queens. Hero: Pele.

Coach’s comment: Relative newcomer into the team, so a fair assessment is impossible. But she’s a central defender with a fairly good header.

TECHNICAL ADVISER: JO BONFRERE

BORN JUNE 15, 1946. Aged 45 years. Former Dutch international winger between 1970 and 71. Introduced into Nigerian football by his countryman Clemens Westerhof who was his senior at the Dutch National Trainers Institute in Zeist, Holland, during the early eighties. Contributed immensely to Nigeria’s silver medal at the 1990 Nations Cup Finals in Algeria, even though in an unofficial capacity.

CHIEF COACH: PAUL HAMILTON

A FORMER Nigerian international with an impressive coaching record with the national teams. Won a bronze medal at the 1985 U-20 World Cup and qualified the senior team for both the 1988 Nations Cup final and the Seoul Olympics soccer event the same year. Not disturbed with having to work with a foreign adviser, Jo Bonfrere, in China; “I’ve worked with foreigners in the past. Jo is nothing new. We can work together.”

ASST. COACH: ISMAILA MABO

BORN JULY 15, 1944 in Bebeji Kano. Aged 47 years. Former Nigerian international who played most of his career with Mighty Jets of Jos. Has become coach of the same club from where he was invited to the female national team. An employee of the Plateau State Sports Council.

2ND ASST. COACH: PETER EGUDIA

BORN MARCH 7, 1947. Aged 44 years. Married. Indigene of Delta State. Been involved with YSFON activities for long and helped win the Gothia Cup for a Nigerian team of U-19 boys in 1982. Hopes to become a World Cup Champions coach.

PHYSIOTHERAPIST: BOSEDE OLUSEYI GBAJUMO

BORN MAY 5, 1965, Aged 26 years. Single. Indigene of Ondo State. Graduate of the College of Medicine, University of Lagos. Employee of the Sports Ministry. Worked with athletes in the past.

DOCTOR: IYABO OMOWUNMI OYENIYA

BORN AUGUST 1, 1956. Aged 35 years. Married. Indigene of Ondo State.

CHAPERON: PHYLLIS CHIDI AMAECHINA

BORN JUNE 4, 1956. Aged 35 years. A Navy Lieutenant Commander. Married. Holds a Masters degree in Guidance & Counseling. Joined the female team only after the African qualifiers.

THE ‘FORGOTTEN’ SQUAD MEMBERS

The entourage of the Nigerian female national team to China ’91 consists of 18 players and the coaches, but this motley group didn’t win the World Cup ticket alone.

There were several other players and coaches who contributed to a successful run in the African qualifiers. At various times they were dropped by the wayside, but their inputs remained in the team.

They’re now the forgotten squad members, but still Complete Football remembers them:

COACHES

NIYI AKANDE: He was the pioneer coach of the team and worked in concert with Paul Hamilton, then designated team co-ordinator to assemble the initial Amazons squad. Got enmeshed in some controversy which forced the NFA to send him back to the Oyo State FA – where he was originally seconded from.

DAVID OYAMINIGHA: He was the pioneer assistant coach for the Amazons, and the major actor in the ugly fight episode which culminated in his expulsion from the squad alongside Niyi Akande.

PLAYERS

The following players were part of the Amazons at one time or the other, but they were dropped as the team progressed due to several reasons including dwindling performance…

AGATHA IDEHEN (Kakanfo Queen), BOSE OLOJO (Nigerian Air Force), CHINELO ENWERE (Ufuoma Babes), PATIENCE CHIKE (Jegede Babes), ROBINA ANDREWS (Kakanfo Queens), ANNE PEPPLE (Ufuoma Babes), CHRISTIANA AKPULUO (Rivers Mermaids), YINKA KUDAISI (Kaduna State), ANGELA NJOKE (Rivers Mermaids), OGECHI DURU (Rivers Mermaids).

DROPPED FROM HOLLAND

The following six players remained in the squad up till the last leg of preparations which took them to Holland… but they missed the train to China…

 

Right wingers LOUISA AKPAGU and SARAH OKOTIE-EBOH, midfielder FRANCISCA WILLIAMS, third goal-keeper ELIZABETH OGIEWONYI AND SHOLA ADELEYE.

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