Ok Anthony, this story is so real that we argued over the nature of Samuel Okparaji’s death. Some said he was pinned to the air and others said he made the cross sign and died instantly but overall, this is one of the best lie on earth. It should be preserved and passed down from one generation to the other, like, the story of Santa Claus and all the religious fairy tales we adore. And for all Nigerians who did not have the pleasure of hearing this legend, here is what happened in a football match between Nigeria and India, years before your fathers were born.
Many have heard about this match. Some think it’s an urban legend. Some think it’s only a joke. But only few know the truth. – A long time ago, few months after the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war, the Military Governor of Lagos decided to stage an exhibition match at the then glorious National Stadium Lagos. He thought it would be a special way of celebrating Nigeria’s victory in the war, a way of helping Lagosians to forget the sad bloody years that had just passed. He wanted to stage the match between Nigeria & Ghana but was advised against it. His advisers reminded him how Ghana trashed Nigeria 3-Nil at the 1960 Independence Match, that another loss to Ghana might defeat the purpose of the exhibition match.
His advisers suggested that they choose a team that would be very easy to beat. Brig Gen Mobolaji Johnson agreed. Ethiopia was considered. Zimbabwe was considered. India was considered. USA was considered. And India was chosen. He & his advisers believed that India would be a walkover. But had he known what would happen he might have chosen Brazil. Yes, Brazil were the reigning world champions at the time but… Oh, had he known. India agreed to play the exhibition match with Nigeria. In fact, they were overjoyed.
Nigeria was one of the best teams in Africa. And they had never played with an African team before.
What more! They were most overjoyed that Nigeria had agreed to their three special conditions.
What were these conditions?
Well, on that fateful day, a bright Saturday afternoon on August 15th, 1970, the National Stadium Lagos was filled with excited spectators.
There was Condition No. 1, that the match be played on India’s Independence Day.
As the players of Nigeria & India came into the pitch, spectators screamed with more excitement as they saw that all the twenty-two players were barefooted. That was Condition No. 2. (Remember that India had withdrawn from the 1950 World Cup because they weren’t allowed to play barefooted.)
Priiii… Referee Mohamed Touati blew his whistle to begin the game. (The Tunisian referee had been suspended by FIFA earlier that year but had accepted to officiate this special match.) Indian forward Amer Al-Amer made the first pass. And before anyone could say “Bosnia-Herzegovina”, one Majed Suleman fired the ball high into the air towards the Nigerian post. The giant of a Nigerian keeper, Emmanuel Okala, dived to the right while the ball dropped into the left side of the net. Gooooaaal!!! 3-0.
There was Condition No. 3, that each goal scored by India would be counted as 3 points while each by Nigeria would be 1 as usual. (Nigeria agreed because they believed that India could never score. Or at least couldn’t score more than one goal.) Emmanuel was looking confused. He was very sure he had dived towards the ball.
Every other person thought he’d deliberately let the Indians score just to spice up the game. Meanwhile, India’s fan club was going wild with jubilation.
Priii… The Nigerian forwards Sunday Atuma & Thompson Usiyen passed. As Thompson passed to Paul Hamilton, he was surprised when he saw India’s Faisal Al-Dakheel with the ball. Faisal quickly shot the ball into the air towards Nigeria’s post. Goooal! 6-0. Thompson was so confused. He could have sworn it was Paul his teammate he had passed to.
Priii… Sunday Atuma passed into the Nigerian half. Alloysius Atuegbu passed to Haruna Ilerika. Haruna made a long pass into the Indian half to Samuel Okoye. He was shocked when he saw the ball in the legs of Abdullah Al-Shemmari. Haruna wiped his eyes in disbelief. Too late! Abdullah shot the ball into the air. Goal! 9-0. Three goals in barely six minutes?
Nigerian spectators were wondering what was happening.
Priii… Goal! 12-0. Yusuf Al-Suwayed.
15-0. Amer Al-Amer. 18-0. Majed
Suleman’s second goal. 21-0. Abdulaziz
Al-Buloushi. 24-0. Majed’s hat-trick.
27-0. Faisal Al-Dakheel’s second goal.
30-0. Waleed Al-Mubarak.
At the twentieth minute, Nigeria’s Paul Hamilton ran with the ball all the way to India’s box-18. But as he raised his long leg to shoot, he slipped & fell. India’s defender Mahboub Jumaa easily took the ball as Paul lay on the ground moaning like a baby. That was the nearest Nigeria had gotten to the Indian post so far. Twenty-five minutes later & eight goals more, the score stood at 54-0. Some spectators angrily left the stadium even before the half-time whistle. Others waited patiently, hoping that Nigeria would revenge in the 2nd half.
The Nigerian coach was already fuming with great anger, at half-time:
“Boys, what the hell is happening out there?!” Coach Jorge Penna was furious.
“You’re the damn captain, answer me!!” he was shouting at Emmanuel Okala. Emmanuel was speechless. He didn’t know what to say.
“Co-co-coach…” Godwin Achebe began “I think I know what’s happening sir”
The coach was glaring at him now. “Those Indians dey use juju. They’re using ma-magic.”
“Yes! Yes!” his teammates echoed & nodded & murmured amongst themselves.
“Shut up you fools!! Magic my foot!!! There is no magic in football!”
10 minutes into the 2nd half, the score-line was 90-0 the Nigerian coach had no other choice but to remove the captain Emmanuel Okala and bring in Samuel Okparaji. At the 70th minute, Nigeria’s Samuel Okparaji ran with the ball all the way to India’s box-18, as he prepared to fire the shot, he could have sworn that the ball has completely disappeared and he was staring at a lion, he blinked and on opening his eyes, he saw indian’s Amer Al-Amer fire a shot at the Nigerian Goal all the way from the Indian half, and to the shock of everyone the shot scored (the Nigerian keeper will later claim that he saw a wild lion rushing towards him and he had to jump away from the ball/lion).
At the 76th minute, Samuel okwaraji was about kicking the ball when it turned to a wild lion…. so he said his last prayer and fired the ball… (THE LION) on reaching the Indian goalkeeper, all he saw was a fiery lion running toward him he had to run for his life too. and that’s how we scored them… Samuel Okparaji then did the sign of the cross and died a heroic death.
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My late grandfather and all my late uncles.
All my pairs who thought samuel was pinned to the air.
Then to my pal, Anthony who brought back this memory.