|Imama Amapakabor, now a coach at Sharks|
As the nation celebrates its 50th independence anniversary, Imama Amapakabor a member of the 1985 Golden Eaglets team, the first Nigerian side to win a FIFA World Cup recounts his experience.
It’s exactly 25 years since they won that inaugural FIFA U-16 World Cup in China and he tells naijafootball247 that despite the injustice done to them, he is still proud to be Nigerian.
Amapakabor said the team left Nigeria completely unheralded but things changed after they won the Cup.
“I remember the day we left Nigeria. We were like war refugees leaving to another land because we did not even have kit to dress in,” Imama who is now coach of Premier League side, Sharks said.
“Incidentally, Nigeria had just been knocked out of the Mexico 86 World Cup qualifiers by Tunisia and the Eagles were returning as we left.
“I remember Peter Rufai called me aside at the airport and told me that was our chance to win something for ourselves. He told me the country was sad and we could bring joy to Nigerians if we do well.”
The soft spoken goalkeeper said they were almost the worst side in terms of welfare at the World Cup.
“As goalkeepers we had no gloves and we had to borrow from the Saudi team who were in our group. We had no casuals to wear and we had to remove the slippers in the bathroom just to have what to wear aside our football boots.
“The Saudi and Italian teams had all the kit they wanted and we were so out of place but we didn’t let that stop us.
“But after winning the Cup we saw a mammoth crowd wait for us at the airport and we were so shocked. Some of us never knew the games were live on TV and some of us are yet to even watch clips of those games 25 years later.”
He recalled that the government of Muhammadu Buhari that declared them Federal Government property caused the careers of a lot of them not to blossom.
“We couldn’t leave Nigeria to play football because the immigration at the airport will see our passports and immediately order our arrest and send us back because we had been called government property.
“Very few like Jonathan (Akpoboririe), Nduka (Ugbade) and Kingsley (Akionbare) were actually able to travel abroad. The rest of us just stayed back to play in the Nigerian league while some chose to go to school because of the scholarships given but aside that there was nothing that the government did for us.
“The shares given were probably sold by some broker because we never got it or received whatever dividends came from it. The way life turned out for us can be frustrating but the world must know that we are the real Golden Eaglets and we or maybe I am still proud to be Nigerian and to be part of that team that brought glory to Nigeria.”
Imama Amapakabor after China 85 went on to play for Calabar Rovers, Sharks and Kano Pillars and has been a coach at Sharks since 2002.
Other members of that team were Lucky Agbonsevafe, Dele Abubarkar, Tonwonrimi Duere, Nduka Ugbade, Kingsley Akionbare, Fatai Atere, Victor Igbinoba, Joseph Babantunde Fapetu, Bella Momoh, Sani Adamu, Jonathan Akpoboririe.