A season of deaths
In the space of two weeks I have lost five people who were very close to me. Three of them were football players.
Last week Joe Appiah died in Ibadan, Nigeria. Joe was my colleague in the 1976 Africa Cup-Winners cup-winning team that destroyed Roger Miller-led Cameroon in that year's final. Joe played at right full-back.
He was born in Ghana and came to Nigeria in 1971 as part of the 'army' of thousands of Ghanaian political and economic 'refugees'. Ghana's best players had emptied into the Nigerian football scene and positively impacted it forever, bringing in their skills and discipline to compliment and improve on Nigeria's physical, fast-paced kick-and-follow style of play.
Many of the players with names that did not sound completely Ghanaian and could pass for Nigerian names eventually played for Nigeria. But for his name, Joe Appiah would have been one of them. Unfortunately, even though he was invited to the Nigerian national team from Shooting Stars FC, where he was a regular, he was dropped because he could not masquerade in any form or shape as a Nigerian.
For 13 years Joe played for Shooting Stars FC, undoubtedly one of the greatest clubs in the history of Nigerian football. By the time he died last week he had spent a total of 41 years living in Nigeria, working in various capacities within the Shooting Stars club environment without visiting Ghana even once. He married a Nigerian woman who bore him three children.
Also last week I read about the death of one of Senegal's (and indeed Africa's) great football players. I did not play with him as he came into the African football scene at about the time I was leaving.
Nevertheless I watched him play at two African Cup of Nations, saw him coach his national team, and became friends with him when we both served as members of the Players Committee of the Confederation of African Football, CAF.
I recall our social exploits in Cairo during some of our meetings. I remember the serious football conversations, his eloquence, wide knowledge about African football and deep contributions. I remember how the presence of star retired footballers, like himself, at CAF meetings changed the usual sombreness of the meetings to that of public interest and celebration of stars.
As soon as recognisable African star footballers appeared on the scene, everywhere we went in the city of Cairo, came alive. Jules Bocande stood out from any crowd. His very dark complexion, braided long hair, casual clothes and his very fine looks made him an instant attraction, particularly for the ladies .
He was a truly handsome man and shone everywhere he went. I remember how the ladies swooned around him when we sailed, dined and danced with belly dancers in the evenings on the River Nile. He was a terrific guy.
Senegal has definitely lost a great football hero.
Then, of course, there is still the lingering matter of the death of Rashidi Yekini, the pain of which will not go away.
Writing last week's article was difficult. For some reason, as the world continues to mourn his death, I just can't seem to be able to get away from the subject.
Rashidi's death is particularly painful, because I feel it was unnecessary and avoidable. May his soul rest in peace.