Okagbue in half time talk with his team members of All Stars Veterans International, Enugu
Sports in Nigeria and Uganda cannot be mentioned without mentioning the name of Coach Harrison Okagbue. Coach Harrison Okagbue’s feat in sports is incomparable. He is a rare gem and a sports guru so far in Africa. He is so talented that he is always needed in every sports organization or event. My dear readers I must appreciate your consistency in reading this page; but I am craving for your indulgence to read this great giant in sports. I hope you will enjoy this piece!
May we know you?
My name is Chief Harrison Ifeatu Okagbue, the Mmimi 1 of Nawfia, Ozugunafor Nwafia. I am a retired footballer, retired athlete, retired coach and retired football referee. I was born in Port Harcourt on 2nd June, 1948. I started active sports in my Primary school days at St. Peters in Port Harcourt in 1952 and I graduated in 1962. My sports life is one of the gifts from God. I am a jumper and I can partake in any ball game like Football, Basketball, Handball, Volley ball and many more. I took part in almost all the sports and I excelled in almost all of them. I also usually win the Victor Lodurum Cup. Victor Lodurum was a game competed for the highest point. Every year or every time an inter-house sport was organized, I always won the Victor Lodurum. After my primary school at St. Peters, I attended my secondary school at Merchant of Light College, Oba in 1963. In my class one, I was the school goalkeeper. I won victor Lodurum throughout my stay in the college. When the war broke out in 1967, I entered the Army and I fought excessively which led to me having a bullet injury around my ear which went through my cheeks in Oct 9, 1967. Before the war broke out in 1967, my dad changed my school because he wasn’t comfortable with my active sports activities. He was just bent on seeing me focusing just on my studies alone. He later changed my school to All Saints Grammar School, Umunze in 1965 because he thought that my former school was using me too much in sports and that it was distracting me in my academic life. But he failed to realize that good things are always seen and appreciated no matter where they are hidden. If you are a born sports man, your gift can never be hidden.
The day I stepped my feet in All Saints Umunze , all the students were so happy that they have finally gotten a sports person who could represent the school. As usual in Umunze, I still continued in my sports activities and I made name in the Eastern Region because I was representing Eastern Region in high jump. Back then we were supposed to enroll in any Army close to our residential location. I took part in sports till the war broke out and with God’s Grace, I survived the war. Because of the war and its other challenge, I left Umunze and I finished my secondary school at Igwebuike Grammar School, Awka and in 1970. This was the same year I took my school WAEC. During this period, I began playing for the Onitsha Red Devil, and I can remember that we played Challenge Cup. Also, I was equally playing for Awka Iron Founders. I played center half back which is no 5, I can equally play no 2 or no 6 or no 3. I played defence line. In 1971, there were some group of people who came to buy sports men and since I was selected by the group, I left Anambra for Calabar that same year. At Calabar, I played for Nigeria’s Ports Authority. I represented Calabar in high jump in 1972 in the First National Sports Festival and equally played football too. It was in this sports festival I won my first silver medal. This was my first prize and I was given a bicycle by Gov. Uduokaha J Esuene. He was the governor of South Eastern State.
L-R; Stanley Okorokwo (Ex- rangers), Late Luke Okpala (Former Chairman of Ex- Rangers), Late Ernest Ufele (ex- rangers), Harrison Okagbue, Christian Chukwu
Later, I applied to be transferred to Port Harcourt which was granted. I got to Port Harcourt in 1974 and I was made the Captain of the Ports Authority Team. I played for Port Harcourt Red Devils and I also played for Sharks and then later Rangers came for me to join them. This was how I transferred my sports services to Old Anambra as a player coach in training. I was in the team that won the African Cup of 1977, I was also in the team that qualified for WAFU Cup finals 1979/1980. I retired from active football after WAFU football cup finals in Senegal in 1980
Before I retired, I took leave to attend a coaching course in England in 1978. There, I qualified as a Coach from International Sports College, Bisham Abbey. When I came back, I started playing gain and I served as a player coach for Rangers for some time. After 1980, I retired and I was posted to Otuocha Sports Council as a resident coach in 1981. I stayed there for 6 years and I was transferred to Udi. While in Udi, I got admission into Brazillian Football Academy, I sought for sponsorship but I didn’t get it. I had a friend who was the Captain of the Army in Borno and also a sole administrator of sports in Borno State. His name is Captain Idris Bala. I explained to him my challenges and he compelled the then governor to give me scholarship to enter into the Brazillian Football Academy. The scholarship he wanted to give me was a reciprocal one. Once I finish the course, I will come back to serve the Borno LGA for a certain period. I agreed to it and when I started my 6months course in 1986 I came back and served the Borno LGA for three years. When I came back, that was the same period the Al Kanemi Football Club was created. I was one of the Pioneer Coaches of Al kanemi and I was also in charge of their academicals. I brought theses Academicals to Enugu and we won second overall. After this, the Federal Government sponsored us to Cannada to represent Nigeria in one of the competitions in Cannada. I served Borno LGA for some time before I was given clearance to go. After I left Borno finally, I came back to Anambra state and got reinstated and I formed the ASESA Warriors with Gibson Nwosu. Later Christian Chukwu met me and we both worked for the club for many years. In fact, we brought the club from Division three to Division one. Later, I left ASESA warriors for Udorji United. I worked with Monday Cyncler because the Rivers State Government was after him even though he stayed for some months but I will claim that I formed the Udorji United and I was the first Coach in 1992. After spending some years in Udorji United, I went back to Sports Council and I served for some time.
At this time, there was an interview that came up from the Technical Aid Corp under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They published to have interview for coaches which I was fortunate to attend. Out of 76 coaches only three of us passed it. So, the government sent me to Uganda to serve for two years. In 1999 when I arrived Uganda, they were also having interview for their National Coach, so I applied and I was interviewed with some English men, Italians and Germans and luckily I won the position as Uganda National Coach and I coached the Cranes of Uganda for three years. So, after my stay in Uganda, I came back and rejoined the Sports Council in 2003. I finished my service to the Sports Council and I finished and retired in the Sport Council in 2009. During my period in the Sports Council, I was the Chief Coach and Football Technical Adviser for the state. This was where I met Obikwelu who was the Vice Chairman and so much dedicated in his job and referee work because I was a member of the Football Association.
Also, at Port Harcourt we won the Challenge Cup in 1975. We represented Rivers state in the National Challenge Cup and we ended up and we ended up in the National Semi finals. When I was playing for Rangers, I was in the squad that won the African cup in 1977. I was in the cup that nearly won the WAFU Cup finalist. I was invited to the Green Eagles Camp in 1972 but I never took part in any of their games. I was just a camper. I was there at the camp but I was never selected. I have won a lot of things that I can’t actually remember for now. I can remember that we formed the All Stars International Football Club and we won National All Stars Competition twice. As a coach, I have won many medals that I can’t exactly remember. As a coach in Uganda, I won the East and Central Africa Challenge Cup twice. When I was the Coach of ASESA Warriors, it was also tough between ASESA warriors and Rangers. They were two top team that are very difficult to defeat.
Okagbue (Left) with Assistant Coach of Cranes of Uganda, Gunter Zittel
So what do you do now?
Well, I have retired. I am retired from all activities I only move out when I am invited on consultation. I live in Enugu and Nawfia. At Enugu, I train and brush up promising upcoming sports stars. In fact, what I do is like street coaching trying to encourage talents.
What made you to join the Army?
Well, it was the trend then that all the young men must get into the army. I wasn’t conscripted. I voluntary joined the army
Who or what inspired you into sports?
Sports is in my blood. I got most of my inspiration from the games masters. I have never disappointed them. In those days, we had no money attached to sports. We did sports because of the love we had for sports. ‘All worth doing is worth doing well’. I took to referee because I wanted to be very familiar with the Laws of the Game. In coaching, you are hardly taught the laws of the games and the techniques. In fact, I got the training through refereeing. I am a grade one referee and Match commissioner retired in 1994. In fact I had to retire because it was necessary for me.
What year did you marry?
I got married in 1978.
How were you able to manage your sports life with your family responsibilities?
I believed I am a professional. I programmed my life and arranged my programs very well. When I was in Uganda, I made sure I visited my family every three months. I had a cell phone in Uganda, so I used it to call their land line since that was only the electronic means of communication in Nigeria then. Every Sunday I speak with my wife and my children and because of this, they weren’t too bothered because I had a special transport outfit business before moving to Uganda. I had about six buses plying the road. I was not an extravagant sports man and I think business wise in whatever I do. Whenever I saved money, I put it in the business. In other not to throw money about, I tried to invest especially in my transport business called Harrison and Associates. It’s a township bus that ply in Enugu. I was doing the business even before I left for Uganda. The business has stayed for over 20years now even though there are a lot of challenges in it, it didn’t stop me from investing in transport. I had no cause to think if things were going good or bad because I have a good wife who looked at it and manages it well and take care of the family too.
Okagbue (Left) as a referee at Enugu
How many children do you have?
I must be frank with myself. My first wife has only one daughter and I was later convinced by my family to get more children. Age was telling on us (my wife and I). So, we decided to get another wife who has given me extra five children- (two boys and three girls plus my first girl making them 6 children). My first wife is in Enugu while the second wife is in Nawfia
What’s your position in the family?
We are four in my family. I am the first child and first son and the rest of my siblings stay in America with their families.
Can you share some of your fulfilling moments so far?
When I remember my days in Uganda, I feel good and wonderful. I can remember travelling from Uganda to Rwanda; it was a beautiful scene, when I crossed the equator. It was like a surprise to me
What’s so real about the equator?
I was going to Equator for a match. When you are going to equator and you cross the border, the weather becomes hotter and when you are coming back and you cross the equator it becomes colder. It is a very wonderful experience for me and because of this; I have touched almost all the countries in Africa because of my position as the Coach for the Cranes of Uganda 1999-2001. Also, when I got my first son, I was so happy
Can you share some of your bad moments?
I remember when I came back to Nigeria and I received a call that we had a match Jan 15th so I rushed back to Uganda to train the players and I missed spending my Christmas in Nigeria and still the match was cancelled. Christmas in Uganda was not as interesting as Christmas in Nigeria. I felt very bad. Also, whenever I don’t have money, I feel bad or whenever I don’t have access to my money. Also, I don’t like being pushed into stress or threat. I hate such statements and threats like “If you don’t win this match, this will happen to you”. I love working freely and getting my results. When I was coaching the Cranes of Uganda, supporters do not behave well. They believe in their clubs and not the National Team. When players are invited to the national camp and are being trained. We may have 3 players from KCC, 4 players from AC Villa. When their player is holding the ball, their supporters will cheer them and when the other players are holding the ball; their club supporters will cheer them. If member of another club is having the ball, the other club will bully or woo them. So, there was no special support on the national side. Also, there was a time I was sabotaged because I was aiming to qualify them for Nations Cup. I had this match with Stephen Keishi because he was the Coach for Togo then. The match was close and we had players who were in AC Villa and in the National Team. Those players had their own club match and left to play for their club without informing me. It was the same day the national team was playing and it was the same day their club had a friendly match. So, they pulled out from the national team and didn’t even inform me at all. I was very angry and felt bad and that was the only match I was beaten at home throughout my stay in Uganda. I gave a very big sting to the government that if such will continue to happen, then I will work with what I see. Then the president gave an instruction that any player that was invited to the national camp except the national camp was over that the player will not go back to the club whether they are playing or they are not playing. When I wrote concerning this, act, I was threatened by the supporters of AC Villa. But it didn’t stop me, I reported to the ambassador, I reported to the presidency and they gave me security till I completed my tenure.
Okagbue (Left) with in a group photograph with Team Members of All Stars Veterans at Lagos 2015 after winning the match
You have stayed in Uganda for some time, can you compare their life with Nigerians
Well, in Uganda, they are very low in criminality and they are more disciplined the atmosphere is more cordial. They are friendly but not too friendly. The people from the eastern side of Uganda are very accommodative and very nice. In fact they behave just like the Easterners in Nigeria. Their language is quite difficult to understand. The three years I stayed there, I don’t think I was able to master up to ten sentences. During my stay in Uganda, they had very high rate of AIDS then and it was even mesmerizing the country. So, it was very difficult to interact or spend time with anybody there. I can remember coming back from Nigeria to Uganda and I found my Landlord’s place locked, I enquired and they said that the man died because he was a carrier. This was the man I spent time to chat and drink together. From that day, I restricted myself to fewer people.
What has been the most difficult decision you have made as a Sports Man?
The most difficult decision I had made was the time I came home to spend Christmas in Nigeria and I got this message that I should come back to Uganda and that we were playing. My mind was telling me not to go and at a point I agreed but a day before the departure date, I decided to go and defend my job and I called it the most difficult decision for me and I was so angry and annoyed that the match never happened again. I went into refereeing because of the idea and not because of the coaching. I can’t coach and also do refereeing .I went into refereeing because I wanted to have an idea of the laws of the game. In fact, I only blow local matches.
As an experienced hand in football, how can Nigerians make good use of their experiences?
Well, Nigerians don’t utilize what they have. There was a time Nigeria had a match with Uganda and they called me that I will be among the contingents that will lead them to Uganda. At the tail of their arrangement, I was dropped maybe because they didn’t want to share my experience. I would have shown them where they could have operated from. On seeing the players, I will know the weaker players and the stronger players. Nigeria lost that match because they refused to make good use of what they have. I would have also insisted that the match won’t be played at Nakivubo and that it will be played at Nelson Mandela Stadium. Nakivubo is a small stadium and they have mastered it but when you take them to a very big field like Nelson Mandela, the match will be 50- 50 but if they play at Nakivubo, it will be 30- 70.
Where do you think that Nigerians players’ loyalty lies?
What commands everything in Nigeria is: Who plays the piper. If you pay a footballer well, he will do absolutely well but if you are paying half, not too well, they won’t give you absolute commitment. If the Coach is the person that entices them their loyalty will go to the coach. The game itself is for everybody. If you prepare your team well and come out with your team well prepared, the game itself will be of good result
What other ways do you think sports can be improved?
Sports can be improved in Anmabra State if they go back to what they have been doing. In those days, we had coaches in the hinder land and in each of the local government. We had coaches in every local government specializing in various sports like handball, football, and athletics. Some local government then even had basket ball coaches. If they could go back to the drawing board, I suggest the government send coaches to the hinterland to harness these young talents. Also, they should start primary school sports. From there you can catch them young. Also they should form football academies for young boys. They should also form basket ball academy, hand ball academy for the young ones. From there they can start bringing them up by having U- 7, U8, U-9, U13, U 15, U-17. U-20. Nigeria will improve if they go back to that method more than what it used to be. We have many children that are interested in sports but if you allow these young talent to waste, it will not go anywhere. In those days, I used to organize coaching seminar when I was the Chief Coach and Technical Adviser for Anambra State, I organized seminars for coaches, instruct them and teach them and gave them certificates and sent them to go and work. You will be very happy seeing improvements but now there is nobody maybe because of less salary but we were having it even less than that
People are interested in making their money. Sometimes, you will send a coach to a local government and the coach will leave his primary duty and start doing rice and yam business because he wants to make money. If they pay the coaches well, I believe they will concentrate in their coaching work and they should give them promotion especially the hardworking ones without any favoritism or partiality. There was a time we introduced tennis in football being played in volley ball court. People used to enjoy it. It was copied from the Brazilians.
What is your favourite colour
Black or sky blue. I love black and sky blue. I have cars in blue and black. I used to like red before
What are your favourite dishes?
I am usually asked this question in Uganda. My favorite food is beans with a little garri and honey all together. I enjoy it too much.
So, what course did you study at the University?
I am one of those who didn’t have people to train them. So I believe in on the job training. I went to International Sports College, Bisham Abbey in England and I qualified as a coach and then I had my attachment programmes with Leads United Football Club. That was where I did my practicals. I later went to Brazillian Football Academy at Rio De Janiero and I had my attachment with Santos Football Club. While I was in Uganda, in 2000, I went to another clinic in Germany and some others too. I also attended some coaching seminars in Anambra . I can remember I attended Coach Emma Rosky coaching Course, FIFA Courses and many more.
Okagbue (Center) with his goalkeepers of ex- rangers. Left is Emeka, the present goal keeper trainer of Rangers and former U-17 goal keeper. Right is Chukwudi Nnonah at 5th National All Stars Veteran Cup in Abuja 2012
Assuming you gained sponsorship for your education, what course would you have studied?
If I were chanced, I would have gone into Physical and Health Training otherwise called ‘Jumpology’
How do you see Nigeria Sports and Anambra sports in the next five years?
They should go back to the local government and start school sports. With this, they could fine young talents to represent the state at the local level, state level and even at the national level in school sports competition. We have too much money and too many sports men if well harnessed. In those days we had Fehnsic Cup and Academicals which really helped our sports lives. If all these are done, we can be up again in sports. Seminars and training courses should be frequently organized. The government should see these as an opportunity to catch them young. They should avoid using fire brigade approach, rather they should give adequate time to training before competition.
My advice to the state government is simple. I know Willie Obiano is trying his best but what about his lieutenants in the field? They should encourage him by putting up their best and giving him good programmes which is the duty of the coaches and the administrators. If such programmes could be written, approved and financed, then something tangible could erupt in the Anambra Sports World.
During your sports life, were you ever discouraged?
No. Whenever I am discouraged I, try to pick up. Sometimes I am being discouraged when my allowance doesn’t came at the right time. If these happen sometimes, I tell myself that one day it will definitely come.
Sponsorship in those days cames like this. Colleges will come into the country to look for young talents. Universities like Clemson, South Carolina all came to look for footballer and lure them through scholarship to their university. In my own case, I had retired from football and I am now a coach unless government wants to sponsor and in most cases especially for training.
What are your other hobbies apart from sports?
I am a traditionalist. I am an Ozo titled man and an Iche and an Nze in my town and I like it very much. I love interaction and we gather to enjoy our old age to discuss issues. My grandfather was an Anglican Reverend and he was the one that brought Christianity to this whole place. I go to church and I am a lay reader but that doesn’t stop me interacting with the traditions of our place. Nawfia is an Umu Nri clan and we believe in tradition a lot