By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
When the Nigeria-Biafra war ended in January 1970, there was gloom in Igboland. Even as the then Head of State General Yakubu Gowon made the famous announcement of “No Victor, No Vanquished”, the vanquished ones knew themselves as they sauntered back into Nigeria, hungry and broken, after the end of the Biafra struggle. The legendary football administrator, Jerry Enyeazu, strongly felt that football could lift the spirit. He was ably backed by BSC Nzenwa, and the club named Enugu Rangers was birthed on January 29, 1970.
The rest, as they say, is history – but let’s just do a brief recap here.
The eminent Nigerian football administrators of that time, notably the iconic Oyo Orok Oyo, at the end of the war stressed that a team from the erstwhile rebel section must be involved for a true national champion to emerge.
The Nigerian Army football team, Lagos Garrison, was the reigning kings that had to be matched up with the team from the East. In the pulsating match the boys from the East defeated the Nigerian Army team 2-1, a clear case of the vanquished turning the table on the victors.
The Rangers team truly lived up to the club’s motto: “From Difficulties To The Heights.”
A key player from the Nigerian Army team, Paul “Wonder Boy” Hamilton, recalled that Olusegun Obasanjo was so enraged when he saw the army team in the office of the team coordinator George Innih that he nearly had them flogged for “losing to those hungry boys”.
The eastern boys may have been hungry but they were quite determined such that one of their star players, Dominic Nwobodo, who had his head broken and bloodied, completed the match with a completely bandaged head that earned him the nickname “Alhaji”.
It was from the ruins of the war that Enugu Rangers was formed in 1970, and the team represented Nigeria in the 1971 African Cup of Champion Clubs, reaching the quarter-finals, only to lose to ASEC Mimosas of Cote d’Ivoire.
The pioneer Rangers team of 1970 was made up of Cyril Okosieme in goal, Ernest Ufele and Johnny “Wheeler” Nwosu as full backs, Peter Okeke as defensive midfielder, the skipper Godwin Achebe as central defender with Luke “Jazz Bukana” Okpala as his partner, while the forward players were Mathias Obianika, Kenneh Abana, Dominic Nwobodo, Chukwuma Igweonwu and Shedrack Ajaero.
There was a woman who was stronger than men backing the team in the shape and size of Mrs. Julie Alale, the inimitable “Madam Rangers” whose husband had been executed during the Biafra War.
The Rangers team got to the final of the 1971 National Challenge Cup but lost to WNDC (IICC, 3SC) of Ibadan, with WNDC’s goalie Adisa Amusa saving the penalty of Skipper Achebe.
A major addition to the Rangers team thereafter was the goalkeeper Emmanuel Okala who took over from Cyril Okosieme.