Adieu, ‘the governor of football’
Nigeria’s and Africa’s best left winger of all times, Chief Francis Oladejo Fayemi, died at the age of 81 in his hometown, Ibadan, Oyo State some time ago.
The late football icon, whose nicknames were ‘Governor’ of Football and “Denton” played for the defunct Ibadan Lions FC (1957), WNDC/IICC Shooting Stars FC (1959), the Super Eagles then known as the Red Devils (1959), the Oxford United FC, UK (1962) and the Cambridge City FC, UK (1963 – 1967). He and the late Teslim “Thunder” Balogun were the pioneer Nigerian and African footballers to play professional soccer abroad.
I knew the late soccer legend intimately by virtue of the fact that I was born in the Isale Jebu- Oja’Ba, Isale – Osi – Oke Foko axis of my dear hometown Ibadan, on October 27, 1950 and attended the Seventh-Day Adventist Primary School, Ita Saku, Oke Foko, Ibadan from 1958 -1963.
I, therefore, as a matter of course, regularly passed by Pa. Fayemi’s family house at Oke-Foko. When the defunct Western Nigeria Ministry of Education merged my class of primary six at SDA with that of the Ansar-Ud-Deen Primary School, Oke-Foko in 1963, I found myself in the same class with the late soccer star’s younger sister, Iyabo Fayemi, who I saw again after 54 years at the burial mass for Pa. Fayemi at the Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church, Odo-Ona Elewe, Ibadan on Friday, April 21, 2017. The day before, we had met at the “Day of Tributes” organised by the League of Veteran Footballers at the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Oke-Ado, Ibadan, in honour of the deceased.
The late Pa. Dejo Fayemi, as he was popularly known and called throughout the country and beyond was born in Minna in the present Niger State of Nigeria in 1935 into the family of Pa. Akande Fayemi of Ile Awonsoso, Oke-Foko, Ibadan, Oyo State. He attended the Ibadan Boys Primary School, Oke-Ado, Ibadan from 1945 to 1954. He received a very sound foundation in his primary school days. He must not miss mass on Sundays and must attend all bible classes. It was during this time that he became a Catholic by faith. Free primary school education was introduced into the defunct Western Region of Nigeria in 1955 by the government of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. When the Free Primary Education System produced more than enough graduates to enter secondary schools, the Western Region Government thereafter introduced the secondary modern schools to absorb the ‘excess’ students that would pass out of Primary schools.
He started showing special skill and interest in football at the Christ the King Catholic Modern School Odo-Ona, Ibadan in 1955.
Pa. Fayemi and his classmates moved to St. Michael Modern School, Yemetu, Ibadan in 1956 and passed out in 1957. His football career started at a very young age. He played football at the Boys Club level. His older brother, Ayo Fayemi, who attended Ibadan Boys High School was a good footballer who sharpened the interest of his younger brother, Dejo Fayemi. They both played for Foko Boys Club, Ibadan. Dejo Fayemi became the captain of the famous Foko Boys Club from 1955 to 1957. He later joined an adult club known as Ibadan Lions in 1957. His skills in football were quickly discovered and he was chosen amongst others to play for a Western Region team from 1956 to 1958.
Football was popular in Ibadan, Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Onitsha and other parts of Nigeria in the early 1950’s. The Challenge Cup which all football clubs vied for throughout the country was the most popular soccer competition. The Ibadan Football Club had competed for this cup for years. The farthest it had gone was to reach the competition’s semi-final. Teslim ‘Thunder’ ’Balogun, the greatest legend of Nigerian football, was recruited as a coach/player in 1958 for the Ibadan team by Chief Awolowo, then the Premier of Western Nigeria. In the 1959 Challenge Cup competition, Dejo Fayemi played at the left flank, with Ekpe senior manning the right flank and Thunder Balogun in the centre forward position.
Ibadan FC played against the Onitsha FC in the semi-final. It was a drawn game at the end of play. Extra time was granted and Ibadan FC scored three goals without any reply from their opponents.
The stage was thus set for the final of the Challenge Cup match in 1959 at Onikan Stadium in Lagos. Ibadan FC met the Nigeria Police FC at the final. It was as if the Ibadan FC played against Ominu the goalkeeper of the Police team because he saved a lot of goalbound shots. The shouts of “Thunder” rented the air. In response to the fans demand, Thunder Balogun scored two quick goals. And for the first time, Ibadan FC won the Challenge Cup.
The Liberty Stadium, now called Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Oke-Ado, Ibadan, was commissioned in 1959. Ibadan FC played against the Sheffiled Wednesday FC of the United Kingdom at the official commissioning of the stadium. Dejo Fayemi played the only penalty awarded against the visiting team. After the match, Dejo Fayemi, alias “Denton”, was honoured as Nigeria’s Best Player of the year in 1959.
At the peak of his football career in 1959, he married his lovely wife, former Miss Cynthia Olufunke Pedro who is now late. He played for the National Soccer Team then called the ‘Red Devils’ in 1959 and beyond. Some of his team mates during his football career were Pa. Ayo Adeniji, Tesilim ‘Thunder’ Balogun, Ekpe Senior and Junior, Okwudili, Onyeador, Onyeawuna, Ominu, Rafiu ‘Kundi’ Akinbode and Olu Onagoruwa amongst others. Pa Fayemi left the shores of Nigeria in 1961 when he gained admission into the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology in the United Kingdom where he bagged the Full Technologist Certificate in Building in 1967. He lived with his wife, Cynthia, at 58, Warkworth Terrace in Cambridge UK not far from a park where he was practising daily and helped to coach young English footballers. He played for Oxford United FC between 1962 -1963 and later joined the Cambridge City Football Club, UK from 1963-1967.
From the beginning of football in Nigeria till today, you cannot count up to ten left footed footballers of the class and proficiency of Fayemi. Between him, Albert Onyeawuna, Haruna Ilerika the jury is still out on who was the most prolific dribbler, but one major difference was that Fayemi combined his dribblings with scoring which probably set him apart.
He returned to Nigeria in 1967 with his family and played for the former WNDC FC now the 3SC FC Shooting Stars of Ibadan from 1968 – 1975. He was a player/coach for WNDC between1970-1973. WNDC FC won the Challenge Cup in 1971 when it defeated the popular Enugu Rangers FC. He captained the I.I.C.C. Shooting Stars in 1972 in his last game against Accra Hearts of Oaks FC of Ghana. Pa Fayemi worked for the I.I.C.C. from 1976-1978 and later joined Odua Investment Company Limited from 1979 -1986. He became a senior coach at the Oyo State Sports Council from 1993 -1999. He was a senior coach of 3SC of Ibadan that won the Professional League Cup in 1998/1999 season and also the WAFU Cup during the same season. He was honoured by the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (C.C.I.I.) in 2004.
Fayemi was our hero at Oke Foko, Ibadan, Western Region, Nigeria and indeed Africa.
He was a gentle man and role model, on and off the football field. I served many times as a football boy to him during epic soccer matches at the former Liberty Stadium (now Obafemi Awolowo Stadium), Oke-Ado, Ibadan in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
In latter years, we became close on cultural and traditional matters. Pa Fayemi was a good leader, with large patience, open heart and great listening ears. He was invited to my 65th birthday book launch/luncheon on October 27, 2015 at Agodi Gardens, Ibadan. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make my party, but he sent his warm wishes to me. Our last discussions centred mostly on how he would get my birthday gift across to me.
Fayemi, the gentleman, patriot and soccer wizard of the touchlines is gone. Little wonder the juju music maestro, Ebenezer Obey, in 1972, eulogised him in one of his LPs along with Thunder Balogun and Haruna Ilerika.
May the gentle soul of the late international rest in peace. Amen.
Alabi is Agba Akin Olubadan of Ibadanland.