One of the greatest football rivalries in the Nigeria league history is perhaps the Lagos derby between the famous Stationery Stores and African Continental Bank (ACB), both of Lagos.
Up Super, Flaming! as Stores were fondly called by their teeming vociferous fans were the ‘landlords’ of Lagos football, but then ACB, nicknamed Lagos Rangers had the enviable record of proving stubborn each time the two teams squared up.
And one player, who enjoyed the rivalry was former Nigerian international, Stephen Abarowei. According to him, the only time he enjoyed his game most was playing Stores. He said: “Their fans are so fanatical to a fault. They do not like to lose. I like playing against and dribble them at will; I think they still remember me.”
Abarowei, who later became an icon in the Indian league speaks with Saturday Sportingsun on what he’s been doing after retiring from football, as well as other issues in this exclusive interview.
Let’s reflect on your career and achievements
I started playing football at a very tender age through youth teams before becoming a professional player. I played for Julius Berger FC, National Bank FC, ACB FC and Concorde FC briefly.
Outside the country, I played in Malaysia, India and Belgium. I retired in 2004. I Played few times at the national team level for Nigeria, notably the FIFA 5-Aside football tournament in Hong Kong 1992, the ECOWAS Cup in Bauchi 1990 and two caps for the Olympic team in Abidjan, Ivory coast 1991. At club level I have played with Samson Siasia, Henry Nwosu, Augustine Eguavoen, Chidi Nwanu, Friday Elaho, Franklin Howard, Willy Opara and a host of others. I am the first foreign player to win the Indian league with two different clubs, i.e. JCT FC IN 1997 and Mohun Bagan AC of India in the year 2000.
What are the things that you cherished most while playing?
As a footballer, you would first of all love the game with all your heart, so subsequently you tend to give your best by displaying your skills, as a result you will make name and become famous. So I cherished the fame and fans that came and chanted at the stadium weeks in weeks out, it’s really a tremendous feeling.
What is your memorable moment?
The day I was invited to the Super Eagles of Nigeria by Clemens Westerhof.
What regret do you have?
I regret that I didn’t play very much despite being one of the best wingers around then.
Making a living out of football, how difficult?
For me, I was somehow lucky because I did not stay for long each time without playing for a club, so I was able to make a meaningful living out of football. So it was not difficult for me.
What’s your impression of the Nigerian league now compared to when you were playing?
Then there were quality players around the country. In my opinion, some of the players, who play for the national team now may not be able to play in the first league, that’s to tell you how the league was then. Furthermore, there were amazing fans following compared to what we see now. For example, if Enugu Rangers come to play with ACB FC in Lagos by 12 noon the stadium would be filled to capacity, especially Onikan Stadium. Though now the league is more polished with television broadcast and sponsors.
How will you rate the present day players with those of your generation?
The players then are more talented and dedicated more than the presents ones around. Like I told you they played the game for love of it, not for money, unlike nowadays.
In your opinion, what are the problems of Nigerian football?
One major problem I see in Nigerian football is that most of the people that run the football do not have decent knowledge of the game. In the NFF, how many ex-players did you see there?
What was the football rivalry in your playing days, especially at ACB, with Stationery Stores, Rangers and others?
The greatest rival in my opinion is against Stationary Stores, Up Super. Their fans were so fanatical to a fault. They did not like to lose. I like playing against and dribble them at will; I think they still remember me.
Will you allow your children go into football, even as a coach?
No, I have 4 kids, 3 ladies and one son. Unfortunately, none of them are into sports.
Do you nurse any regret about a decision you made?
You won many awards playing for Mohun Bagan in the Indian league; can you list some of them and in what circumstance?
Mohun Bagan AC is the number one club in India with great tradition. Though I didn’t play for them for long, but I was able to win the Indian League and the IFA Shield with them. It was JCT FC that I won numerous trophies like the Indian League, the Federation Cup, The Scissors Cup, The IFA Shield, The Punjab League and the Durand Cup. I scored in these tournaments.
Is it true that you converted to Islam at a point in your career and in what circumstance?
We understand you are now a scout and in fact have an academy. Can you list some of your players who have moved abroad, their clubs and the impact they’ve made?
I have been doing scouting work right from my playing days. So, when I stopped playing, I went into scouting in full gear. In fact I have lost count of the players I have helped out of this country. I have worked with the likes of Friday Elaho, Ajibade Babalade, Humphey Jebba, Emeka Achilefu, Abdulateef Seriki, Kalala etc.
From my academy, I have transferred few players to Europe, notably Dickson Abiama to German club. Abiama would be joining Bundesliga 2 side Greuther Furth in the summer. At the moment, my players in India are Willis Plaza, Daneil Cyrus, Marcus Joseph all from Trinidad and Tobago, Lucky Emmanuel Akanji and Bartholomew Daniel from Nigeria. I work with many top players and agents worldwide.
In 2017, you had a spat with Eduardo Ferreira over Willis Plaza, one of your players, what led to the sour relationship between you and him, especially since he’s a brother to your player?
Yes, you are right. As an agent, you have to promote your players and Eduardo the Brazilin/Equatorial Guinea international didn’t like that, especially when they are about playing against each other. But it was nothing serious as I still chat with Eduardo a times, he is a nice guy.
You were a member of the Nigerian team to the FIFA Futsal World Championship 1992 in Hong Kong, where Nigeria was eliminated in the first round, finishing last in the group with Argentina, Poland and Hong Kong. What really happened to the team?
You know we were new in that tournament. We came against teams that have Futsal leagues in their countries, and they have Futsal players. I believe inexperience was our main undoing.