Chronicles of Jangalla boy - Part 1

"I should write about this"

I always thought i was going to be a footballer which was surprising. The perception of footballers has changed dramatically over time and many parents would, if given a choice, opt for the glitzy thrill of nights at the Bernabeu watching their son run after a round leather ball with 21 other sweaty men to cramped halls of the venue the Institute of Chartered Accountant chooses for conferring its associate membership for deserving students.

But this was the 90s and footballers were still never do wells and drop outs and none encapsulated this feeling more than the one i had at home.

Uncle Greg always had a ball in his underarm. He had sacrificed everything for a footballing career which never started. He was born at a time when Nigeria still was a land of opportunities. You only had to finish Class 5 and attempt the School Certificate Examination to get into one of the many lucrative civil service opportunities on offer from where you could access scholarships for higher studies or do a correspondence course. But Uncle Greg was having none of that. It was football or nothing.

I was told of how when everyone woke up early in the morning to go quickly to the farm before getting ready for school, Uncle Greg could not be bothered. Professional footballers ought to take their sleep seriously and even though he was still trapped in a dirt trodden village in midwestern Nigeria, that was what he was and it was easential he practiced the sleeping as much as playing.

His mates returning from the farm to prepare for school, was cue for him to set off for practice. He would rain fire and brimstone on his poor mother if she didnt have a heart meal waiting for him when he returned. After all good food came very close to sleep in order or importance in the life of a footballer.

It was therefore not surprising that he could barely manage to obtain a certificate of attendance at the end of his 5 years in Secondary School.

But what use was a certificate to a footballer? He was destined for the bright lights and moved to Lagos to stay with his brother while waiting for the call. I dont know though if he was still expecting the call when he was moved out of his brother’s 20 years later, at the wrong end of 40 years with no real skill other than that for a game suited for men in their youth. To be fair to him, he never lost the sleeping skill though. I mum claimed he slept so much out of laziness but what does she know about the life and requirements of a professional footballer.

I cannot recollect ever watching him play but everyone who did said he was very good. He had played with people who ended up representing the country and outshone all of them. It was just bad luck that he never got his break.

That maybe was the second reason i am surprised i did think of becoming a footballer. No one ever saw me play the first time and thought i could be anything other than a good ball boy. Even that was arguable given my lack of athleticism.

It wasnt always so though. I started playing on my street with boys my own age and was always one of the choosen. Everyone wanted me on their team and they even gave me a nickname-Roberto Baggio and i thought like i played like the famous superstar of same name. But now that i think of it, i see why. It was not skill. It was my mind. I could see plays ahead of most and the talent pool on the street wasnt that deep for it to be ignored. I also had a strong desire to win all the time. I pushed myself and everyone around me to win and everyone wanted to be around winners so they always chose me.

I had to outgrow my street to realise how truly limited my skills set were. I still had a fast mind but i needed fast feet too.

But everyone came round to what i offered at the end. At times, it was just too late.

I remember trying out for my secondary school team a number of times unsuccessfully until one day when i participated in a practice game with the team. It was game played at a pace i was very well suited to and i took advantage of that to showcase all my skills.

Our coach walked up to me after that game and put an arm around my shoulder and said to me, i never knew you were this good. Next year will be your year as i plan to build my team around you. I looked at him and smiled. It was the best thing he had ever said to me in all my 3 years of trying.

I was in final year and 2 months away from graduating. It was a year too late!

Culled from “I should write about this..” Autobiography of Martins Isibor Chukwuka Arogie Ha!

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The Author teaches Control Engineering at the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He is a lover of literature at its elegant finest, a crude musical vocalist, an unrepentant dancer, a sprinter of diminished skills, a fan of Arsenal football club and an encourager.

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