“Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo was elected the first Executive Governor of Enugu State in 1991. On the 2nd of January 1992, he was sworn in as Governor and on the 3rd of January, the first Warrant he signed for release of funds was N1.1 million given to Rangers management.”
– Edwin Eze, Executive Secretary, Rangers International FC, January 1992.
(See Preface, Rangers International FC, A History of a People, 2016)
There were few other immortal Governors and great pathfinders, who broke their backs and worked hard to establish the winning ethos of the legendary football club. Originally founded inside the Biafran enclave in the heat of the Nigeria-Biafra war, the Rangers FC went on to win the Challenge Cup back-to-back in 1974 and 1975. They became the champions of Africa in 1977, the first time a Nigerian clubside won a continental trophy in football in Africa. Over these remarkable imprints, Rangers International FC remains the only Nigerian clubside in its many years of playing in the Nigerian league never to be relegated.
Edwin Eze, now a Permanent Secretary in the Enugu State government, recounted that on the September 2, 1977, in Lagos, the Police Football Club of Dakar, Senegal, played a barren draw game with Rangers. But, again, in Dakar, two weeks later, Rangers beat them, 2-1. After this second leg encounter, supporters of Police Football Club of Senegal unleashed their venom on the visiting Rangers FC. Three Rangers players were stabbed, and a supporter had his head broken. Later, an official apology was tendered to Nigeria by the Senegalese government.
After beating Police Football Club of Dakar, Rangers qualified to play in the semi-final of the Africa Cup Winners Cup Fiesta I, 1977. Who were Rangers’ opponents? It was IICC Football Club of Ibadan. In the main bowl of the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, IICC was the home team while Rangers was the away team. Before a capacity crowd of supporters of both clubs, the game ended in a goalless draw. The second encounter two weeks later generated a lot of controversy. Players of both clubs in the Green Eagles Camp were barred from playing for their clubs because Nigeria was plying a round-robin World Cup qualifying soccer competition with Tunisia and Egypt.
The second leg did not hold as Rangers did not turn up for the match. The chairman of IICC Football Club, the late Chief Lekan Salami, appealed to African Football Confederation (AFC) based in Cairo, Egypt, to declare his club the winner on a walk-over basis.
It was decided that they would play the match at the Ahmadu Bellow Stadium, Kaduna. IICC Football Club was the defending champion of the competition. Rangers FC had played three times in the other continental soccer competitions for clubs in Africa in 1971, 1975 and 1976 with nothing to show for it, and they believed that this was their opportunity to win. The stage was set for a soccer ‘war’. At the Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna, Rangers was the home team while IICC was the away team. After an explosive 90 minutes, there were no goals on either side. The referee from Ethiopia, Gabriel Tesfeye, called for an extra time of 30 minutes, which still left the second leg encounter without goals. In the penalty shootout, Rangers out-scored IICC 4-2 to clinch the ticket to the 1977 Cup Winners Cup final.
According to the Daily Times Sports Editor, Tunde Oshintolu, the Shooting Stars captain was injured in the hand.
“But even as his bandaged right hand was receiving more attention, the losing skipper did not fail to pay tribute to the squad, which now had the responsibility for keeping the title in Nigeria.”
“Rangers? Oh, they gave a very good game… and when it comes to the issue of penalty kicks in football anything can happen Ojebode declared while goal-keeper Best Ogedegbe was weeping openly.
“Poor Ogedegbe! He had been at his best making nine smart saves (six in the second half) before losing his own penalty kick, which harmlessly hit the foot of the post to Emmanuel Okala’s right.
“Okala, a giant indeed…in physique and fitness with almost super-human ability to survive any plight.
“If any man could be singled out on this day of high endeavors, it would be this Rangers keeper who leapt and dived to foil everything thrown at him. And so Okala has sustained a magnificent clean sheet after five home outings in the series. What a struggle this second leg, which could not have ended scoreless like the first meeting in Lagos on October 15, if both sides had overcome the tension just a bit better. The finalists shot tamely to kill many a fine raid. And the former cup holders forced at least four prolonged goalmouth scrambles two of them in the first 14 minutes to no avail.
“Rangers’ winger Onyeaka and the evergreen Ogidi Ibeabuchi played with delightful cunning as the new finalists snatched control mid-way to the first half. But Ngadi and Alloysius Atuegbu were too slow for speedy IICC defenders Idowu Otubushen. Joe Appiah, Sam Asante and roving Mudashiru Lawal. I saw IICC’s left winger, Awesu grimly shaking his head as if in disbelief when it all ended. Little wonder, because straight from the start Awesu began to pivot a succession of mesmerizingly fast moves and was unlucky to get two great grounders blocked by desperate Rangers’ legs.
“Awesu’s biggest bid was in the 84th minute. From 15 metres, he sizzled a low shot to Okala’s left but the gigantic goalkeeper dived to block with his body before Chukwu grimly cleared the ball.
“Lost chances galore… on both sides. Especially when Segun Odegbami suddenly walked down the rightwing in the second half only to see Nat Adewole fumble on the edge of the six-yard box.
“Somehow, the sporting crowd was silent as the penalty kicks began. They had borne the warming sun all day, patiently, awaiting kick-off eight hours away. Then they had been served a sweet soccer dish in spite of the state of faulty passing on a beautiful pitch. Odegbami scored the first penalty for IICC and Christian Madu ‘equalized’ for Rangers.
“Sam Asante’s kick bounced off the cross-bar… and Ngadi slotted home his own effort to put Rangers ahead.”
Because no team had won the cup three times in succession since the 31-year-old competition started in 1945, Rangers were tipped to lose even by the most respected analysts because their morale was supposed to be low after the Algiers defeat by Mouloudia Chalia in the African Cup of Champions Club’s semi-final, which Rangers lost by 3-2 goal aggregate.
So, once more, the governors and the managers contributed to the legend of Rangers FC. There was the erudite, Harvard-educated Administrator of the former East Central State, Tony Ukpabi Asika. In 1974, he was the proud recipient of the first major trophy from Rangers FC, who in that year won for the first time for the Coal City the Nigerian Challenge Cup. In 1975, Benue-born Col. Kpera’s total identification with the club, attending all their international engagements in Lagos, initiatig the renovation of the Enugu Stadium, etc., impacted on the club’s performance and, in that climatic year, the legendary club clinched for Nigeria the Africa Cup Winners.
In 1979 Chief Jim Nwobodo, former chairman of the Rangers FC, was elected Governor of Anambra State. Those were the golden days of the club and there were plans to thrust the club as the first Nigerian side to go professional. He reinforced the Club with the signing of the maestro Christian Madu from Accra Great Olympics, and Alloy Ateugbu from Mighty Jets, Jos. There were great Rangers Governors like Allison Madueke, Emeka Omeruah who completed the reconstruction of the Stadium and renamed it Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium. Governors Nnamani, Iheanacho Chime would be counted on the Rangers Roll Hall of Fame but it is Gburugburu Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s name that would eventually hang out in yellow glitters of gold.
After over three decades of glut and frustrations it is this affable Governor, God sent and ever praying Governor, who from day one prayed with the Obinna Nwobodos, Christian Madus of the new Rangers battalion. Like your predesessor generation, at a time our people were losing it, hunger was in the land, our people without provocations hacked and butchered, you must go out and turn defeat into victory, wipe out the tears of the famished nation and restore the pride and the lush heritage of the people of the Sun. Rangers International…. olu go na onwu na ndu…. You must win it or die!