Ebonyi football fans, on Monday, remembered the late Nigerian midfield maestro, Samuel Okwaraji, who died on Aug. 30, 1989 at the National Stadium, Lagos during a World Cup qualifier against Angola.
The fans who spoke to newsmen in Abakaliki said the memory of Okwaraji who slumped during the encounter, would remain evergreen in their minds due to the rare qualities he displayed during his lifetime.
A Soccer Historian, Julius Ijeaku, recalled that he was inside the jam-packed stadium on that day as several football fans died on the terraces out of possible suffocation.
“No one took notice of Okwaraji’s slumping until Samson Siasia saw him gasping and foaming from the mouth and subsequently raised the alarm.
“The medics at the stadium tried resuscitating him before taking him to the hospital and before the end of the match, news started flying that he had died,” he said.
Ikechukwu Itumo, Team Manager of Ebonyi United FC of Abakaliki, said that Okwaraji still holds the record of Nigeria’s most patriotic player even in death.
“He was not only reputed for offsetting his air fares to Super Eagles matches and declining collecting allowances, he related with his teammates with utmost humility in spite of being a doctorate degree holder in Law.
“His life continues being a shining example to the present-day footballers as the Super Eagles fortunes could have been better if the players emulated his sense of patriotism,” he said.
John Ibegwam, a Film Producer, said that in spite of Okwaraji’s sense of patriotism, he was an ingenious midfielder and a great source of motivation to youths.
“He was a classical midfielder whose sublime goal against Cameroon in the group stages of AFCON 1988 ranks among the best scored in the competition’s history.
“He also motivated several youths, especially footballers that football could be combined with academics and this impacted positively on several lives,” he said.
Mrs. Bridget Obi, a trader and soccer follower who hails from Okwaraji’s hometown, Umudioka in Orlu, Imo, urged the Federal Government to fulfill all promises made to the deceased’s family during his burial.
“Okwaraji’s burial still holds the record of the most attended ceremony in the community till date, as it is obvious that the Federal Government and relevant soccer administrators have forgotten him.
“It will be gratifying if such promises are fulfilled to serve as an eternal gratitude from Nigeria for Okwaraji’s selfless service during his lifetime,” she said. (NAN)