L-R: Emmanuel Okala, today, and right with colleagues in their heydays; from left Felix Owolabi popularly called Owoblow, Christian Chukwu, captain; popularly called Chairman Chukwu and Segun Odegbami, popularly called Mathematical Odegbami
Anambra State has celebrated the legendary goalkeeper Emmanuel Okala as he marked his 70th birthday anniversary on Monday, May 17.
Okala manned the goalpost for Enugu Rangers International FC in the years after the Nigeria-Biafra war, and thus helped to lift the spirit of the Eastern Nigerian people, said Mr C. Don Adinuba, Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment in a statement.
Okala was the goalkeeper for the Green Eagles of Nigeria when the team won her first continental trophy as the gold medalists at the 2nd All-Africa Games staged in Lagos in 1973.
Okala was the first ever winner of the African Footballer of the Year Award in 1978 as adjudged by the African Sports Journalists Union (ASJU).
He won five National League titles, four Challenge cups and the 1977 African Cup Winners cup in 1977 with Rangers.
Born in Ogbe-Otu, Onitsha, in Anambra State on May 17, 1951, he started playing as a left-winger before playing in goal where he conquered the world.
He retired from the national team, the Green Eagles, in 1980 after winning the gold medal in the African Nations Cup played in Lagos, Nigeria.
According to Adinuba, Okala has always identified with his beloved Anambra State where he serves as a Senior Special Assistant on Sports to the Governor.
“He enjoys the regular stipends paid to ex-Rangers players by Governor Obiano and was an ever-present dignitary when Anambra State hosted the Nigeria Police Games in 2020.
“In his heyday, he was lionized with praise songs such as “No Okala, no Rangers!” and “No Okala, no Green Eagles!”
“The prayer is for the legend to continue living a glorious life in good health. Governor Obiano had early this morning called the legendary former national goalkeeper to wish him a most rewarding birthday celebration.