In the Iliad Homer gives us the world's first epic novel. It is a deeply moving tale that toys with all human emotions ranging from love, hate, trust, and deceit, to shame, pride, the rise to the zenith of human acknowledgment and of course the subsequent fall from grace. In a tangled web of a story that not even an insane spider could weave; Greece's war to return Helen of Troy to Athens teaches us that a very thin line often separates hero from goat, and that man -- be it in euphoria or pain is as fickle and unpredictable as the English weather, and has not qualms about crossing that line. Be it in politics or sport...he has done it over and over again.
In arguably one of the better plots ever put to paper, Homer dangles our hearts up and down just as if they were yo-yos suspended on chewing gum strings by making us first love Paris, then Hector and finally Achilles only to turn around and have us hate them as they kill each other off! Love, hate, love, hate...like a scratched up Rex Lawson album we cross that line more times than a prostitute passes through the gates of Club 21  on a Friday pay day and one must wonder "Why"? What is this great orator born out of wedlock trying to tell us? What is his hidden thesis or mission statement? That our rules are absurd?
Well the answer is simple...because one of the unspoken yet universally accepted human traits, is that we ask the question "What have you done for me lately" often too soon and much too frequently. Simply put "Man" has a short memory and normally forms his opinions based on last impressions and dominant sound bites. The fact that these are mostly negative (due to the common norm that bad news sells papers and prime time minutes) and prejudiced only adds fuel to the fire making us nothing more than a nation of judging finger waggers and "Monday morning quarterbacks". Sure there has to be accountability as well as checks and balances...but this trend is as "overkill" as it is absurd.
Moments before laying arguably the world's greatest Emperor to sweet rest, his adopted son Mark Antony makes the same observation in the "Mother" of all farewell speeches when he asks his Roman audience why "the evil that men do live on after them (and why) does the good they did die buried with their bones"? I mean here we have the most accomplished of history's Centurions and the architect of great Rome, who gave the world among other things -- its best army, the C-section, paved roads, running hot water, introduced spectator sports, the retirement fund and the salad -- being remembered today mostly for "boinking" Cleopatra, misjudging his friends and turning his back to them at the wrong time. How cruel and how unfair! But then again this just goes to show..."How soon we all forget". And when we do remember..."What it is that we choose to remember"?
Well add circa 19 centuries to the delivery date of that masterpiece and move the venues from Southern Europe to West Africa and Mark Antony could very well have been talking to the average Nigerian football fan in the late 70's. Sure the language would have included more "sharrraps" and "respect yer self's O" ...but the desired efect would have been the same. Because just as Rome forgot the many accomplishments of Julius and held him accountable for a few flaws, that Nigerian sub group tried to do the very same to a favorite son of the soil. In this case the crime was not generated in the murky depths of politics, nor did it have anything to with embezzlement, murder by pen, or an Igbo rolling Garri balls  with the left hand. No, it was nothing as grave! The infraction against humanity was an errant header into an open net, or technically speaking the inability to control one bouncing ball after doing just that to the hundreds of thousands of others that came before it. That singular event destroyed an up till then sterling reputation just like the first Monsoon floods wash away loose soil with an early arrival, degrading this star to become arguably Nigeria's most notorious sports goat.
For the whipper snappers  lost in space...I am talking about one Mr Godwin Odiye.
A Young Odiye-with headband- often sealed the Nigerian back allowing Chukwu et al to roam
Godwin Odiye was a self made star and worked his way up the ladder of success right from the Accademicals in 1975 during the Nigeria-Ghana sports Festival that took place in Accra. Bolstering the defense for the Nigerian side that BTW was only the second one to ever beat Ghana since the games inception in 1962, his game was definitely restaurant quality, if not "a la carte". Based on that flawless performance both he and Thompson Usiyen were gobbled up by the older birds, "The Green Eagles" and introduced into their squad preparing for the African Nations Cup 1976 in Addis Ababa.
Odiye brought a work ethic to the table that would pale a soldier ant colony caught in the frenzy of trying to protect their queen from attack. The man was as simple as a meal of plain white rice with a can of sardines. Make that Titus brand in ordinary oil. None of that fancy stuff. No Sir! I say this because he categorically avoided playing for any of leagues Fortune 4 teams even though all of them Rangers, Raccah Rovers, Shooting Stars and Bendel Insurance would have been more than glad to have him close out their respective back lines. Rather he became a fan favorite by chasing the leather bladder for Nestle' and later on the National Bank of Nigeria - both non league outfits! Here underneath the umbrella of the LDAF where the pressure was less he blossomed into one of the better defenders in the country.
His coming out party however was in the Green Eagle camp where his timely clearances and pinpoint sweeps became his trade mark. So was his ability to continue fighting for the ball even when already on the ground. His tenacity knew no bounds as many a startled attacker would find out -- the hard way! I mean his own Father could grudgingly vouch that for a fact -- having broken many a cane on both his sons Godwin and Eugene (Nigeria Airways) in an obviously failed attempt to nip this Soccer "crap" in the bud.
Rumor has it that it was early in camp that he met and started hanging out with Idowu "Bulldozer aka Slow Poison" Otubusin, the fabled IICC Shooting Star defender. Like a magnet to a fridge door they gravitated towards each other regardless of the age difference and soon the simple team mate camaraderie was replaced by the more complex mentor-student relationship! The "Bulldozer" seemed to realize the young player's true potential long before others did and virtually designated him as his heir apparent by carrying his boots to training camp, sitting next to him on the bus and sharing useful tips as to how defenders could use the sideline and sun as an advantage. In Africa where seniority is the salt that is sprinkled on everything from crib to grave this endorsement was the ultimate compliment and secured Godwin more playing time and eventually his first cap in Ethiopia when he came on for guess who? No other than...Oga Otubusin!
Nigeria placed 3rd in Ethiopia after a bunch of murky calls not worth fine focusing on, and from that experiment evolved the monster defense that was the "holy" trilogy of Christian Chukwu, Godwin Odiye and Emmanuel Okala. I say "holy" not in blasphemy but because with the first names like they had -- one would have rather placed them in the incense scented halls of a seminary playing "fishers of men" instead of on the green, single handedly pummeling what the best African teams threw at them. It is a known fact that as the defense wore on and grew older forcing other half backs and full backs to be rotated in and out -- these 3 remained the stable ingredient to all the Eagle teams throughout the 70's. At one point "Gang Green" hummed to such perfection, that Nigeria's weakness by opposing team scouts was often considered her front line. Simply amazing and border line absurd when one considers that it featured not only Segun Odegbami but the Atuegbu brothers, Nwosu and Adokiye in various combinations.
Then came that fateful day in 1978 when the world came to a complete stop for Nigerian football. Granted it would start spinning only to stop again in 2000 when another Tunisian, this time a legally blind referee rumored to be carrying a Platinum Visa courtesy of the Camerounian Football Association would rob us again. But you know what? When Rod Stewart, by the way a big soccer fan and player, sings "The first cut is the deepest", I know, no matter what he says, that he ain't talking about no perfumed vixen but about the agony of defeat on the pitch. Back then Nigeria lay taut like an arrow in a hunter's bow, pregnant with expectation and ready to represent Africa in Argentina if she could just win this one last match. At home in front of a mob of screaming fanatics housed in one of Africa's biggest stadia -- the visiting North Africans where given as much of a chance as a Rolex (fake or real) surviving on a wrist in Mile 2  after 6 PM. In other words "None"! But as we found out it was not to be.
The Tunisians came with their game face on and proved to be as slippery as yesterday's fish coated in a combination of butter and axle grease. You simply could not grasp them. Like prize fighters the 2 teams went at each other non stop and as the clock ticked and tocked the 2 nations held their breaths collectively... hoping... wishing... praying. For once that money swallowing bottomless pit also know as the scoreboard in Surulere did her part perfectly by flashing the digital minutes becoming seconds and then zeros at the fans. At home sweat glistened on concerned brows as eyes remained locked on the NTA signal, while mothers ignored angry baby's wails and in FESTAC even KanuLondon's  Father's dogs, (2 hyperactive great Danes and terror of the village that I was dog sitting) panted quietly in the shade...just as if they all knew that what would enfold in the next minutes, would either determine a monster of a bone for dinner or simple leftovers. We all, human and dog, sat in anticipation and watched history and our own demise unfold.
But then I am getting ahead of myself here!
Young in his career Odiye had mastered that art of heading the ball back wards. Just like the German ace defender Manfred Kaltz, he did it tons of times with Chukwu and tons more with Okala. Using peripheral vision that would have made any Secret Service man on any force in the world envious he would often spot a team member, calculate his positioning and then pass them the ball. Playing with Odiye was never boring and one learned never to keep their eyes off him. Till that fateful day, the passes had been brilliant and as accurate as a Swiss watch in the rain, making many a fan believe that he had either eyes in the back of his head or was telepathically linked to both Chukwu and Okala. It was no different a pass except that it had so much at stake and that it did...not work. Did he establish eye contact with Okala briefly? Why did Okala have to move? Could he have stretched mm's further had he had okra for lunch as opposed to his favorite and regular "bread and tea"? I don't know so abeg don't ask me!
The questions are as many as Ba Prophets  domesticated alley cat "Super Bussy" has fleas and pondering the appropriate answers will get you nowhere. I know because I have tried. Just like the "egg and the chicken and who came before who" add those unresolved questions to the great issues of life. What I do know though is that the ball trickled over the Nigerian 1 yard line as a horrified Okala taxed his huge frame to its maximum -- in vain. Chukwu stood hands akimbo head bent, Odiye collapsed in pile of green agony as Okala lay motionless. Ernest Okonkwo's baritone - in a cry that would be replayed over and over in our heads for many years to come - relayed the details of the own goal in a simple but loaded sentence "Oh No Nigeria has scored Nigeria ! Game Over!". Needless to say, Odiye was inconsolable -- very much like Avare against Brazil after seeing Red in the WWC quarter finals -only much worse. Even Kanu crawling on all 4's as if looking for dropped keys after booting his penalty into Gabon during the ANC 2000 Final, or Oliseh changing PRINCE's song to "When Eagles Cry" during the medal acceptance, looked very comical compared to his anguish that day. It was as if he knew or feared that this was the ultimate sound bite that would remain forever etched in the minds of his countrymen as he hit the "fade out of history button".
But giving up is not a Nigerian characteristic and Odiye may have been down...but he was not out. Rather, he regrouped and came back with a vengeance. "Own goal" or no "own goal" by the time Nigeria was ready to host Africa in 1980 for the African Nations Cup he had again reestablished himself not just as the daring defender that we knew him to be, but as robust midfielder as well. Coach Otto Gloria would later scoff at the "once bitten twice shy" notion and say that he had no choice but to name him to the future Golden Green Eagle squad because no one had more heart considering what he went through. "All's good that ends good" they say and things certainly ended good for the birds. They romped through the veldt that was African soccer with the ease of a Cattle Egret making pals with a Steer in summer and in that great competition, grasped the golden fleece against Tunisia's extended cousins - Algeria.
As we all celebrated late into that gorgeous Lagos night and the FESTAC village dogs shared half a cow leg liberated from the local Mallam slash butcher on sale, nobody complained...but more importantly nobody seemed to remember that in the semi-final 1:0 victory days before against Morocco, a certain somebody coming out of nowhere to head (YES HEAD) a ball off the line while the Atlas Lions forwards turned around a beaten Okala to celebrate! Now if Otto Gloria's nod was not redemption enough this certainly was in my book. Odiye the hero would return from the US to the Eagles camp in 1994 in another brave attempt to make their World Cup squad. Unfortunately at 36, like with most old fogies  the mad skills had become average skills and he failed to impress Clemens Westerhof and earn a spot on that team overloaded with stars and the young and the restless of Nigeria's future.
Godwin Odiye like the true giant he is, set his sail without much fan fare and thus faded away from active International soccer. In a time and place where motivation and love for country seem to be going out of style...we certainly hope that he could be given a spot in the infrastructure of the massive NFA to teach and lead by example. I mean if we are to go by last impressions who could deny him this? In my mind he was an irreplaceable safety net that often stretched behind Chukwu and Okala playing that critical position we often call safety in American rules Football. In other words, overlapping behind the Number 5! Now if that's "goat" meat...I want a double helping because there can be nothing classier than being the "last man standing".
1 famous sailors brothel near apapa wharf
2 verbal line in the sand
3 Igbo staple food made from cassava that can only be eaten with the right hand as required by tradition
4 affectionate term for young forumers coined by Gbenga Aina
5 notorious bus transfer spot know for its pick pockets
6 junior forumer and Suya's relative by happenstance
7 senior forumer and friend by choice 8 affectionate term for the older forumers coined by 1Naija