Enugu Rangers and the significations of a victory
Footie aficionados have been celebrating the remarkable comeback victory of Enugu Rangers over Kano Pillars to clinch the Federation Cup at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba on October 24.Analysts compare the outcome with the Miracle of Damman when the Super Eagles came back from four goals down to defeat their Russian hosts in the city of Damman. As many have noted, it was also the first time in 35 years that the beloved team of the South East would win the Federation Cup.
There are many more significations from this victory worth exploration. Before then, congratulations once again to the Management, Coach and Players of Enugu Rangers International Football Cup. The victory revives memories and images.
The story is a simple yet complex one. Rangers International came from three goals down to equalise against Kano Pillars and then defeat them in the penalty shootouts to clinch the 2018 Aiteo Federations Cup. The comeback happened in the dying minutes after many fans had lost hope. Not the determined players and their coach.
It was a victory prepared well ahead unbeknownst to the team and their fans. Many coincidences. Rangers played their semi-finals against Nassarawa United at the Sani Abacha Stadium in Kano. They had earlier defeated the defending champions Akwa United. Rangers came from two goals down to disunite the Nassarawa team by four goals to two.
The Kano team played in Lagos and recreated their game in Asaba but with a different outcome. Kano Pillars did valiantly against Katsina United. They sacrificed a two-goal lead but won the penalty shootout in Lagos. The run of luck ended in Asaba against Rangers.
Aiteo Federation Cup 2018 is the sixth that Rangers would win. It recreated the buzz of the “Holy, Holy, Holy” heydays of the champions that I grew up watching and joining crowds as a teenager to view at the National Stadium, Surulere.
The results the team posted fired the imagination. Stories at the family hearth added to the allure and mystique. Formed in 1970, Rangers International FC was integral to the restoration of the dignity of the South East from the depredations of the war. It provided a psychological anchor and booster. There is no psychological measuring rod to state the effects of their back-to-back victories in the Challenge Cup and the National Leaguebeginningin 1974on the psyche of the Igbo person. I just knew that it gave mydad and his peers more than a kick!
Each victory by Rangers boosted the Igbo man. When they won the continental trophy, Osadebe released a number to join the celebrations. Rangers FCwas more than a football club. Rangers was a statement of intent and a movement.
From 1971, the intense competition and rivalry of the Enugu team with their Ibadan opponents, the Shooting Stars, began. Rangers lost to Shooting in the FA Cup that year. There were more battles subsequently. The Winners’ Cup tussle settled in Kaduna remains a legend in the annals of Nigerian soccer.
For most of its history, the outstanding rivals of the Enugu Rangers have been Shooting Stars FC, Mighty Jets of Jos, Bendel Insurance FC and the cousin-rivals, Spartans FC of Owerri (later renamed Iwuanyanwu Nationale),Enyimba FC of Aba and Vasco Da Gama (later P&T) of Enugu. The competition with Shooting Stars had several dimensions of football artistry and competence, management capability and ethnicity of the My-Mercedes-is-bigger-than-yours variety. It ran deep: Igbo versus Yoruba!
Then 35 years after its last victory against a Northern side, DIC Bees of Kaduna 5-4, also via penalties, Rangers wins again. The standout person in the re-emergence of Rangers International as winners of the Federations Cup is an uncharacteristic name. Coach Olugbenga Ogunbote led the Rangers team to this significant victory after just one season at the club. Not surprisingly, “Rangers Management Corporation, owners of Rangers International F.C, have extended the contract of Aiteo Cup-winning coach, Olugbenga Ogunbote for another season,” the club declared in a statement.
Olugbenga Ogunbote in the recent past would have associations with the Ibadan bete noire of Rangers rather than be operating from Enugu. An Ogunbote leading Enugu Rangers to victory is a significant development in the history of ethnic relations in Nigeria. It speaks to so many narratives.
One of the narratives is the falsehood on the streets of most parts of Nigeria that Eastern Nigeria is a hostile terrain for non-natives. We have argued in social media and live debates on the matter that it is an untruth based on ignorance. The SouthEast lacks many non-indigenes only because of a deliberate lack of the large-scale federal projects the Federal Government executed post-civil war and planted anywhere but in the East. There was no incentive for non-indigenes to visit and stay.
The other narrative is that the South East welcomes talent and is unafraid of competition. It is the added message of Ogunbote’s presence and results in Enugu. Therefore, Ogunbote deserves more rewards than a fresh contract.
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State understands symbolism. Reward Olugbenga Ogunbote with the honorary citizenship of Enugu State, dear Sir. The Igwe of Nike should do further honours to the man. Place a red cap on his head at a ceremony soon.
Ogunbote and his likes in the South East provide positive proof that the relationship between the two major southern ethnicities is not and should not be one-way traffic. The professors and young scholars at the University of Nigeria who followed the traditions of Profs Sam Aluko and Babatunde Fafunwa attest to this fact. It is Handshake across the Niger in praxis. The task is to enlarge the pool.
Congratulations and well done, Coach Ogunbote, for leading the rebirth of our darling Enugu Rangers International FC. May the years in Enugu be full of more ups than downs and bring mutual benefits.
Big Read |