Sunday, 4th June 2023

Pele: Coach Izilien revises his memory

By Tony Afejuku
13 January 2023   |   3:34 am
Last Friday, in my own peculiarly blooming manner I paid tribute to Pele, our fallen World King of Football. When this column eventually saw the arresting light of day I saw in what I did beauty that is lastingly forever bright. And pure ray of light endlessly kissed my imagination with a very blooming passion…

Last Friday, in my own peculiarly blooming manner I paid tribute to Pele, our fallen World King of Football. When this column eventually saw the arresting light of day I saw in what I did beauty that is lastingly forever bright. And pure ray of light endlessly kissed my imagination with a very blooming passion and style. And calls and messages by readers, unknown and known, invigorated my glowing health which made me hear myself feeling as strong as a horse. Of course, my thoughts returned to my octogenarian subject who I should compose octonaries, that is, poetic or prosodic composition of eight lines per stanza, for.

Suddenly I had an idea for the composition not minding my love to dwell on the Warri descent of the one and only rightly and correctly called Pele the Magnificent King now since his translation I now correctly and rightly re-call Pele the Everlasting God of Universal Football. I hear the stealthy footsteps of my mind as my imagination pauses outside my door of creativity. It yearned to do the interesting thing on Pele’s Warri lineage. But it must be kept in abeyance and put on hold a little more time. I hope I am not infuriating my readers’ patience.

I re-read my last Friday’s article. I saw one thing that took shape in my head. It was what Coach Godwin Izilien said with respect to Pele’s visit to Benin City of the Mid West Region in 1969 when the King and his Santos Club were requested to play a friendly match with the Mid West selected side. Now let me quote myself pertinently:

“One more thing I should say. On Sunday, January 1, 2023 afternoon, Channels Television Sports Hot News – I hope I am not missing the exact name – interviewed Coach Izilien on the matter of Santos Club’s visit to Benin City in 1969 to play a friendly match with a selected Mid-West football team. It was in the thick of the Nigeria-Biafra civil war. Izilien surprisingly denied that Pele’s visit did … lead to a temporary suspension of hostilities between the warring sides. Izilien’s interviewer wanted to know from him what actually transpired as a member of the Mid West selected team. Of course Izilien’s interviewer wanted him to confirm the worth of Pele’s influence around the world including Nigeria specifically. Izilien was dead wrong. I shall at another time give the coach a fitting reply as I was conversant with the event – even of youngish age then. For now I will simply state that Coach Izilien was dead wrong and dead wrong.”

Coach Izilien perplexed me with his denial. But I have put off – or I am putting off – the fitting reply I was going to give Coach Godwin Izilien erstwhile coach of our Super Falcons and Golden Eaglets – and to boot a very admirable coach of the uncanny Flash Flamingoes/Bendel United of Benin City in the glorious days of our beautiful domestic football. The interesting things I wanted to say about the 1969 event will no longer be said. All the rough notes, great many rough notes, I worked and reworked and put away in the drawer of my head will no longer be recalled – meaning that they will no longer be released.

All the ideas that occurred to me will remain locked up in the drawer. Why? The experienced and well-grounded coach now an octogenarian like the departed best world footballer ever has pertinently withdrawn his open live programme denial of Sunday, January 1, already referred to. He has since adjusted his memory that was inspired, I believe, to compel Izilien to see Pele’s visit to Nigeria in the sporting as well as the dramatically political and the politically dramatic and historical light that it was.

On Thursday, January 5, 2023, Coach Izilien’s revised version of the event was reported on page 7 of The Nation’s Sporting Life! In the paper, Izilien was reported to have said, among other things, as follows: “The match was scheduled for 3:30pm, but the stadium was opened from 10:00am.

“Ogbe Stadium was newly commissioned then, and it was filled up at 2:00pm with a lot of people stuck outside the stadium as they were unable to get in.

“I also remember then that some football fans came from neigbouring towns such as Abudu, Agbor, Asaba, Onitsha and other regions controlled by the Biafran Soldiers.”

This was certainly the situation then. Pele’s visit brought solace to the people in a time of cholera and mindless killings which the Nigeria-Biafra civil war unleashed on both sides. Pele inspired and induced cease fire at a time animals of war in Nigeria and Biafra were badly and roughly and tragically subjected to the vagaries and rottenness of war. Pele’s visit was not at all a vague visit at the time he and his Santos Club visited the Region of the sport-loving governor called Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, the most prominent sports governor in the land then.

As Izilien rightly stated in obedience to his re-molded memory, “The match was historic in the sense that it brought so many people together once again since the civil war began in 1967. We forgot all our problems at that moment.”
Pele was the beautiful football brain that united Nigeria and Biafra at a time football lovers and fans took risks and emotionally cooled their nerves and feats to travel from Biafra to Nigeria all because of the ceasefire that Pele’s well-programmed visit induced. Pele indeed prospered our warring soldiers in a manner that underscored positively their passion and humanity.

I am glad that Coach Izilien at last tells us in no un-mistaken terms that are not vague that he feels sad that “we lost a natural footballer. Pele was a gifted player, and he was never involved in any drug scandal throughout his playing career.” Izilien’s comparison of Pele with an un-named but known football personage who was a football cheat, and a drug consumer cannot but energize us. But he should have said succinctly that Pele was firmly and solidly incomparable and had no equal.

Our super fabulous footballer, our universally famed brother of Warri ancestry, as I intimated last Friday, was in his own majestic class and will forever remain there un-equalled and without a match. But I must end by praising Coach Izilien for helping through his revised memory to put straight our football history at a significant epoch of your country my country our country. Coach Izilien is hereby discharged and acquitted. Up Coachito!!!

Afejuku can be reached via 08055213059.

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