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Football | Super Eagles

Godwin Odiye ©

The Headband was for my mum - Odiye

When Joao Havalange and his executives sat down and thought up the World Youth Championships for U19s they believed that it will help youngsters from many third world countries to experience what it means to play in world championships at an early age. That was the theory.

To be fair, initially it did work as Nigeria's Junior Eagles peoduced players that even though never made the world youth championships until '83 most the players who tried ended up serving the senior national team for a few years.

Franklin Howard, Silvanus Okpala, Stephen Keshi, Ademola Adeshina, Henry Nwosu to name a few amongst those who played for the U-19s later to be christened The Flying Eagles. After the qualification in '83 all bets were off and the tournament became an end instead of the means to an end.

The above has been written to partly explain the precocious nature of the talent of Godwin Odiye the former Nigerian centre-back who played in three African Cup of Nations back to back by the time he reached the age of 24. He had made his national team debut at 19 in 1975 and was at the heart of a defence alongside skipper Christian Chukwu with Pat Ekeji and the late Sam Ojebode either side of them as full backs.

I finally caught up with Odiye in San Francisco, California and we had many hours together in which he shared his many memories of his times with the national team. For the record he says that he is "forever grateful to God for the ability given to him to play football and then also to Nigeria for the privilege to play for the country". He spoke in the soft but firm voice and a clear mist in his eyes at the memories.

As a footballer he was always in demand from his days in secondary school where he started at Eko Boys High School. He spent two years at Eko Boys until one evening the school van of St Finbaars College arrived in front of his parents' home at Abule near Oyingbo, Lagos, depositing the Princal Rev Father Slattery.

The good reverend father himself had come to conduct a transfer of Odiye to Finbaars College!! Imagine Sir Alex Ferguson turning up on the doorstep of any teenager to come ask him to come play for Man United.

"I had always liked Finbaars at the time so it was a dream come true for me. Was not a hard decision," Odiye remembers.

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While at Finbaars he still found time to be turning out for National Bank Football club in the then LAFA league. He got a call up to play for the Lagos State academicals and immediately after the '75 National Sports Festival he was drafted into the Green Eagles by Isaac Akioye and Father Tiko.

"It was all happening so fast and as someone who is quiet by nature I just kept my counsel and went to the camp".

Joining a camp at the time that had some of the gold medal winners from the all-african games of two years earlier he was in the same room as Kenneth Olayombo and Haruna Illerika.

"Oh Lord" Odiye's eyes light up and laughter takes over his whole body at the memories. "These men were incredible. They had a lifestyle that they warned me not to follow o! But they were so funny, so full of life and made me relax as they must have known how nervous I was".

On his first night he chose the top bunk and was promptly chastised by "Iruka" - as he called the late Ilerika - who asked him "if he does not have adults where he comes from, seeing that he (Odiye) was going to the top bunk". A lack of respect climbing over an older person obviously!!

"However, during training they told me to play as hard as I could and not be shy. An advise I took literally and ended up almost injuring Iruka; so when we got back to the room he and Olayombo decided I needed to be punished - I was made to wash their clothes"!

Before and after the match against Tunisia Godwin Odiye was famous for the headband he always wore during matches for the Green Eagles. Why sir?

"I came home one day and my mum complained that when she is watching me on TV she could not recognise me. So I decided to do something to make me stand out" Really? "Yes. And also I loved Sam Garba who used to wear a headband too". "So in the dressing room I get something off the trainer, cut it up and put on my head". What?! Is that it?

"That's it" Odiye responds laughing. At this time I was hysterical with laughter at the simplicity of it all. But I press him a bit further by asking if he was aware that a lot of people believed it had supernatural ties - that headband. "I heard it being whispered and rumoured and I just shook my head in disbelief really".

He continues "there is no 'medicine' (supernatural/juju) in football and surely no such thing attached to my headband".

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