Odegbami A Di Tough… (This Odegbami is Tough)

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I have tried several times to confirm the headline from Chairman Christian Chukwu, who reportedly uttered it. Chairman, each time I asked him, laughed it off, his way of not answering questions. The other week at the burial of Kelechi Emeteole, Caterpillar, if the occasion were more celebratory, I would have made another attempt.

Segun Odegbami

The legend was that Mathematical Segun Odegbami, as Ernest Okonkwo, long departed, named him, was freely cutting into the Rangers danger area in a game, I suspect it was the second leg of the 1977 Africa Cup Winners Cup semi-final in Kaduna which Shooting Stars lost on penalties after attacking for more half the game. The first leg in Lagos ended goalless.

Emmanuel Okala in the Rangers post was angry and upbraided Chairman in central defence. Incidentally, Okala was seated with Chukwu, at the Kelechi event in his native Amiyi Obilohia in Oguduasa-Isiukwuato, Abia State. They are hardly seen apart.

“Are you not seeing Odegbami? What is going on?” Chukwu reportedly replied, “Old boy, this Odegbami is tough. If you mark him on the left you find him on the right. If you wait for in the centre, he disappears.” He told Okala in Igbo, from which the headline of this material emanates.

I think is a worthy tribute to the speed, mathematical calculations that Big Seg brought to his game. Those fast runs were not only available in club rivalries between Rangers and Shooting Stars.

Odegbami served Nigeria well. He is intelligent, his writings testify to that. Isaac Akioye, former Director-General of the National Sports Commission, gone too, told me that he had wanted to see Big Seg coach. ” I don’t want to be a coach,” Big Seg says.

At 65 today, 27 August, it is a bit late for him to start dreaming of coaching. Big Seg is more than a coach, in other ways. His involvement in the programmes and trainings that led to Chioma Ajunwa’s long jump gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, 20 years after a Nigerian boycott to press cases at against apartheid in South Africa, saw Big Seg, and team mates pulled out of the Games Village in Montreal, Canada, is, for me, high point of his contributions outside football.

In the various committees he has served and through his writings, he has also been more than a coach. We were in Vision 20-20-20 together, more committees since then, and he runs a sports school.

He plays tennis most fervently and most recently challenged Sadiq Abdullahi, a national former Davis Cup player to a duel in Florida, where Sadiq is a university teacher. Big Seg narrowly lost. I wish him better chances in the return leg, for which he is scouting for a home venue, hopefully home advantage would aid the subduing of Sadiq.

A delight to watch when he is making a presentation – speaking without notes and notices – he attended an event that Rangers International players in the USA staged to mark the 40th anniversary of Rangers victory in the Africa Cup Winner Cup, beating Odegbami’s Shooting Stars in the hotly contested semi-final, that many still blame for distracting Nigeria’s effort to get a 1978 World Cup ticket.

His generosity of spirit was in full switch as he traced the new impetus that Rangers brought to football with their arrival on the scene after the Civil War. “Many of you need to know about the team you played for,” he said, in a genuine appreciation of the impact Rangers made on national and international football.

Big Seg had studied Mechanical Engineering at The Polytechnic, Ibadan. He played football, practically, all his life. Growing up in Jos, he speaks Hausa fluently, and his various interactions, have given him a presence that is national, as well as global.

Happy birthday Chief Patrick Segun Odegbami, former Green Eagles captain, two-time Olympian (1976, 1980), two-time Nations Cup appearances, among many other things.

Thanks for the happiness your clan of footballers brought to Nigerians and the world. Thanks for not losing faith in our sports, as many are doing. Enjoy your day, ma broda.

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