Story of Christian "Gabo" Madu
I Changed My Name For Security Reasons, Says Ex-Green Eagles Star. His was a household name in Nigeria's football circles in the 70s. He was a rock in the national team and Enugu Rangers of those days before injury ended his career prematurely in 1980. That was Christian Madu, the midfielder, who alternated the then Green Eagles defensive midfield position with the late Muda Lawal.
In a chat with The Guardian in Warri recently, Madu narrated the story of his early football days in Ghana, why he changed his surname from Madumere to Madu and how he joined Rangers from Ghana. He revealed that he had to change his surname, Madumere to Madu in order to remain in Ghana and continue his career, since the atmosphere then was not conducive for Nigerians living in Ghana.
"When I was in Ghana, the then government decided that Nigerians were the main reason their economy had problems and told all Nigerians to leave their country.
"I was playing for Accra Hearts of Oak then. So I had to change my surname from Madumere to Madu. That made it sound Camerounian. And not only that, an official of the club helped me to spread it around that I was Camerounian. So, I managed to secure a resident permit as a Camerounian, and continued playing for Hearts of Oaks.
"This thing happened around 1969. I played for Oaks for 12 years before I joined Great Olympics. I played for Olympic for five years before I joined Rangers, " Madu said.
Madu, who was among the Rangers Cup Winners Cup champions of 1977, said his joining the Enugu team was a chance occurrence, as he was already an established Black Stars (Ghana's national team) player and was living comfortably in Accra before the switch to the Flying Antelopes.
"I joined Rangers in 1975 by chance. What happened was that we had a match against the team in Accra, and after the match, officials of the club came to ask me if I would like to join their team. It was during our chat they discovered that I was an Igboman. And then, at that time, I was longing to come back to Nigeria. So, I agreed to join them. But I played much of my football in Ghana," he said.
Before Madu, other Nigerians had played for the Black Stars, including Ganiyu Salami, a situation which the ex-Green Eagles player attributed to the non-discriminatory attitude of Ghanaian sports officials "They allow anybody who had lived in their country to represent their national team no matter where they may come from. What they look out for is the individual's ability. Before me, I heard stories of other Nigerians who had played for them, and there was no problem. Because of the African Unity the government preached then. But the order on Nigerians to leave Ghana changed all that," he said.
Madu who played for the then Green Eagles under Father Tiko, and was in the team that won bronze in the 1978 Nations Cup team, believes that the current footballers have the necessary ingredient to succeed but blames officials for the stunted growth of football in Nigeria.
"The problem we notice in our football is that officials do not allow the better side to win anymore. In those days, clubs were not picked to win competitions, you had to play well to win matches.
"Look at the FA Cup, the organisation of the competition was such that days before the finals people would be getting ready to go and support their teams to victory. In fact, from the quarter-final stage, people were already in the mood to witness good football, and we had the players people looked up to. But that doesn't happen any more, as the competition is regarded as being for the highest bidder.
"One thing I want to commend Cola Cola for is the sponsorship which has eased the burden on many clubs. The money, the jerseys go a long way in helping the clubs to ease some of their problems.
"But to get the best out of the competition, people with deep knowledge of the game should be incorporated in the organisation. There are many people who played this game, who can fit in all segments of the game. They can use their knowledge to uplift football in the country.
"Even the league can be made glamorous again by good organisation. This means that only honest referees will be allowed to officiate in matches. If we have honest independent assessors to report the conduct of referees and teams, we will have a very good league.
"Another thing is television. It can bring people back to the venues again because watching matches can compel fans to go and see things for themselves. It will also bring more sponsors to the game, which in the long run translate to more money for all stakeholders.
"South African league attracts many sponsors, which ultimately gives money to the clubs, players, and all others with interest in football. Television has so many advantages that we should exploit to raise the standard of our game. I understand that a station has the television right to the league; but we don't see matches on television, it is a shame that at this level of Nigerians' game in world football, our local league is still suffering, " Madu lamented.
Madu called on genuine lovers of football to come and identify with the game, as making football attractive and efficient would make it lucrative, with so many benefits to Nigeria.
"What some people in authority in sports forget to realise is that football can be a very big industry that can generate employment for our youths and others who will go into other aspects of the game.
"When the game becomes attractive and people start going to the various stadia to watch matches, a lot of people will benefit from it. Souvenir sellers, petty traders and people in sundry support services will benefit from football. In some places, you will see kiosks, where people go to relax before a match, have fun and generally feel satisfied.
"Another thing that is wrong with our football, especially the league, is inadequate security. When the match officials are not secured, they will feel threatened and might want to satisfy the home crowd, just to save their heads. When football fans feel they are not safe at the stadia, they will not go there. And when there are negative stories from the stadia, sponsors will not want to associate with football. So, we have to do something in the area of security," he said. Madu, who spent only two years with the then Green Eagles before he quit football, rates their match against Sierra Leone as his most memorable match for the national team, saying that the match actually drew people's attention to his game.
"I believe it was the match against Sierra Leone that actually brought me to our fans' attention. Although, I did not score in the match, I think that was my best game for the Eagles, and the fans' reaction after the game showed that I did well. I played in other memorable matches, but the Sierra Leone game was my best for the country," he said.
Was it possible for a player to play for another country after featuring for a different country in competitive matches in those days? "Yes, it actually did not matter if you changed nationality and decided to play for your new country in those days. There were other players who later played for Nigeria after playing for Ghana. I cannot really remember the names, but at that time nobody raised eyebrows." On the present state of Enugu Rangers which held sway in Nigerian football in the 70s and early 80s, Madu said the influx of so much money into football contributed to the dwindling performance of the coal city club, adding, however, that the 'Flying Antelopes' were on the verge of reclaiming their supremacy in Nigeria.
"What happened was that a lot of people started showing interest in the game, with a lot of clubs having so much money to spend to attain championship status.
"In those days, we played for pride; to defend the colours of our team. But now, players go to clubs, with so much money to spend. I don't blame them because this is their only profession, and if they don't make money while still active, it will affect them negatively when they retire.
"Again, you know that Rangers is sponsored by the Enugu State government, which has so many other needs to cater for. Enugu is not an oil-producing state.
"Having said that, the government of Chimaroke Nnamani realises the importance of Rangers to the people of the state and the entire Igbo race. So, he has started supporting the club, and very soon Rangers will come back to where it belongs. The process has already started.
"Another thing is that the present crop of boys are serious. They are ready to play, no matter what is happening and now that the government has seen their efforts and is ready to do things for them, the boys are poised to take the team to the top.
"If you check our record, you will find out that we have always placed among the first three teams in the country. Last year, we came third in the league and would have done better but for certain things that happened at the last day of the league, this years again, we are third in the FA Cup, and I assure you, next season would be better," Madu said.