By Chukwuemeka Opara
Football fans in Ebonyi on Thursday, remembered late Nigerian soccer idol, Samuel Okwaraji, who died on Aug.12, 1989 while playing for the country.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the late patriot slumped and died on the pitch of the national stadium Lagos during an ‘Italia 90’ world cup qualifying match against Angola.
The fans told NAN in Abakaliki that Okwaraji’s memory would remain evergreen in their minds due to the rare qualities he displayed.
Mike Mbata, A Teacher and Soccer historian, recalled that he was inside the stadium on the fateful day when some soccer fans also died on the stadium’s terraces due to congestion.
“The heat was intense and no one noticed that Okwaraji had slumped until Samson Siasia saw him gasping and foaming from the mouth.
“Siasia raised alarm and though the medics at the stadium tried resuscitating him, news spread that he died before reaching the hospital,” he said.
Emeka Agunwa, Physiotherapist with Golden Line Football Club of Abakaliki, described Okwaraji as the most patriotic Nigerian footballer ever.
“Okwaraji offset the air fares of fellow teammates and never asked that allowances or bonuses be paid to him.
“He exhibited humility while relating to his team-mates in spite of acquiring a doctorate degree in law and other international accolades,” he said.
Charlse Okere, Defunct Nitel Vasco Dagama of Enugu midfielder, said Okwaraji was an ingenious playmaker who had a knack for scoring wonderful goals.
“The goal he scored against Cameroon during AFCON 1988 has remained a talking point in the competition’s history.
“He remains a model to several youths despite being forgotten by the nation’s soccer authorities,” he said.
Mrs Comfort Okonkwo, a business woman and Imo indigene, urged the federal government, individuals and organisations to fulfil all pledges made to Okwaraji’s family during his burial.
“His death gripped the whole nation and it is unfortunate that his family had been abandoned and pledges made to them unfulfilled.
“Fulfilling these pledges would greatly motivate active footballers to serve the country with all their might,” she said. (NAN)