by Emeka Obasi
LAGOS, NIG -Those who organised a reception for Super Falcons, 1999 set in what was tagged the NFF/ AITEO Awards in 2021 took Ismaila Mabo closer to his grave. The gaffer who led the female senior national team to an African record was left out.
I was shocked to the marrow. A call to Mabo hurt me the more. The man sat down in his Jos home while some Falcon Veterans were flown in from the United States.
” Emeka, they have forgotten me. Thank you for this call. I am still alive but they have forgotten me”, Mabo, fondly called Baba by his players said.
Word came from the organisers that Mabo was nowhere to be found when they tried to get in touch. I found that defence dumb and baseless.
” Nobody contacted me. I was not invited. I will not tell you lies at this my age. Please don’t raise your blood pressure because of me. I am pained but I am still alive”, he informed me.
Jos is not in Alaska. It is not closer to the Himalayas than Abuja. Mabo was active as chairman of the Plateau State Sports Council. His son Najib is an assistant coach with Mighty Jets.
Some people stayed in the comfort of their homes in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory and sent out invitations without extending the courtesy to the man behind the team.
Super Falcons debuted at the inaugural FIFA Women’s Championships, China ’91. They failed to win a match and came back with a basketful of goals. There was a positive, though.
Chioma Ajunwa became the first to represent the country in two different sports events. The policewoman was at the Commonwealth Games in 1990 as a Track and Field participant. In China, she played for Falcons as a defender.
The Nigerian ladies also qualified for the Second FIFA Women’s Championships, Sweden 1995. Their net was bombarded with goals.
Mabo changed all that at the third edition in the United States. Nigeria won for the first time outside Africa. Denmark and North Korea were beaten. The Falcons lost 7-1 to hosts and eventual winners, USA.
Nkiru Okosieme rattled the Americans with a goal before the damage began. Mabo read the game and noticed that keeper Ann Agumanu was not in her best. Judith ‘ Kamala’ Chime was introduced.
The coach urged the team to put aside the Yankee yo-yo. Confidence restored, a quarter finals place was achieved. Foes were Brazil who came with a hit woman, Sisi.
Mabo proved his mettle in the game. Sisi was checked effectively. However, the South Americans went three goals up in 35 minutes. Falcons did not give up after a poor first stanza.
The second half was a different ball game. Prisca Emeafu scored in the 63rd minute. Okosieme made it two in the 72nd. With five minutes left, Nkechi Egbe levelled scores at 3-3. The Falcons were on fire and could have scored again if Patience Avre was not sent off, three minutes to time.
The Brazilians almost froze to death when extra time came. Three years earlier, in the same United States, the Dream Team had risen from 3-1 defeat to halt Brazil in the semis of the Atlanta ’96 Olympics. It was decided by Nwankwo Kanu’s Golden Goal.
The reverse became the case. Sisi rose to the occasion with a Golden Goal in the 104th minute. The Falcons fell gallantly. That is the best any African team has done in the competition.
Mabo once bailed out Nigeria when hope was lost. At the Abuja 2003 All Africa Games, the Falcons presented by Nigeria were second rate. The main team had eyes somewhere else. Baba was given the responsibility of raising a new team.
He did and won gold with the neo Falcons. In the same competition, the men failed. Cameroon defeated Nigeria 2-0 in the grand finale.
Mabo was at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. He also led Falcons to Athens 2004. This is the profile of the same man who was sidelined in an event that was supposed to celebrate his achievements.
That Lagos humiliation haunted Falcons in less than 24 hours. At the Mobolaji Johnson Stadium, Onikan, the Nigerians were humiliated 4-2 by South Africa’s Banyana Banyana at the first Aisha Buhari Cup.
In the next couple of weeks, the women were quarrelling over dollars paid by the organisers of the NFF/Aiteo Award. In 2022, Falcons were dethroned as African champions by Morocco. They also lost again to Banyana Banyana.
As coach, Mabo earned much of what he could not gain as a player. He was part of the Nigerian Academicals that defeated Ghana for the first time, home and away, in 1965. Captained by his friend, Sam Garba Okoye, the squad included Tony Igwe ( Allah Dey of Barkin Ladi), Peter Anieke and Segun Olumodeji.
In 1970, Mabo and his friends founded Mighty Jets. Jos had been unlucky, losing in as many Challenge Cup grand finale as the number of players that form a team.
Ismaila Mabo Mohammed Akande, Mathew Atuegbu ( Mogambo), Abraham Olayiwola Olagbenro ( Eusebio), Sule Yusuf ( Kekere), Sam Garba Okoye and Gabriel Babalola Olugbodi, wanted to bury the Plateau misfortunes of the past.
Atuegbu had returned to Jos after the Civil War, with his siblings, Nicholas, Andrew, Aloysius and Fidelis. The first three were Biafran combatants. While Mathew and Nicholas joined the Army, Andrew chose the Air Force. Of the Atuegbu quartet, only Fidelis did not play for Jets. He teamed up with Standard.