The ‘Return’ of Tony Igwe – ‘world 2’
Who is the greatest right-full back in the history of Nigerian football? About a year ago, I asked football fans the question above, and conducted a small poll to get an answer. The response from Chief Dele Adetiba, a veteran journalist, broadcaster and guru of advertising, who has seen most of Nigeria’s generation of footballers since the 1950s to date, was not surprising. It coincided with that of a few others who watched Tony ‘Parkins’ Igwe play in the 1960s in Nigerian football.
For about five years, between 1966 and 1972, ‘World 2’, as Tony was nicknamed at the time by adoring football fans, could not be touched. He was way ahead of his generation in technique and skills as a defender.
Tony owned the right full-back position. He introduced to football at the time, a defensive style of play that flourishes in modern football today as the wing-back. Tony was the first player to consistently do the overlapping run, an elegant gallop down the right flank like a traditional winger, joining the attack and delivering beautiful pin-point, final crosses to strikers (Amusa Shittu, Sunny Oyarekhua and Peter Anieke) in the box. It was a style that was decades ahead of the time. He made it popular, doing it so well and owning the ‘patent’ with a nickname ‘World 2’, the best number two in the world.
He was a member of the Second All-Africa Games gold-winning Green Eagles in 1972. He was selected amongst the African XI team after the Games. He was also a member of the first Nigerian national team to qualify and to participate in the Olympic Games. That was in Mexico in 1968.
Tony Igwe relocated to the United States of America soon after the Second All-African Games. He was one of the first set of Nigerian athletes to do so for the sake of securing an education whilst still playing the beautiful game.
Since then, some 50 years ago, he may have visited Nigeria only once or twice. He eventually became an American citizen, and has had nothing to do with Nigerian football. It is not surprising that in my survey, no one under the age of 50 even knew who he was.
Sadly, of the 22 players that made up the 1972 national team only seven are still alive. Yet, Tony, one of the ‘oldest’ in the squad at the time, is still some years away from turning 80. They were all very young and died young.
I was a toddler growing up in Jos, when Tony Igwe and his colleagues, all secondary school football players, took Nigerian football by storm. The political crisis in Nigeria of 1966, the pogrom, truncated their schooling in Jos and romance with the great Jos township team that was on the verge of winning that year’s FA Cup in Lagos. Tony and a few of his team mates at the Academy Institute of Commerce in Jos, never returned to the city. They remained in Lagos to birth one of the most flamboyant, most followed and most successful privately-owned clubs in Nigeria’s history – Stationary Stores FC. This was the only club in Nigeria’s football history to have produced nine of the 11 members of the starting line-up of the Green Eagles at a particular time.
Through the decades I kept in touch with several of that national team members, including Tony Igwe. Last week, we spoke again, and I reminded him that he was one of a few remaining members of a great generation of Eagles, and that it is important he speaks to Nigerians and tell his story, if only for the sake of posterity and history.
He agreed. So, for the first time in decades, World 2 will be joining me on the set of ‘90 minutes with Mathematical’ this Saturday morning on Eagle7 Sports Radio, 103.7 FM Abeokuta, for an exclusive conversation.
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