SHOOTING STARS FOOTBALL REMEMBERS SAM OKWARAJI
Twenty eight years gone, the football world especially Shooting Stars football Club of Ibadan remebers the midfield maestro who died while in service to the nation.
Nigeria football world paid tribute to Sam Okwaraji who died while on international duty for the country on August 12, 1989.
Okwaraji slumped and died while playing for the Super Eagles against Angola at the National Stadium, Lagos in FIfa World Cup qualifier that ended 1-0 in favour of Nigeria.
The Nigeria Football Federation led the football world to pay tribute to the football martyr who displayed commitment and doggedness till his last breath for the country.
5 things to remember about Sam Okwaraji
1. He was a qualified lawyer
Okwaraji who was born on May 19, 1964, in Orlu, Imo State. Apart from his football exploits, he was a qualified lawyer who had a Masters in international law from the University of Rome.
2. Multi-talented footballer and midfield maestro
On the field of play, Okwaraji went for the tackles, aerial balls and in fact did more than his fair share of safe guarding the perimeter of the 18-yard box. This earned him a place in Nigeria’s first Olympic team in 1988. Debuting on January 30, 1988 in a match against Algeria, at the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium, Enugu, Okwaraji with amazing skills played himself into the consciousness of Nigerians.
3. He played for top European clubs
Okwaraji’s football career in Europe started in 1984-1985, in AS Roma. After which he had a career playing for NK Dinamo Zagreb (1985-1986), Austria Klagenfurt (1986-1987), VfB Stuttgart (1987-1989), SSV Ulm (loan) (1987-1988).
4. Scored one of the fastest goal in African football history
Okwaraji, who made the Green Eagles squad in 1988 at the African Nations Cup in Morocco, scored one of the fastest goals in the history of African football against Nigeria’s perennial rivals, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Shining like a million stars in that tournament, Okwaraji was named man of the match twice.
5. A Patriot par excellence
Okwaraji’s was indeed seen as a patriot. At one occasion, when he had the chance to play for his fatherland but his club would not agree. His club manager was said to have asked the Nigerian Football Authorities to pay an estimated cost of $45, 000 for their star player’s match bonus and an
expected loss in the club’s gate taking for the period in which he would be on national duty.
Hearing about this agreement, this patriot hit back at his club saying: “I signed to play football for you on certain conditions, but I don’t think it includes reselling my services to my country. You cannot stop me playing for my country and let me tell you, I am going to represent my country in the World Cup in Italy whether you like it or not and I would very much like for you to be there.”
No doubt, Okwaraji paid his way to play for Nigeria without asking for a dime. He would come to camp uninvited and beg the coach to throw the
jerseys on the floor for players to fight for. It was this move that heralded the era of throwing the camp open. He was not afraid to put his career on the line for his country. He put his life on the line too.