A former junior international, Abraham Fackaa, has said he still feels sad that he was excluded from the squad that won Nigeria’s second FIFA U-17 World Cup title at Japan 1993.
In this interview with Trust Sports, the former BCC Lions player said the moment his coach, late Amodu Shaibu moved to El-Kanemi Warriors, he knew his dream was aborted. The former Calabar Rovers player also spoke on life in BCC Lions and why he retired early from active football.
How did you start your football career?
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I started playing at the age of 14 under the tutelage of the great football administrator and coach Sir Cephas Iorhemen Akpoo of blessed memory. He formed the once-famous Sir Akpoo System football club and I was among the boys he picked to start the team. While playing for System, the late Coach Dzegekwen was mandated by BCC Lions Football Club to form a Feeder team. He was the one who took two of us, Austin Tyowua and myself to the BCC Lions Feeder team. I excelled in the Feeder team and when James Peters came to BCC Lions, he identified me and some youngsters in the team. However, it was when Amodu Shaibu replaced him that we were promoted to the senior team in 1991.
You must have been very young when you were promoted to the senior team. How did you cope playing with the bigger boys?
I was groomed by the great philosopher and football coach, Sir Akpoo. He made us believe that we could play against anyone. He also taught us the good virtue called patience. So when I joined the senior team, I knew I must be patient to learn from the big boys. And what helped most of us was that the big boys didn’t discriminate against us. They happily mentored us. I am talking about big boys like Moses Kpakor, Sam Pam, Bolaji Douglas my skipper, Benedict Ugwu ‘Surugedge’, Patrick Mancha, Arthur Madueme (Late), Aham Nwankwo, Lewis Igwilo, Edema Fuludu and a host of others.
When and how did you make your debut for BCC Lions FC?
I made my debut against Enyimba FC in the same year I was promoted to the senior team. I played as a left full back but I did exceptionally well and after the match everyone praised me. My coach was happy that he survived what he called the ‘baptism of fire’. That performance motivated me to perform well in subsequent matches.
How were you invited to the Golden Eaglets team that was preparing for the 1993 World Championship in Japan?
After our match against Enyimba, Coach Shaibu told me that I was going to the Eaglets camp along with my team mates, Edward Anyamikegh, kenkeni and Ibrahim Yahaya ‘Maradona’. I played only one match before I was invited to camp so I guess the coaches watched me play against Enyimba and were impressed.
Who are some of the prominent players you met in camp and how was the experience?
As a matter of fact, we laid the foundation for the team that won Nigeria’s second FIFA U-17 World Cup. We started the team from scratch. We had players like Wilson Oruma, Peter Anosike, Festus Okougha and so many other talented players. Later we were joined by the likes of Celestine Babayaro and his elder brother Emmanuel. They came after we were done with the first phase of camping in Lagos. They joined us in Onitsha. In fact, Kanu Nwankwo and Emmanuel Babayaro were with the U-20 team but they joined us after the qualifiers for Mauritius ’93.
After playing a number of matches, you were dropped from the team. What went wrong?
All I can say is that there is time for everything in life. It was not my time to represent Nigeria. One may be good but once it is your time, you won’t make it. It is not every good player that is selected to play in a championship. I don’t want to say this person or that person stopped me from going to the World Cup. However, let me say that if Coach Shaibu didn’t leave BCC Lions for El-Kanemi, nothing would have stopped me from going to Japan. As a matter of fact, after one of our friendly matches in Ilorin, we were travelling back and I sat beside Wilson Oruma. I always shared a seat with him on the team bus. We were reading the papers and I saw the list of players registered by BCC Lions. And the bold headline reads ‘Ahmodu Shaibu leaves BCC for El-Kanemi’. Immediately, I began to weep. I wept profusely. Oruma was surprised. He said ‘Fackaa your name is in the list why are you crying?’. I told him he won’t understand. I wept because I knew without Shaibu’s support I was not going to survive the politics in the camp. And in the end, it happened exactly the way I feared.
How disappointed were you when the list for the final phase of camping came out without your name?
Missing out on the 1993 FIFA U-17 World Championship in Japan remains my biggest disappointment. As a matter of fact, I was in Gboko when the list was published in the papers. When I didn’t see my name in the first paper, I had to check another one because I believed there was a mistake somewhere. I checked it was the same. I had to check the third newspaper and it was the same thing. It then dawned on me that what I feared had come to pass.
How were you able to overcome the disappointment?
I was still a young man with a bright future ahead of me. I believed I would make it in the future so I carried on playing. Unfortunately, after playing for BCC up to 1997, I left to play for Calabar Rovers. From Rovers, I went to join Kwara United but along the line, something happened that killed my motivation to keep playing. After excelling in their trial matches, I was tagged a ‘home boy’ who should be placed on standby. I wondered how I became a homeboy in Yoruba land. I then realised that without connection, one will find it hard to play football in Nigeria. From there, I returned home to engage myself in other things. As a matter of fact, my wife advised me that there is life after football. She said I should go back to school. That was how I dusted my secondary school credentials and ended up in Benue State University where I furthered my education.
Do you have any regrets that you chose football as your career?
I can never regret my decision to play football. Although I played when there was no money, football impacted my life positively. It is when I was playing for BCC Lions that I married my wife who gave me three beautiful children. Football has taken me to different places where I met different people who helped me in different ways.