By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Nothing can be sweeter than playing the beautiful game called football.
It sweetens my soul this moment to remember that I once played in the same team with legendary Segun Odegbami, and both of us scored goals for our team in that match.
I know that my uncountable enemies will not believe this. These enemies need to read old copies of Punch newspaper of 1986 or 1987 to see where it was reported.
There may even be the need to consult ace researcher Ed Keazor to dig up the exact copy of The Punch where the match was reported.
I can’t remember much about the match save that we beat the other team 4-1, and Odegbami scored and I scored.
I believe that in a future date the trivia question will be asked of punters to name the game in which Mathematical and The Poet scored!
Nigeria hardly ever celebrates her heroes. I am writing now to celebrate an evergreen Nigerian hero – Patrick Olusegun Odegbami, alias Mathematical, on his 68th birthday.
When Nigeria won the coveted African Cup of Nations on home soil in Lagos in 1980 Segun Odegbami gave multitudes of Nigerian ball fans paroxysms of joy by scoring two of the goals in a 3-0 triumph over Algeria.
Odegbami was the pillar of the IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan team that won the African Cup of Cup Winners in 1976, a first time for the country.
It is a thing of great joy that Odegbami still functions at the height of his brain power, writing syndicated columns for newspapers, presenting television programmes and running his football school located at Wasimi in his native Ogun State.
He is still in fine fettle and still plays the game with consummate panache.
The sweetness of football is such that enemies on the field of play turn into buddies and pals off the field.
Odegbami would tell you that Christian Chukwu, his skipper in the national team, Green Eagles, remains his eternal friend.
But whilst playing for IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan against Chukwu’s Rangers International of Enugu, Odegbami would not have understood that Chukwu had been charging his fellow defenders in Igbo language thusly: “Lekwe Odegbami! Gbajie ya ukwu!”
Chukwu’s charge translates to: “See Odegbami! Break his legs!”
Now how does one count as a friend a person who urged your opponents to break your legs?
That is the mystique of football.
Odegabmi played the game when going to Europe to play professional soccer with elite teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal was not in vogue; otherwise he would have been celebrated internationally in the league of old pros like Kevin Keegan, Paolo Rossi, Zico, Platini, Zidane and Maradona.
He would of course have earned tons of money because of his mesmerizing moves and memorable goal-scoring.
Even so, there are no complaints whatsoever because Odegbami’s education served to give him a handle on life more than his less endowed colleagues who suffer so much privations after their playing careers.
It’s remarkable that Odegbami had the clout to throw his hat into the ring to contest for the governorship of Ogun State.
His courage is infectious. He dares to venture into spheres where mere mortals would ordinarily run away in pure fright.
For instance, he does not mince words in stressing that Nigeria’s legendary striker Rashidi Yekini was murdered.
He does not hide behind any ifs in stating that the Super Eagles coach Gernot Rorh should pack his bags and go!
He was man enough to bid for the FIFA presidency.
Born on August 27, 1952 in Lagos, Odegbami spent his growing-up years in Jos before studying at The Polytechnic, Ibadan.
He started his football career playing for minnows Housing Corporation FC Ibadan before pitching tent with the giants of IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan.
He was an instant success who shot his way into the national team then called Green Eagles. He ended up captaining the team.
After retirement, his stars kept shining in the media – print, broadcast etc.
There’s not a shadow of doubt that he will make a success of being at the helm of affairs in the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
Odegbami is the quintessential Renaissance man. He has the courage of his convictions. He is one man everybody will love to have in their team.
That’s why I celebrate him as my superlative teammate.
He shoots! He scores!
-Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, poet and social critic, writes from Lagos