By MERCY JACOB
Former Nigerian international, Eucharia Uche, can best be described as a destiny child going by how she came into football and the level of success she has recorded in the game. The former Ufuoma Babes’ player, who was like the stone the builders rejected, later turned out to become a pillar to reckon with both in Nigeria and on the international scene.
The Imo State-born coach, in an exclusive chat with TS Weekend, revealed how the death of her late husband, who died some years ago, still hunts her. She also stated why she has not remarried and many more. Excerpts.
Who is Eucharia Uche?
Eucharia Uche is an ex-international footballer and pioneer member of the Super Falcons of Nigeria. I also played for Ufuoma Babes of Warri in Delta State. I was the first woman to score for Nigeria in an international football encounter and the first African woman highest goal scorer. In 2007, I was named African Woman Footballer of the Century. I made three World Cup appearances – 1991, 1995 and 1999.
As a woman, what pushed you into football?
I love the game! I loved football right from my childhood. I was born into a family of boys and I took interest in doing whatever they did. I climbed trees, played football and did everything with the boys. In fact, I was virtually in competition with them. So, from that background, it was very easy for me to take to football.
You started playing at what age?
At five! We started with oranges and sometimes we would tie waterproofs together in the form of football and used it to play. Then, we would play from one street to another having fun.
What was your parents’ reaction?
I started playing actively in 1986/87. Then, none of my family members supported me because female football wasn’t popular. But when my mother realised that football was where my heart was, she started to give me her nod. She was further encouraged when she discovered that football was not disturbing my education.
How did your community see you as a female footballer?
Most of the villagers actually wrote me off. They couldn’t understand why a girl should love and spend all her time doing what was the preserve of men, playing football. So, some of them saw me as an irresponsible girl. Some even warned their children and wards not to associate with me, who they regarded as a social deviant so that I would not lead them astray.
How would you compare the Super Falcons of your time and the team now?
It was great in my days. Then, we were driven by the passion and love for the game. But today, it is money that spurs players to go for the game and because of that they can now do anything to ensure they made the team irrespective of their skills. That is why Super Falcons is now having serious challenges, even in Africa we dominated roundly during our time.
Any regret playing football?
No regrets at all! Football is my life; that is where my satisfaction comes from. However, if there should be anything to regret, it is my inability to make money from football.
Does playing football inhibit women from getting married?
Before now, the thought of many was that female footballers were not good materials for marriage and many men would run away saying that female footballers look masculine. But all that has changed. Now, men are running after female footballers, beseeching them like bees to honeycomb. Meanwhile, Ann Agumanu Chiejine added to the beauty of female players in marriage when in 2002 at the African Women Championship in South Africa, she manned the goalpost successfully for Nigeria with pregnancy. That singular act of hers actually changed the hearts of many about female players in marriage and childbearing. It was good.
To what extent did that wrong notion about marriage affect your generation of players?
Indeed, we felt rejected. If not for the love of the game, some of us would have quit the scene half way. But today, I feel proud any time I reflect on what it used to be in those days and now.
What was the secret of your success as a footballer?
I would say that I was not a controversial player, and hard work remained my key to success. I am always dedicated to whatever I choose to do and I hate compromise.
When were you invited to the national team?
That was in 1991, but it happened in a dramatic way. That year, names of invitees to the national team were published in the national dailies but mine was not in the list. However, I did not boarder myself because I felt that my time would come one day. But the chairman of my club then, Mr. E. Kuejubolar, frowned at the list and said that no team that wants to succeed would like to miss a player like me. He, therefore, encouraged me to go for the screening exercise even though I was not invited. For me, it was difficult to do that because I am a shy person, I hate going to where I am not invited. But when my chairman insisted, I had no option than to go for the screening. From there, one thing led to another and I was picked as one of the players to represent Nigeria.
How were you able to cope with male admirers?
I loved them all because they were good lovers of football. I realised that they loved my style of play and were not after what they could get from me. So, I was free with them. Some of them even gave me money in appreciation for what I was doing for my club and Nigeria.
Does that mean you never had a boyfriend during your playing days?
It would be difficult for anybody to believe that I never had a boyfriend because then, most players were carried away by what was happening around them. But I thank God for holding me firm in His hands. That was what kept me focused.
How did it happen?
I am from a Christian home and my mother inculcated in us the fear of God. She made us to realise early enough that we could only succeed in life if we hold unto God and obey His commandments and I held her teachings to heart and grew up with them. Likened to that was the fact that I neither drink alcohol nor smoke and for me, clubbing was, and is still not in my dairy.
Apart from football what else can you do?
I am a graduate of Business Administration; I can always fall back to my certificate and use it to work in my area of specialisation. That is why I encourage every footballer to acquire good education.
Which university did you graduate from?
Delta State University, Abraka.
Were you playing and studying at the same time?
Yes, I was doing both at the same time.
Are you married?
Yes, but my husband is dead.
It’s a pity.
Thank you. I got married to the late Alphonsus Obiajulu in August 2001. He died three years after.
Did you have children with him?
We had two children, a boy named Jonathan and a girl we called Divine.
Was your husband into sports while alive?
No, but he was a strong fan of mine. He loved the way I dazzled while in the pitch of play.
What made him special to you?
He was handsome and intelligent. In fact, he had all the qualities any woman would deserve from a husband.
How long did it take you to give him a nod after his proposal to marry you?
I am sorry to say this; I dribbled him for about one year to make sure that he was not driven by emotions, but was in for a serious business.
What will you not forget about him?
I still miss the love he lavished on me. Moreover, he supported my football career to the fullest and never desired that I should quit the game.
How has life been since his demise?
It has not been easy. In fact, don’t pray for anyone to become a widow or widower. But in all things, God has been faithful.
Are you into another relationship?
Men have been disturbing me since my husband died, but I have yet to see the right man.
Does it mean that those that come do not have the qualities you saw in your late husband?
Most of them have no interest in the welfare of my children. Moreover, I am not in a hurry to get married, because I want to give my children the best of education.
Will you encourage your children to play football?
Gone are the days when parents force their children to take to one profession or the other. I can only encourage and direct them, but it is not my duty to choose careers for them. However, I will support any of my children that take to football, but I have to ensure that they get proper education first.
What is your dream for your children?
They are in God’s hands, if He decides to give them another man as father, it is good by me. In all, I would want them to become solution providers wherever they see themselves and at the same time, be among the greatest men and women in the world.
After football you went into coaching, what motivated you to take that step?
I never wanted to leave football completely because that is the water I drink and the food I eat.
Tell us your most memorable game while in active football.
I will never in a hurry forget my first outing for Nigeria. It was an encounter against the Black Queens of Ghana and I scored a hat-trick in that match. It was awesome.