If you were at that very good looking Stephen Keshi International Stadium Asaba where the hardworking Delta State Governor Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa transformed into one of the first rate football arenas in the country, you would marvel to your bone marrow where on that fateful day of the FA Cup final between old rivals Rangers International of Enugu and Kano Pillars old Raccah Rovers of Kano in the 1970’s and 1980’s when the game was so sweet and enduring to behold either at the then amateur league level or this FA Cup. Both teams were at the centre stage and at each other’s throat making encounters between as tug of war always.
As a matter of fact no less was expected when both emerged as this year’s FA Cup finalists. It was our lot and expectations to behold the old time way of struggle for the round leather and we did not get less. Recalled vividly that Kano Pillars drew the first to third blood of goals in the first half which left the flying antelopes looked like mere onlookers or if you like blooded spectators in the game many came to watch to see if it is Rangers reborn or … while others came to see the good old football between two oldies of Nigerian football league and the FA Cup.
They agreed that much water has passed through the bridge on both sides, the only thing left is that Rangers still bear its traditional name since formation in the early 1970’s while Kano Pillars wore off the toga of Raccah Rovers a name that meant a lot during their sojourn in Nigerian football terrain when up there was home for the squirrels. Head or tail, it is now history what happened, but it has kept reverberating to high heavens we are proud reeling such out. It was what the late veteran broadcaster, Earnest Okonkwo would called or refer to as then as ‘what a match’
I was there to cover my 20th FA Cup final, incidental it was between teams that held Nigerian football atmosphere hostage for good for quite a long time and both teams did not disappoint my anticipation for thrills, drill, nitty- gritty, suspense and hold. The only thing l missed as an oldie on the field of sports reporting was the second by second, minute by minute description via transistor radio always with me during the good old days of late Okonkwo that aided mostly in reporting.
Consequent upon that in reveling the dramatic comeback and eventual hard earned victory song of Rangers International over Kano Pillars to clinch the Federation Cup at the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba on October 24. Against the above background therefore, many pundits referred it as the outcome of the famous 1989 Dammam Miracle by the then Tunde Disu led U-20 Flying Eagles squad came off from four goals down to turn host, Russian into piece in the great city of Dammam. It is instructive to noted that, it has been 35 years the prime team from the South East suffered this drought of the most prestigious trophy in the land, the Federations Cup, which l prefer referring to as the FA Cup a rare traditional English FA has retained till date. There are many more connotations from this triumph value for studying.
Before then, congratulations once again to the Management, Coach and Players of Enugu Rangers International Football Cup. The victory no doubt resuscitates lingering ever green memories, hold and images. If you like, say that the story is a simply yet complex one and you won’t be too far from it. Permit me the use of this: Umu Rangers International came from whole three zero in a supposedly high tension, tight, technical and tactical encounter to even score against tough and high riding tough and desperate Kano Pillars desiring to drink from the very prestigious Cup. Resilient Rangers then went ahead to carry the day via penalty shootouts to ice the cake in this year’s 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 Nasarawa 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 Nasarawa team by four goals to two.
Recalled that the Kano based side played in Lagos during the preliminaries and recreated their game in Asaba where it met superior tactical disciplined side in Rangers International tutored by veteran coach Gbenga Ogunbote hence outcome. Kano Pillars did valiantly against Kastina 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 thrill of the good old days sing- song “Holy, Holy, Holy” Enugu Rangers another station, and Enyi Rangers bu Umu Rangers of the very beautiful days of the thrilling FA Cup AT THE National in Government College Umuahia in the 1980’s coming from school to watch Rangers International with either IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan or Bendel Insurance or this same Raccah Rovers and later started covering games as a reporter in the good old Daily Times, which was referred to as the Biggest and the Best in the country. That is the champions Rangers 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. Founded in 1970, Rangers International FC was basic to the renewal of the dignity of the South East from the pillages of the war. It fitted the void and gave us sense of responsibility and belonging It provided us mental moral booster refuge. There is no mental evaluating dowel to state the effects of their back-to-back victories in the Challenge Cup and the National League beginning in 1974 on the psyche of the Igbo person. I just knew that it gave my dad 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 FC were more than a football club. Rangers were a statement of purposes, intents, a mass movement and staying power for Ndigbo . As I did say earlier that Enyi Rangers bu Umu Rangers so be it. From 1971, the intense competition and rivalry of the Enugu team with their Ibadan opponents, the Shooting Stars, began. Rangers lost to Shooting stars 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 Rangers International have been then IICC Shooting Stars FC, Mighty Jets of Jos, Bendel Insurance FC of Benin, Raccah Rovers of Kano with the then legendary Baba Out Mohammed 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 diversity. It ran deep: Igbo versus Yoruba!
Then 35 years after its last victory against a Northern side, then 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 unexpected technical hand Coach Gbenga Ogunbote led the Rangers team to this momentous conquest after a season at the club. Not surprisingly, “Rangers Management Corporation, owners of Rangers International F.C, has extended the contract of Aiteo Cup-winning coach, Ogunbote for another season,”
However, Ogunbote in the recent past would have associations with the Ibadan than of Rangers rather than be operating from Enugu. An Ogunbote leading Rangers to victory is a noteworthy progress in the history of ethnic relations in Nigeria. It speaks to so many chronicles.
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 several quarters and live debates on the matter that it is an untruth based on ignorance. The South-East 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 aspect 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 as he also achieved when he had stint with Enyimba FC from where he joined Rangers. Therefore, Ogunbote deserves more rewards than a fresh contract because he is not only a hard working tactical man but also dedicated to his job like he got continental ticket for Enyimba so he has done for Rangers..
Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State understands symbolism therefore it won’t be out of place if Gbenga Ogunbote should be further rewarded with an honorary citizenship of Enugu State, my dear good friend Sir. The traditional rule, Igwe of Nike should do further honours to this 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. As very erudite the Professors and young scholars at the University of Nigeria who followed the traditions of Professors Sam Aluko and Babatunde Fafunwa would candidly corroborate to this fact. It is Handshake across the Niger in full sincerity and best of hearts. The task is to enlarge the coast the massive followership of this traditional team that still bears its name till date is better imagined than described. Enyi Rangers bu Umu Rangers.