By Francis Akinnola (1966/1971 Set)
This photograph above is that of the all-conquering Aquinas College football team of 1970, winners of the prestigious Omitola Cup at the Liberty Stadium, Ibadan, by which Aquinas College became the WESTERN STATE CHAMPIONS for that year, and which title they also retained the following year in 1971.
On the extreme left of the photograph is Mr. Fatoyinbo (later Chief Fatoyinbo) who was the Vice-Principal of the College at the time; and, the extreme right is the Reverend Father Michael Morgan Evans, who was the Principal of the College at the time.
I will now go to the eleven boys (players) of the team who made Aquinas proud that year.
Stooping from left to right, are:
1). Uche Okoko, alias “Aroo,” the man I consider the greatest footballer that ever passed through Aquinas College. He was a powerful player whose shots once tore through a net! A great goalkeeper in Western Nigeria at the time said that Aroo’s shots could push a goalkeeper into his own net. His most powerful shot, ever, is possibly the last-minute goal he scored against goalkeeper Olumekor of Loyola College, Ibadan, in the final match of the 1971 episode of the Omitola Cup, in which Aquinas College retained the Cup for the second year running. He was so powerful in his striking force, that not only did he play for the Akure Township team (a coalition of club players, and arguably the second-best Township team in all of Western Nigeria, after Ibadan), although he was still a student, but also played for the Western Nigeria Academicals team, as well as for the WNDC Shooting Stars football club in Ibadan (later known as IICC Shooting Stars), the same club that won the African Cup-Winners Cup (later known as the Confederation Cup) for the first time for Nigeria). The IICC Shooting Stars used to come to Akure to pick him up for matches in Ibadan anytime Aquinas was not engaged on a weekend.
2). Stooping down next to “Aroo” is Babatunde Ashagba (now Professor Babatunde Ashagba), whom we nicknamed “Brazilian Pele” because of his ultra-amazing dribbling skills and extreme articulacy in maneuvering himself on the field of play to score goals and goals for Aquinas College. Perhaps his greatest display of this artistry was in the previous year, 1969, when Aquinas College defeated the “almighty” Christ’s School, Ado-Ekiti in the zonal final of that year’s Thermogene Cup (the pre-cursor of Omitola Cup), which was to produce the representative of what is now Ondo and Ekiti States for the final stages of the Championships in Ibadan. That match held on the grounds of the St. Peter’s Teacher-Training College (now St. Peter’s Unity School), Akure. Christ’s School was determined to be representatives of Ondo Zone for that year and worked hard to beat Aquinas College. In the Christ’s School team were great players like their captain, Tunde Famodu, their glamorous left-winger, Mohammed, and several others. They fought like Trojans but couldn’t score against Aquinas College. The match was tough, energy-sapping, tension-soaked and quite emotional for both teams. The Christ’s School defence was superb, and it took the wizardry and artistry of Babatunde Ashagba to tear through them. Single-handedly, he dribbled through the entire mid-field and defence of Christ School and the goalkeeper, having no other choice, had to run out to go and tackle him before he could score. But Ashagba made mincemeat of the goalkeeper as he carved the ball around him and headed for goal. But he was already so exhausted that he fell on the ball right after dislodging the goalkeeper. Luckily for him and for Aquinas College, his hands never touched the ball even as he fell. With the last ounce of strength in him he stood up as he feebly put his foot to the ball. That ball rolled lazily and barely crossed the goal-line when it stopped! Goal! That was what gave Aquinas College the 1-0 victory that qualified us for Ibadan that previous year! Now in 1970 (the year that this attached photograph was taken) Ashagba had become the master of his trade and was the master-dribbler of the Aquinas College team that rocked the Western State in 1970. He not only played, also, for the Akure Township team, but for the Western State Academicals as well.
3). In the centre of the five boys stooping in the photograph, is Luke Eromosele! Luke Eromosele was nick-named “Eto” (Plan) for the way he planned goals with his extreme speed on the ball and his ground-level shots that caught the goalkeeper napping. On any good day, “Eto” would have scored two goals within the first fifteen minutes! He also played for the Akure Township team, as well as the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN) football team of Ibadan, while still in Aquinas College, and also played for the Western State Academicals.
4). Stooping second-right in the picture (and next to “Eto”) is the jewel of the team – Sunday Benedict Popoola (nicknamed “Bene-Po”). Obviously the youngest in the team, he was the play-maker! The ball seemed to always stick with him and went whichever way he chose that it should go! He was a born footballer! Ever smiling, he knew how to outwit whoever the opponents assigned to mark him and get the ball safely to any of his team-mates. His dexterity on the ball and with the ball is attested to by the fact that he not only played for the Green Eagles of Nigeria (Nigeria’s national team) shortly after he left school, but even after he had travelled to the United States for his degree programme, the Nigeria Football Association (as it was known then) still recalled him from his studies to come and play for Nigeria in an important international match. He was also in the Akure Township team as well as played for the Western State Academicals, and also for the Water Corporation football club of Ibadan, while still in school.
5). Stooping down on the extreme right is Okwuokei, a guy that was nick-named “No-Nonsense” because of his belief that once he was inside the penalty-box of the opponents, he had no time for niceties or finesse, but would release a blockbuster that sent many a goalkeeper crying. He would probably be remembered the most for his block-buster shot that gave Aquinas College the 1-0 victory over Oyemekun Grammar School, Akure in 1969! It was a glorious moment for Aquinas as he powerfully and unexpectedly shot into the Oyemekun net behind goalkeeper Afolayan who was completely flabbergasted!
These five boys aforementioned (Uche Okoko, Babatunde Ashagba, Luke Eromosele, Benedict Popoola, and Okwuokei) were the five boys that rocked the entire Western State of Nigeria in 1970 with the most brilliant football this writer has ever known or seen to date!
I will now go to those standing in the photograph, from left to right.
6). First from left (next to Mr. Fatoyinbo) is Boon Fawehinmi, from the popular Fawehinmi family of Ondo Kingdom; and who was the indefatigable and ubiquitous Captain of this phenomenal Aquinas College football team of 1970! Fawehinmi played in Central Defence and his primary job was to ensure that no opponent had an opportunity to fire a direct shot at the Aquinas goalkeeper! He performed that task enviably well! Perhaps his greatest display of commitment, passion and love for Aquinas College was in that never-to-be-forgotten Zonal Final between Aquinas College and the Ondo Boys’ High School in 1970; which Zonal Final was to produce the sole representative of what is now Ondo and Ekiti States for the final stages of the competition in Ibadan. One interesting thing about it was that, as an indegene of Ondo himself, Fawehinmi was playing against the representatives of his own home-land! There was no love lost between Aquinas and Ondo Boys’ High School in that year, as far as football was concerned! Early in the first half of that memorable match, a fierce raid on the Aquinas goal-mouth was carried out by the enigmatic, international-class players of the Ondo Boys’ High School, among whom was their enigmatic left-winger, Dominic Famutimi, nicknamed “Afro-90.” That raid on the Aquinas goal-mouth was fierce and fearful. A high ball sailed towards the Aquinas goal and many heads were up either to prevent Ondo Boys’ from scoring or to actually net the goal for them. In that moment of frenzy, the Aquinas goalkeeper jumped high to punch the ball out of danger-zone. Whether it was the punch or a header from whichever of the two sides, it was never known, but it so happened that the ball went clear off danger-zone alright, but somebody lay on the ground bleeding profusely from the mouth and in terrible pains! It was the Aquinas Captain, Boon Fawehinmi! He had lost his front tooth in that moment of defending the Aquinas goal like a Trojan trying to save an embattled fortress! He had to be taken to the hospital immediately! The match continued as Fawehinmi was under the care of the doctors at the General Hospital (now State Hospital) in Akure who cleaned, sedated and possibly sutured the affected mouth region and Fawehinmi was immediately returned to the Works Rangers football pitch in Akure, behind the Ministry of Works offices (where the match was taking place). Fawehinmi cried as he pleaded with the Aquinas coach to allow him return to the field of play! The coach would have none of it! It was a show of patriotism on his part as he tearfully watched his team play perhaps the most traumatic match of their entire career that ended in a controversial 1-1 draw.
7). Standing next to Fawehinmi in that row in the photograph, is Aladenika (alias “Lancaster”). Lancaster played in the No. 4 position where he served as the vital link between the indomitable defence and the supersonic attacking line of Aquinas College on the right flank. He was quick to collect passes, wasted no time in getting it across to the appropriate attacking player and had a resilience, strength and stamina coupled with deft accuracy and timing that made you completely at rest knowing that with him there there was no way an Aquinas supporter would miss a heart-beat.
8). In black jersey, and standing next to Lancaster, is the one I call the greatest goalkeeper of all time! – the great MADU Okoko (nick-named “Adamson”)! MADU is the consummate goalkeeper! – strong and agile, swift and elegant! He made goalkeeping an art as sweet as love-making and as strong as a high-tech battle in a World-War! His greatest display of skill and patriotism is probably that somersault diving that he made in the 1971 final against the Loyola College, Ibadan at the Liberty Stadium! Loyola paraded two of the deadliest strikers in all of Western Nigerian football! – Ladegbaiye and Lukula, whose names spelt g-o-a-l-s in any language! They were the dreaded duo in the Loyola striking force! But MADU had an answer to them! He dived and dived and dived throughout the 90-minute duration of the energy-sapping match, just to intercept every pass meant for Ladegbaiye or Lukula within the Aquinas penalty-box. On a certain occasion, the Loyola left-winger had managed to get close enough along the left wing and fired a shot that was meant for Ladegbaiye who was uncomfortably too close to the Aquinas goal-line! Anticipating what that left-winger was going to do, MADU dived to intercept the pass but unfortunately didn’t quite catch it as it sneakily pierced underneath his armpit to find Ladegbaiye who was only a few centimetres to the Aquinas goal-line! In a most brilliant somersault-dive that astonished the daylights out of Ladegbaiye himself, MADU turned acrobatically in a fraction of a pico-second to pounce on that ball right at the feet of Ladegbaiye only some 5 centimetres to the goal-line! Talk of one’s heart in his mouth! Adamson, Adamson, Adamson! – the greatest goalkeeper of all time!
9). Next to Adamson Madu Okoko in this photograph is the late Obaze! In this very year (1970) Obaze also happened to have been the National javelin champion. Obaze was the one that connected the defence with the attacking line on the left flank. His first-time shots were alarmingly accurate and powerful, ensuring no loop-hole for the opponents to break into our build-up into their own defence. History will forever remember Obaze for his unrelenting and smooth linkage of the defence with the attack.
10). Standing next to Obaze is a very special person – the UTILITY player of the team, in the person of the late Reverend Father Monsignor Sylvester Adekoya! Swift, smooth and accurate, he was the one that came in each time there was a “casualty” in the defence line – like when the Captain Boon Fawehinmi had to be taken to the hospital as earlier mentioned. He (Adekoya) was the ever-dependable substitute player who packed as much skill, ability and accuracy in his feet as any other player, such that if the game of football had been a game of twelve players per side, he would have been that twelfth player!
11). To the left of Sylvester Adekoya in this photograph, is the defensive work-horse, Gabriel Akinwole, who was also one of the very best long-distance runners in the country at the time. Akinwole, nick-named “007” would stick to a marauding opposing attacker like a leech and just refuse to give up! His stamina is as high as the Mount Kilimanjaro and as wide as the Pacific. With him, there’s no resting place for any opposing attacker! And the way he powerfully connects the central defender with the left-side of the Aquinas mid-field whenever Aquinas is under fierce pressure, is simply amazing!
12). And, finally on the extreme right position in the picture (right next to Father Evans) is the greatest defender of ALL TIME, Abimbola Shoyoye (alias “Show-Boy”!). An aristocrat by birth, nurture and upbringing, Bimbo NEVER lost a ball to an opponent! He was the consummate defender! Cool and collected, he would, seemingly effortlessly, dispossess any opposing defender of the ball. He was such a sheer delight to watch! Of course, he played for the Akure Township team as well as for the Western State Academicals!
Having told you about the individual players themselves, I will now turn to the team-skill and victories of the entire team. This was a team that NEVER lost a match! They were smooth and skillful, playing a pattern of football that I call mono-planar net-work passing! Complete with speed, accuracy and efficiency. They defeated Iju/Ita-Ogbolu Grammar School by as many as 16 goals to one, such that the coach had to beg them to stop scoring! But they wouldn’t relent! They showed the Ondo Boys’ High School that “power pass power,” scoring three goals even though the referees on the two occasions controversially disallowed two of the goals, giving the Ondo Boys’ what was believed to be an undeserved 1-1 draw. The Igbara-Oke Grammar School had earlier been dismissed with a 6-0 spanking right on their own home-ground, while the Victory College, Ikare had gallantly succumbed to a 4-2 victory in favour of Aquinas! At the State level of the Competition in Ibadan, where the last 8 teams still standing from all over the Western State had gathered (what is now Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ondo and the Ekiti States), a State that paraded strong footballing teams like Olivet Heights, Oyo, Loyola – Ibadan, defending champions Methodist – Ibadan, indomitable Government College – Ibadan; Muslim College, Ijebu-Ode, etc., etc., many had fallen by the way-side, leaving the final 8 “super-powers.” This Aquinas College football team shown in this photograph here registered their presence in the Quarter-Final stage of the competition by leaking clean the superb team of the Baptist Boys’ High School, Ejigbo, 6-goals-to-one! They went ahead to display their artistry in that controversial 1-1 draw with the Ondo Boys’ High School in the State Semi-Final, shortly after which the State Football Association disqualified the Ondo Boys’ for unruly behaviour, and Aquinas went ahead into the Final match against the Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta, a team that played exactly the same type of smooth-flowing football like Aquinas did, but lacking in the fire-power of Aquinas College! Aquinas College, playing their best game ever, defeated the Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta with a joyous 2-1 victory to become the first winners of the Omitola Cup which had replaced the previous Thermogene Cup.
This 1970 team of Aquinas College would go down in history as the best football team, in my opinion, on any pitch anywhere in the world at any time.