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FIDELIS ATUEGBU :I’m like the odd man out of the Atuegbu brothers

FIDELIS ATUEGBU :I’m like the odd man out of the Atuegbu brothers

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Four brothers playing at the same time for club and country. The Atuegbus were popular in Jos where they teamed up with Mighty Jets. The quartet of Mathew[Mogambo] , Nicholas [Atilla the Hun], Andrew and Aloysius [Blockbuster ]were also invited to the Green Eagles camp. There was a fifth, Fidelis [Jakoter], who neither played for Jets nor Nigeria. He attended school in the East unlike his siblings who stayed put in the North and this one played against his brothers, home and abroad. Our Columnist Emeka Obasi, got Fidelis talking, from his Livermore, California base.

You are the fifth of the Atuegbu brothers. Do you have other members of the family that played soccer?

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I am the last boy in the family. We were eight, five boys-Mathew, Nicholas, Andrew, Aloy and me. And there were three sisters- Julie, Patricia and Nneka. Julie came before me and after Aloy. My immediate younger sister, Patricia, died young, after surgery. Our mother, Christiana, named my second daughter, Patricia.

Your dad also played football with the Dankaro Brothers[ John, David and Sunday]. Tell us more about him.

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Yes, my father, Richard Atuegbu, played for Jos. He was invited to the national team but could not make it due to injury. The Dankaros were also my dad’s friends.

How did Mr Atuegbu, an Adazi Nnukwu, Anambra man, find himself on the Plateau in those early years of colonial Nigeria?

My dad’s elder brother, Philip, was among the Igbo trailblazers that migrated to Jos. So my father joined him there and they ran a family business. He worked for Niger Motors.

You played football in Nigeria but I do not remember seeing you in Jets’ colours like your four siblings.

I played for all the schools I attended. After high school, I played for Black Star of Jos. Thereafter, I joined the Nigeria Standard of Jos, from 1976 to 1978. It was from there that I left for the United States to study at the University of San Francisco.

Did you play against your brothers in a competitive game?

Yes. I was an outlier as far as football was concerned. I did not play for Mighty Jets. I played against them. At the time, Nicholas was the only one still there. I was playing for Black Star. We were no match for them. We were a bunch of young boys and they taught us a lesson. We got our revenge later, albeit, with Standard. We defeated Mighty Jets 1-0 to win the Plateau State Challenge Cup in 1977.

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I also played against Andy and with him here in the United States, in the San Francisco Super League. The first game I played in the US was against Andy’s team, the Oakland Stompers in 1978. A professional club against a college team.I was lined up in the midfield and so was he for his team.

We were not supposed to be marking each other but he drifted over to my side every opportunity he got. At one point, he laid out on me with a hard tackle. It was a professional tackle and fair at the standards of days of yore. I must have been elevated a few feet from the ground and landed with a thud. While I was reeling on the ground, he told me, ‘welcome to America.’

Godwin Odiye, Alex Nwosu and Tony Igwe were in my team at the time. Godwin was the first to reach me while I was on the floor in pain.

I regained my composure and continued playing. My teammates were asking me, ‘are you sure you guys are really brothers? I said of course, and that we never soft-pedalled any time we faced each other competitively. The good news was that we beat them that day. A college team defeated a professional club.

This takes us back to your secondary school. How come you were the only one that came back home in the east to study?

Thank you for this question. You see, my parents wanted one of us to go to school in the East. Andy was supposed to be the ideal candidate. He gained admission to St. Theresa College, Nsukka with Godwin Ogbueze but opted for St. Joseph’s, Vom. Since I came of age when the Civil War ended, I had no choice but to attend school in the East. It was first, Holy Ghost Juniorate, Ihiala for the first three years of high school. Thereafter, it was Christ the King College [CKC] Onitsha for the last two years.

You were probably around when CKC won the International School Sports Federation [ISSF] Cup at Dublin ’77.

No, I had left. I did play for CKC in my final year. That was in 1975. We lost to Dennis Memorial Grammar School [DMGS], Onitsha, on penalty kicks. It was a replay after the first match ended in a draw. DMGS had a lot of weapons that year. Nnamdi Anyafo, Nwachukwu Onyekwelu [Igaliga], Amechi Igweobi[Darkness], Kenneth Nwobu[Kendo], to name a few.

Igwe Austin Ezenwa [UPGA] had left CKC the year before as principal and he was principal of DMGS that year. It was a tough loss. DMGS went on to beat Holy Ghost College, Owerri in that year’s final.

Ezenwa was our principal in my first year at CKC. It was an adjustment year for me academically so I could not afford the luxury of playing soccer. I don’t know how UPGA knew that I could play ball because he hounded me to play. I basically told him that I didn’t know how to, which wasn’t true. That was the only thing I could say to appease him then.

With that, I stayed away from the soccer field for some time. I made a mistake one day and ventured into the soccer field. Unknown to me, UPGA was watching. That expedition earned me a visit to the principal’s office. He confronted me with my lie to him. Needless to say that things did not bod well with me that day with Agbalanze.

I held on to my gun though and stayed away from coming out that year. He left for DMGS the following year and took some of the players with him. I came out after Ezenwa left and represented CKC, in our famed white and blue.

You lived in Jos, you should know Chukwuma Igweonu, the man who led CKC to global glory as a coach.

Sure. I can still see him with my eyes as a child, back in the days in Jos. He was one of the players that plied their trade in the Tin City. He was a teammate and friend of Mathew, the firstborn of my family. That is one nexus to me. The others are that he coached my alma mater to the World Schools Championships in 1977. Lastly, he hailed from Enugwu Agidi cum Umunri. On all these counts, I have an affinity to the deceased and I mourn his demise.

Did you play soccer while you worked at UAC, Jos and your parents did not know?

I was working and playing. I would dress up for work and keep my jersey in my bag. My mother did not want me to play. My dad also wanted me to concentrate on my studies since all my brothers were footballers. It took my cousin, Dr Ogbukagu, to soften their mind. I also worked with Customs.

Some accounts say General Yakubu Gowon visited your home and offered to buy Volkswagen Beetles cars for your family if Mighty Jets defeated Enugu Rangers in the 1974 Challenge Cup grand finale.

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A lot of promises were made to my brothers during their playing days. Yes, Gowon did make that promise. My brothers, from East Central State, the home of Rangers, were billed to play for Mighty Jets of Benue Plateau, Gowon’s home state.[Jets, parading the Atuegbus and other East Central State players like Sam Garba Okoye, Kelechi Emeteole and George Okoro lost 2-0]

Other clubs did approach my dad with bags full of money to secure the services of my brothers, most notably Rangers and Bendel Insurance.

Mathew, Nicholas and Aloy joined Rangers in 1976. Andrew had travelled to the US in June 1974. Nicholas did not stay long, he moved to Asabatex before going back to Jos. Nicholas was the most gifted, academically and football-wise. When he was on, he was unstoppable.

Which American teams and colleges did you play for?

At the collegiate level, I played for the University of San Francisco, from 1978 to 1981. We won the College Cup twice, 1978 and 1981 respectively. After college, I played semi-professionally in the San Francisco Super League. I played for Hellas, Sons of Italy and El Salvador.

You watched Aloy play for Rangers against Shooting Stars in the explosive semi-finals of the African Winners Cup in 1977. You also watched him lose with the Green Eagles to Tunisia in Lagos in a 1978 World Cup qualifier shortly after. Any observations?

That Rangers versus Shooting match a few days to a crucial World Cup qualifier cost Nigeria an Argentina ’78 World Cup place. The divide in the Eagles camp at that time was more damaging to the cohesiveness of the team. That fact was very much on display in the match against Tunisia. The team did not gel. The Eagles did not play as one on that day. People that used to cover other people did not do so.

I was shocked at the animus and palpable division at the camp prior to the game. I can still remember that as if it was yesterday. Even players from other teams were forced to take sides. There was no doubt in my mind that the match between Rangers and Shooting Stars took precedence over the World Cup match.

Do you have fond memories of some former Eagles players who were your contemporaries?

I remember Owoblow [Felix Owolabi] and Peter Rufai. I played against them when we were coming up. They were in Kaduna or KDJ and I was with Black Star of Jos.

Was any Atuegbu in the army during the Civil War?

Mathew and Nicholas served in the Biafran Army while Andy was in the Air force. Aloy worked with my dad to maintain the fleet of the military.

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