By Okey Onwugbonu

I remember vividly when I was about ten years old, I saw my first live football game in Calabar, Cross Rivers State between Calabar Rovers and Stationery Stores.

I went in the company of a neighbour, Uncle Kazeem who sought my company seeing that I had an interest in the game.

I was playing football at the time with friends in our vicinity; quickly and joyfully I informed my younger brothers that I was off to the Stadium in company of our neighbour in case our mum inquires of my whereabouts.

The game was a Nigerian Division 1 League game and I can recall as I write this that the Calabar Township Stadium, the one we now refer to as U.J. Esuene Stadium was packed full with fans.

The game ended 1-1. After the game, Uncle Kazeem took me to where I think was the mixed zone to see my cousin Okwuchukwu Waobikeze who wore the number eleven shirt for Rovers, he came on as a second-half substitute in the game.

That was over two decades ago, I saw a few more Rovers games while in Calabar but can’t remember the teams or score lines of those games.

I recalled this scenario when the #IkwerreMan1000 started trending last year.

I didn’t give it a deep thought until Sports Writers started debating about it. Then I realized we were talking about seeing 1000 games and not 100 games.

Someone was claiming to have seen close to a thousand live football matches across the globe and was planning a huge celebration when he reaches the landmark.

And when that person has served as a media officer for a particular club for 12 years we know there is a possibility. But then came the big question – how sure was he about the exact number of games he had seen?

First, he has to be a meticulous person. Second, he must have kept data of every single game he had seen. And third, he must have been seeing games passionately, beyond being a media officer.

THE PRESS CONFERENCE

To clear our doubts a press conference was called. Trust journalists and their inquisitive nature they turned up to find out firsthand. To discover the possibility of keeping records of a thousand live games watched and to see proof for themselves.

To look for loopholes and probably confirm their inner doubts about storing records for almost three decades, beginning from an era where everything was done in hard copy.

Adorned in a red t-shirt with the caption “1000 Live Matches Witnessed” even if he was yet to witness the 1000th live game, ‘the man’ sat confidently and took a barrage of questions thrown at him from colleagues.

Of course, he had proofs, manuscripts that kept records of games, venue, teams, pictures, score lines and in some cases team sheets. For every picture, he knew the particular game and number.

He saw his first game in 1989, some 30 years ago. A 2nd division game between the defunct Sharks FC and NEPA FC of Lagos at the Alfred Diette Spiff Stadium (now Sharks Stadium), in Port Harcourt.

And yes, he had proof of seeing that game. He mentioned the scoreline of the game (3-1) and the goal scorers as he did for some other games as the press conference progressed.

Journalists viewed his proof from the big screen on display and some of their faces wore a forlorn look of ‘had I known’, others were joyous for the landmark about to be achieved by a colleague, why some others may have felt if given more time they would dig out their loophole to prove that the record was not accurate.

MOTIVE

In an age where records are invaluable, we still have not cultivated the habits of keeping them. Someone has been keeping his and felt that it was worthy of emulation and celebration. Many Sports journalist may have seen over 1000 games but sadly they cannot prove it.

His motivation aroused from a childhood habit of keeping records so he can fall back on them when needed. He also opined that he could instil in colleagues and the younger generation the benefits of keeping records. In his words, ‘I am being celebrated because I kept records, not because I am the first person to achieve this feat’.

He also felt he could inspire the younger generation to be the best in whatever profession they choose, hence his decision to visit a few secondary schools to talk about his achievement and to inspire and encourage them.

CELEBRATING OUR OWN

The day finally arrived, April 15, 2018, with Sports journalist from across Nigeria present to witness a unique event. Andrew Randa came in from Minna, Emmanuel Etim came in from Lagos, the BBC crew was there led by Nduka Orjinmo and so many notable Port Harcourt based Sports journalist.

The atmosphere was quite colourful with banners depicting the occasion adorning the walls of the Krisdera Hotel Stadium in Omoku, Rivers State.

Journalists were dressed in t-shirts of different colours with ‘1000 Live Matches Witnessed’ inscribed on them.

I am not about to spoil this write up by stating that the balloons released by journalists just before kickoff refused to fly, but that was how the celebrant was welcomed by his colleagues.

On the field of play, Go Round FC played host to Niger Tornadoes, both players filed in with the ‘1000 Live Matches Witnessed’ t-shirts.

The match ended 1-1 which was a little blip on an otherwise remarkable day. Of course, being edia Chief of Go Round the celebrant would have loved to win.

I won’t go into the details of what transpired at night after the game, but sports journalist sure know how to catch fun.

A THOUSAND STORIES

Seeing a thousand games in 80 stadia must have left indelible marks and of course a thousand stories to tell. So watch out for the book that will x-ray the games seen live by the IkwerreMan China Acheru.

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