By Tony Iyare
It is with a heavy heart but with gratitude to the Almighty God, that the United Christian Secondary School Old Students’ Association (UCOSA) announce the passing of one of our most distinguished alumni, renowned school goalkeeper and one of Nigeria’s greatest footballers, Mr Andrew Ebifa Larri (72 set), who went to be with the Lord in the wee hours of Tuesday, September 21st, 2021 in Abuja after a brief illness.
Born on August 3, 1953, Snr Laari, 68, attended United Christian Secondary School, Apapa, Lagos where he left in 1972. He later went to St Gregory’s College, Obalende, Lagos for his Higher School Certificate (HSC) before proceeding to the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria where he graduated with BSc in Economics and also acquired an MBA. He worked for many years at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and rose to the position of Deputy Director, Consumer Protection Department before his retirement.
Many old students will readily recall his great exploits as a goalkeeper for the school with his daring saves for which a popular victory song was composed. Even after about 50 years of service to our beloved school, many alumni still render with relish, the lines of the song meant to energize Keeper Larri as he manned the goalpost.
“Keeper Larri don’t be afraid.
Keeper Larri don’t be afraid
Keeper Larri don’t be afraid.”
Larri who hailed from Kpakiama in Ekeremo LGA of Bayelsa State, was like a rock of Gibraltar at the goalpost and his reflexes were magical. He was a terror to many strikers whom he tamed easily at will. It was at one of the matches with St Finbarr’s College, Akoka, Yaba that his exceptionally brilliant skills at the goalpost attracted the attention of the nation’s sports administrators who promptly invited him to join the academicals. His boots and socks were also laced with money by the appreciative fans.
Anyone familiar with Nigerian football between the late 60s and 70s was abreast with the exploits of Andrew Larri whose academic commitment at ABU prevented him from playing for the national team.
Foremost sports analyst, Emeka Obasi had this recourse into football history:
“I remember him very well. Larri was in goal for Nigeria Academicals when they pounded Ghana 5-1 in their first game at the 1974 Nigeria/ Ghana Sports Festival.
The Ghanaian goalie, Peter Dzakpasu was a sorry sight as the Nigerian team of Francis Ossai, Nnamdi Egbukichi, Remi Oguntimoju, Taiwo Ogunjobi, Joseph Aniedobe and Francis ‘German Wall’ Nwosu enjoyed a splendid performance.
I remember, Larri was carried shoulder high by supporters after the match.
While the Academicals won gold, the Green Eagles settled for silver after Ghana Black Stars, parading the Owusu brothers, Dan and Kwesi beat them 1-0.
May Larri ‘s soul rest in peace.”
His classmate, Olufunto Adebanjo, who was both in the school’s football team and the academicals with Larri still relishes his brilliance at the post.
Reminiscing in his obit titled, “The Acrobatic Goal Keeper, Andrew Larri. 1953-1921,” Adebanjo says,
“Andrew Larri was one of the best goalkeepers Nigeria has produced. Andrew introduced his own style of goalkeeping, acrobatic and monkeylike style of keeping the goal post. He was available at all points of the goal post to catch the ball.
“When we were recruited at our school, United Xtian as footballers, we were hunted for by Mr Odujirin our games master on our volleyball pitch at Bombay Crescent. I Olufunto Adebanjo played for Osibo house while Andrew played for Brothers.
“Our talents were discovered during the inter-house football competition and we were selected into the school’s first 11 with Victor Ibe, Saliu Balogun, Adewale Oladunjoye, Jide Wright, Dickson Okpolo, Gbadebo Osinowo, Joseph Asimita. Our team was so strong that we outwitted St Finbarr’s College team at the Principal’s Cup.
“Andrew saved lots of goals and frustrated the efforts of opponent strikers. Saliu Balogun was in defence with Gbadebo Osinowo. Right out were Victor Ibe, Joseph Asimita while Adewale Oladunjoye, and myself played at the left out. Our team was great. Andrew Larri caught a ball at the competition with St Finbarr’s that shot our school and himself to the limelight.
“Andrew was an agile keeper always at all points of the post at the right time. He kept the ball with his head and hand at once and his legs will be up. Andrew was gentle and easygoing. He also spoke gently. Though fairly tall can catch any ball at any height within the net. No dropping ball could enter his net. In 1971, after the flashes of brilliance in one of our matches, his photo was splashed on the front page of the Evening Times.
“At the camp in United Xtian, we slept on the dining table. In the morning, we usually go to the Stationery Stores Football Club camp to meet with Inua Rigogo, Peter Anieke, Tony Igwe, Sam Opone and others to take us to the training ground with their bus. At the academicals, we used the Onikan Stadium. We slept on double-decker beds. We usually prayed when we wake up before we go for training. We ate our normal three square meals as usual. No problems then. Andrew was recruited to the National Team but later went to St Gregory’s College, Obalende for HSC. He later worked at Central Bank and retired as Deputy Director,” he wrote.
Information from the family revealed that our revered distinguished member and goalkeeper, Snr Andrew Larri (72 set) died in very tragic circumstances which underscore the abysmally poor state of public hospitals in Nigeria, our dear country. In spite of the fact that the family responded in good time to his ailment, they claimed that he was completely abandoned by the National Hospital staff for several hours without any treatment.
Although he had been down with Diabetes, this time he had Malaria and the hospital authorities just assumed he had COVID-19 and left him unattended to from the morning of Monday, September 20th when he was taken there to the wee hours of Tuesday, 21st.
By the time they made up their minds to treat him after persistent demands by the family, it was too late. And that’s how we lost one of the greatest sportsmen in the history of our beloved school, Lagos State and country.
Our hearts and prayers are with members of the 72 set who recently mourned the loss of their classmate and former head boy, Mr Babajide Wright, an Oil & Energy Insurance guru. We also deeply commiserate with his immediate family. May his soul find rest in the Lord’s bosom, Amen!