Colours of Honour as Okocha Quits Soccer
Finally, he has called it quits from international football, after a meritorious sojourn in the world of the round leather game as friends, business interest groups, well wishers, youths, market women and elders gathered to bid him fare well.
The event was the testimonial match organised by the Delta State Government to honour him - Austine Azuka “Jay-Jay” Okocha whose successful football career that spanned 17 years in the field of play has ended.
The 25,000-capacity Warri Township Stadium, venue of the widely celebrated event on Thursday, June 26, 2008, was filled to the brim as soccer lovers and others struggled for space to have a glimpse of the man adjudged to be one of the greatest footballers Nigeria-the most populous black race nation-has ever produced.
As early as 7.30am, visitors from far and near had thronged the streets of Warri with reckless abandon. They defied the earlier announcement made by the State Government that the stadium would be officially opened to visitors at 10.00am. Soccer fans had told SUNDAY POINTER that their early arrival was to guarantee a space for their inquisitive eyes.
From the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) junction to Effurun Round About, Warri /Sapele Road to NPA, all witnessed unprecedented traffic as security agencies, including the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) battled profusely to contend with the surge. Those who could not make it into the stadium as a result of lack of fund were even more than those inside as a sea of human heads dotted the stadium environment.
A respondent, Onoriode Joshua said, “Bros, today is the greatest day of my life. Today I will have the opportunity of seeing Okocha live. Even though I am unable to make it inside, I am happy to be outside to be part of those to bid him farewell from international football. I will position myself by the gate here so that I can see his face. He contributed a lot to football in Nigeria and Africa in general.”
May, many others shared his sentiments and acted in same manner.
It is not an over statement to say that Delta State never witnessed the galaxy of soccer stars that flew in from Europe for the all-important football event. Both active and inactive African football legends were on hand and participated actively in the event that drew the curtain closed for Austine “Jay Jay” Okocha’s football career.
The cream of who-is-who in the football world, especially from the African continent, plying their trades in Europe flew into the Osubi Airport near Warri, at about 1.15pm on the day of the event, after attending the wedding ceremony of one of the Super Eagle’s players, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, who got married, the previous day, to Coach Kadiri Ikhana’s daughter Ikhana had played for Bendel Insurance of Benin.
The roll call of players on parade included Banjamin Nwaruwari from Zimbabwe, El-Hadj Diouf from Senegal, Yusuf Fotana from Cote d’ Iviore, Stephen Appiah from Ghana and Mohammed Kallon from Sierra Leone. Others included the present Super Eagles’ Captain, Kanu Nwankwo, Ogbonna Kanu, Jay-Jay himself, Taribo West, Victor Ikpeba, Wilson Oruma and Joseph Yobo.
Yet, others are Osaze Odewingie, Taye Taiwo, Danny Shittu, Julius Aghaghowa, Garba Lawal, Obinna Nsofor, Celestine Babayaro, John Fashinu, Peterside Idah, Aloy Agu, Daniel Amokachi and Etim Esin. The list is inexhaustible, indeed.
The Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, led the state functionaries comprising the Deputy Governor, Professor Amos Utuama, (SAN); the Secretary to State Government, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa; civil commissioners, House of Assembly members, local government chairmen and councillors. The likes of Rtd. Brig. Gen. Dominic Oneya, Dr. Mrs. Cecilia Ibru, MD/CEO, Oceanic Bank International, major sponsors of the event; Major Gen. David Ejoor, Professor and Professor (Mrs.) Chukwuka Okonjo, the Obi and Lolo of Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom, amongst others too numerous to mention.
Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan arrived at the stadium at about 3.50pm amid cheers from spectators. His Deputy, Professor Amos Utuama (SAN) had arrived 25 minutes earlier waiting for the game proper. As the spectators were singing, dancing and praising Okocha, one of their own who has brought fame and honour to African football, the reason for honouring him by the Delta State government, the heavens opened up and a heavy down pour took over the sky at about 4.15pm.
Determined to accomplish the reason for the day, the players who were there for the international testimonial match, defied the rain at about 4.35pm. Cheers of Jay Jay you too much, Jay Jay we love you, Jay Jay we are proud of you, rented the air. The recognition of each player that entered the pitch increased the tempo of the cheers which was coming in a crescendo. The Super Eagles’ Captain, Kanu Nwakwo, almost stole the show from Okocha when he came out from the dressing room: “Papilo, Papilo, Papilo, Papilo”, the speculators chanted.
And the match? It was highly entertaining, enthralling and entirely fun as Okocha dazzled the spectators with his magical touches. Kanu Nwankwo scored the first goal of the novelty match while Daniel Amokachi swam the accumulated water in the pitch after netting-in the ball in the second half.
The former Super Eagles’ Captain and midfield maestro who played for both sides in the two halves, Jay Jay Okocha was almost denied the opportunity to score until he was granted the chance Okocha’s final goal brought the match to a close at about 5.40pm in the encounter that was accompanied with rain throughout the period it lasted.
Austine Azuka “Jay Jay” Okocha was born on August 14, 1973 in Enugu but has Ogwashi-Uku blood in him. He started playing football like any ambitious young man on the streets of Enugu before luck smiled on him to join a local club, Rangers, in the late 80s. He started his professional career with Borussia Neukirchen (1990-1992), before moving to Eintracht Frankfurt (1992 – 1996). While playing for Frankfurt against Karlsruhe, on one occasion, he dribbled past through the entire defence of the team, beating some players twice, before scoring against otherwise impregnable goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn. The goal was voted 1993 Goal-of-the-Year.
He moved on to play for Fenerbahce in 1996-1998 and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), (1998-2002), before signing for English Premier League Club, Bolton Wanderers (2002-2006).
During his stay in Bolton Wanderers, Okocha contributed immensely to help the club avoid relegation in the 2002-2003 seasons. He was also the Captain of Bolton and led them to the final of the league cup but lost to Middlesbrough. Okocha signed for Hull City on a one-year deal on September 4, 2007, when he claimed that God told him to sign for Hull.
He had played for Qatar SC in 2006-2007. Okocha regularly featured for the Nigerian National team from 1993 until 2006. He played at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cup Finals and many African Nations Cup tournaments. He was also a regular member of the Nigerian team that won the gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
He is married to Mrs. Nkechi Okocha the marriage is blessed with children. He won the BCC African Footballer of the year 2003 and 2004.
Some respondents who spoke with SUNDAY POINTER, said Nigerians will miss the services of Okocha and wished him well in his new endeauor. According to a respondent Baba Oghene, “They are too much. When I see Okocha and I see Aghaghowa. I feel happy. I will thank the state government for bringing the match here. But the money we paid is too much I want them to refund some money to us. I am sure we will have another player that will step into his shoes. He is a good player anyway we will miss him. But I believe that we will have another player”.
Earlier at the Osubi Airport, Okocha had told journalists that he had no regret quiting international football and thanked Nigerians and Delta State in particular for their support. ”I know that I have made a lot of friends. Oh yes: people have recognised my contribution. I am glad It is good. I have no regret Football has been my life. I love football: I always like to play. But at the same time, I don’t have to be greedy, I know it will surely end one day. I have to be glad with what I have achieved”, Okocha reiterated.
In a chat, the Obi of Ogwashi Uku kingdom, (who represented Okocha’s family at the ceremony), Professor Chukwuka Okonjo who was accompanied by his Lolo, Professor (Mrs.), Okonjo, told SUNDAY POINTER he is related to Okocha. He added that Okocha’s father had a brief stay with his father in Lagos before his employment with the Nigeria Railways Corporation, (NRC), took him to Enugu.
Hear him, “Well, we are having a nice time and it was interesting watching him play and score. Well, of course Ogwashi-Uku has very many people who should be immortalised. And we have to do things which are befitting to immortalise them in their area of specialization.
That, we will surely do. There are plans to immortalize them. My mother is Okocha’s sister. Infact, Jay Jay’s father lived in our house in Lagos and it was my father who found a job for Jay Jay’s father and after he had found a job at the Railways, they transferred him to Enugu. So, people don’t know that. And again while in football the Okochas excelled, in academics the Okonjos excelled. You know Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, that is the mother, Professor (Mrs.) Okonjo.
Here is the father, Professor Okonjo (he said pointing to himself). And after a 22-year old legal battle, Ogwashi-Uku Kingdom decided to make me their Obi. That was’nt easily achieved because I used to be a Professor. I have worked for the United Nations for 11 years. I have been and Education Adviser to the government of Ghana.
“So, you see, intellectually, the two branches of the family have excelled internationally. Ngozi okonjo-Iweala, for example, was the Best Finance Minister in the world in 2005. And here is one of the best footballers in the world today, all from the same family in Ogwashi-Uku. So, it is interesting for me as the Obi of Ogwashi-Uku to watch people who come from my town excel. The Ambassador for Conflict Resolution in Africa, Chief Ralph Uwechue, is also from Ogwashi-Uku. So, you see, it is a place distinct for Nigeria."