– The Sun News

Still on Okala, the goalkeeper legend

Thanks for your piece on Emmanuel Okala. He was one of the safest pair of hands that ever lived. A real legend.—Ekundayo Ayodele Adeniran
Emmanuel Okala is indeed a legend. Those were the legendary magic hands that kept for Nigeria.—Nick Idoko
A great legend. Like many others, they are abandoned to wallow in wretch.—Ifeanyi Unaeze
Handsome and aging ingloriously. That’s the story of Emmanuel Okala our legendary goalkeeper—Simeon Mpamugoh
So moving a piece. Thanks Egbon Mike for this. You’ve merely relayed the tragedy of our country. We seem to be lukewarm about taking care of our heroes. We are only interested in reaping their active energies and dumping them thereafter. Many of those who served the country in their prime in different capacities are now a sorry sight. We can’t even ask what’s happening to the memory of our great footballers like Sam Okwaraji who died in active service or our ace commentator, Ernest Okonkwo. What’s more tragic for Emmanuel Okala, a magic hand in the goalpost and his mates is that the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, where they plied their trade has been in decrepit state for many years. And no one seems to care. Each time I pass through the National Stadium, I weep for Nigeria. Which country in the world leaves its own version of Wembley in that sorry state?—Tony Iyare
My God! Is this Emmanuel Okala, once Africa’s best goalkeeper?—Sam Amaramiro Pepple
Mike, for all the usual seductiveness of your prose, I think you are too gloomy on old footballers. The likes of Okala are in our age bracket. Given Nigeria’s life expectancy at 53.05 years (2015), we are more than 10 years lucky to still be alive. Yes, the Okalas weren’t lucky enough to play professional football in Europe. But they were justly rewarded playing local football. For winning the then Challenge Cup in 1972 players of Bendel Insurance FC of Benin were given Vespa motorcycles. IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan gave the winners of the 1976 African Cup winners a VW Beetle each —Tom Odemwingie
Thanks for your great insight, Tom Odemwingie. We were not given any cars in 1976. We were gifted the Volkswagen cars in 1977 after we failed to defeat Rangers in the semi-final match of the African Cup winners Cup in Kaduna. The governor felt that although we lost, we had put up our best effort. This is just for correct documentation. Emmanuel Okala was the first Nigerian footballer to be awarded a version of the African Best Player Award by ASJU —Segun Odegbami
Mike, thanks so much for your piece on Emmanuel Okala. For those who read in between the lines, you message is undeniably, superbly eloquent. —Bosah Gabriel Iwobi
After reading your piece on Emmanuel Okala, I agree with you that age is unfair. —Yomi Idowu
Your piece on Emmanuel Okala was beautifully structured. I love it. Kudos, Mike. –Abiodun Adigun
In a country where Ann Chiejine earned a legendary status over Emmanuel Okala, what a pity! Good write up sir. I wish you mentioned his late brother too, Patrick Okala.
My friend Mike Awoyinfa wrote well. It does appear, though, that he decided against remembering that a man one year old today would inevitably be two next year. That’s one. Two. I would rather take the position in contradistinction to his lamentation of Emma Okala. Mike and I and Tom Odemwingie and some others were together in journalism from our twenties. Aren’t we now in our sixties, some of us developing tight affinity with the dye in order to keep grey hair at bay, others of us going skin-headed as an antidote to baldness? None of the signs and symptoms of the passage of time should signpost the extremities of threnodies. Okala and I became friends in 1977, when I interviewed him for The Punch, after his Rangers International played an away match against Police of Senegal and got manhandled by a mob thereafter. He lives in Enugu, less than an hour from my Anambra State address. I didn’t see the programme that birthed Mike’s piece. But to hear that Okala currently requires a hand to move about is news indeed. I was with him just before Christmas. He is in our age bracket. He is slower than he used to be. But so are most if not all of us his contemporaries. He is not vegetable. Even if he didn’t play professionally abroad, he has little reason to complain. He worked for and retired at the Enugu Sports Council. Like Christian Chukwu and some others. If people must know, Okala is today full-time employee of the Anambra State currently in the safe hands of Governor Willie Obiano. If kids today don’t know about Josiah Dombraye and Sam Garba Okoye, to give two instances, who is to blame? The ex-footballers themselves? In any case, would all those youths that won’t recognize Josiah and Ismaila Mabo and Peter Fregene also know nothing about Pele and the Brazilian soccer artist’s pedigree? Why should Mike expect a house that gave way to leave its shelves in place? Is it not like claiming that a house is a part of its rooms? Some soldiers who fought the civil war and survived it later perished without their entitlements. We have had neurosurgeons fired on air in this country for reasons that, at best, remain opaque. Some 35 states are currently said to be unable to pay basic salaries. Why should we pretend ignorance regarding the moment the downpour started drenching us? —Chuks Iloegbunam
I was about to press the like button in Facebook when the photograph arrested me. Of course, I didn’t like what the picture was telling me. Is this the Great Emmanuel Okala? Allah Akbar!
There should be a fund to support these heroes in the times of need. The younger footballers, entertainers, including Nollywood should accept the challenge of contributing a portion of their income to the fund. The government, churches and mosques should also contribute generously. This photograph of Okala should wake us all up —Abdul Oroh


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