Our British colonial masters brought us a lot of good stuff. Stuff such as education, Christianity and corruption, among others. But probably the best thing the Brits brought to us was football. Today, in homage to the coming World Cup, we take a quick tour of the early years of the NFF and our national team, the Super Eagles.
There are no records of when the first official football match was played in Nigeria, but it started in the 1920s. The Nigeria Football Association’s own records tell us that the organisation was formed in 1945. However, there is evidence that the NFA (which later became NFF) was actually formed in 1933. A Daily Times article from 21 August 1933 invited people to the NFA’s first meeting at 7 pm that night.
This first meeting held at the Health Office in Broad Street, Lagos and was open to the football interested public. As of the 1938/39 football season in England, the NFA had been recognised by the English FA, with F.B Mulford as secretary. But it was not until 1945 before the association was formally inaugurated, and a national team put together.
In 1942, a cup competition, the War Memorial Challenge, limited only to Lagos based teams was started. The War Memorial Challenge was won by ZAC Bombers (1942), Lagos Marine (1943), Lagos Railways (1944 and 1945) respectively.
One of the first points of duty of the NFA was to inaugurate the Governor’s Cup to replace the War Memorial Challenge. The new competition, encompassed the whole country, and the first winners were Lagos Marine. By 1948, efforts were underway to form a national team built around players discovered at the Governor’s Cup. Early star players in the national team were Dan Anyiam (Lagos UAC), Peter Anieke and Teslim Balogun (both of Lagos Railway). Nigeria’s first national team was named the UK Tourists, and after a few, unofficial, warm-up games went to the UK.
The team boarded the RMSS Apapa on 16 August 1949 for a playing tour of England and arrived Liverpool 13 days later. The players who made the trip were: Goalkeepers: Sam Ibiam (Port Harcourt), Isaac Akioye (Hercules, Ibadan); Defenders: Justin Onwudiwe (Lagos Railway), Olisa Chukwura (Abeokuta), ATB Ottun (Lagos Marines), Isiaku Shittu (Lagos UAC), John Dankaro (Jos), Hope Lawson (Lagos Marine), Dan Anyiam (Lagos UAC), Okoronkwo Kanu (Land & Survey); Forwards: Mesembe Otu (Lagos Marine), Peter Anieke (Lagos Railway), Sokari Dokubo (Lagos Railway), Godwin Anosike (Lagos Railway), Tesilimi Balogun (Lagos Railway), Titus Okere (Lagos Railway), Etim Henshaw (Lagos Marine) and Edet Ben (Lagos Marine). Etim Henshaw was the team captain, making him our first ever national team captain. Teslim Balogun was the star.
The team had no shoes.
Nigeria’s first ever official game was against Marine Cosby, which we won 5-2. During the next game, against an Athenian League XI, the English refused to play if the Tourists didn’t wear boots. The Tourists wore boots and lost, 8-0. The third game, which was generally agreed as the best, was a 2-2 draw with a Corinthians League XI. At the end of the tour of nine games, the team’s record was P9, W2, D2, L5. All five losses were with boots on.
After the tour, Teslim Balogun was signed by Petersborough United becoming the first ever Nigerian football export.
On the return voyage home, the UK Tourists took on the new name, Red Devils, and stopped in Freetown, Sierra Leone. During that stopover in Sierra Leone, Nigeria played her first official game against another country, defeating Sierra Leone 2-0 on 8/10/49.
In 1954, after Tony Enahoro’s motion for independence had been made, the Governor’s Cup was renamed FA Cup. The 1954 edition of the renamed FA Cup was won by Calabar FC who beat Kano Pillars 3-0 in the final. Meanwhile the Red Devils were still active, playing a series of friendlies against Ghana, including a 7-0 loss in 1955. In 1959, the NFA finally joined CAF, then followed this up by joining FIFA a year later as we approached independence.
In 1960, Nigeria played against Egypt in a qualifying game for the Rome 1960 Olympic Games, our first ever competitive international. In that game against Egypt, the Egyptians trashed us, the team was made to wear green rather than the red they used to wear. It was from that moment that the name of the team was changed from Red Devils to Green Eagles. Also in 1960,as independence approached, the FA Cup was renamed the Challenge Cup. The 1960 edition of the Challenge Cup was won by Lagos ECN who beat Ibadan Lions 5-2 in the final.
Nigeria first participated in the Nations Cup when Ghana hosted in 1963, but the Green Eagles exited in Round 1. The results of our first AFCON were Egypt 6-3 Nigeria; Sudan 4-0 Nigeria. Okepe, Bassey and Onyia scored for us against Egypt. In the 1970s a new generation of players developed to national team level from the likes Stationery Stores, Rangers International and Shooting Stars. This development was spurred by our first major triumph. We won the gold medal at 1973’s All Africa Games, which we hosted. The likes of Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Muda Lawal, Segun Odegbami and Haruna Ilerika broke into the national team in the 1970s. This new generation of players qualified us for our second AFCON, which was hosted by Ethiopia in 1976. We got bronze.
We qualified for the AFCON again in 1978, hosted by Ghana, and again got bronze, beating Tunisia 2-0. Finally, our first AFCON title came when we hosted in 1980. We blasted Algeria 3-0 in the final match.