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Football | Nigeria at 50

Sam Garba Okoye, first schoolboy sensation

One of the exciting playmakers in the Green Eagles, Sam Garba, was also one of the few players that had an almost overnight transformation from the schoolboy game to being in the national limelight.

He led the Nigerian Academicals to the country's first ever victory over Ghana in Kumasi. Nigeria won the encounter 1-0 in Accra and went ahead with another 2-1 victory in Lagos. The short player was easily identifiable on the field as he had a rolled up white handkerchief on his head.

With Mighty Jets of Jos, he featured in several Challenge Cup finals. The most memorable was in 1972 when, with five minutes left of play, Sam Garba scored two quick goals to stalemate the match at 2-2 against Bendel Insurance. In the replay at the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, the very first cup final to be played out of Lagos, his Mighty Jets of Jos still lost 3-2 to Bendel Insurance.

Incidentally too, the last time Garba scored in the Challenge Cup was the last time the competition's final game was played at Onikan Stadium, the competition's birthplace.

His last Challenge Cup match was in 1974, a 0-2 loss to Enugu Rangers. Sam Garba's exploits on the Nigerian scene saw him becoming one of the players at the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968. He had his first international cap in Nigeria's away friendly game against Gabon on August 30, 1965. Nigeria won the game, 4-1.

In the course of his 17 caps for Nigeria, he scored five goals. He played his last international game for Nigeria in the away duel against Senegal on April 18, 1971. Nigeria lost the game 2-1 and failed to qualify for the 1972 Olympic Games. After his retirement from international football, Sam Garba took to coaching and was a principal coach in Plateau State when he died at age 30 in a motor accident on July 31, 1978.


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