Innovative Olopade, from Hussey to Ogun sports boss
Though diminutive in nature, Olopade was able to bring fame to both Hussey College and BBHS with his great passes, delicate touches, dribbles and more essentially scoring with his head. The Ogun State Commissioner for Youth and Sports, who has brought a lot of turnaround for the state in the area of sports, was one of those who made school football a delight to watch in his early days in school. However, school sports in Nigeria is no longer the same and Olopade says the administrators should be blamed for their inability to pay back into the system that made them. He spoke with GOWON AKPODONOR in Abeokuta.
MANY prefer to call him Ozogula, a nickname he bagged far back in 1984 while featuring for his school in the Principals’ Cup in Abeokuta. Before then, the young Olopade had made a name for himself in the round leather game in Warri and its environs, playing for both St. Peters Primary School and the famous Hussey College between 1974 and 1983.
“All my life, I have always been a sportsman,” Olopade said. “I started playing right from the day I entered St. Peters Primary School in Warri in 1974, but actually started featuring in the school team when I was in primary five because I was the shortest boy in the group and was left in the reserved bench for some time.
“In Warri, we had what was called street football competition, where the children from Shell camp will play the children from NNPC camp or Aladja Delta Steel or even go to play Okere Road and from there, we built a soccer team.”
Now the longest serving sports commissioner in the country, Olopade noted that the nation’s school sports has suffered setback because a majority of administrators, who gained from school sports in the early days, have refused to pay back into the system. But he believes that the good old days could still return if only the government could move fast and bring life into the system.
From St. Peters, the young Olopade made his way to Hussey College, a producer of sports talents in the then Bendel State. He eventually left for Baptist Boys High School, Abeokuta in 1983. He recalled: “In Hussey College, the big boys like Clement Temile were playing and we, the smaller ones, dare not go near the field. But as a young Waffi boy, I do force my way into the team, especially when I noticed that the big boys were not around. It worked for me.”
However, his game was not all football: “I played a lot of table tennis but it was restricted to playing for Shell Club and Ogunu in Warri,” he said. “Then we used to play inter-estate competitions. My father was extremely a table tennis player and so I took after my dad. I also played table tennis at Hussey College then, but the best players who represented the school were the likes of Bob Blackson, who later became a footballer. There was also the likes of Samaja – we call him Mosquito. These are people who could play for the country at that time.”
With Warri blood flowing in his vein, Olopade became an instant hero the moment he crossed over to Baptist Boys, as he narrated: “The real opportunity to showcase my talent came when I got to Baptist Boys in Abeokuta. It was at BBHS that I developed the football culture, which I brought from Bendel State. In form three, I started playing for BBHS and was a regular in the school’s football team till the end of my secondary school career.”
At BBHS, he was like a small god to football lovers in Abeokuta and its environs: “I remember my first match in 1984, it was the quarter-final of the Principals’ Cup and our opponent was Egba High School. The match took place at St. Peters Secondary School and the crowd was marvellous,” he stated.
“As the match dragged on, I jumped to head the ball and it went straight into the net and somebody in the crowd shouted Ozogula because as at 1984, Samson Ozogula was scoring a lot of goals with his head for the New Nigeria Bank in Benin City and he had some Warri blood in him from Mac Dermot. So when they realised I am from Warri, they just started calling me Ozogula. That was how I got that name.
“From form three to five, I became the toast of secondary school football in the Principals’ Cup competition in the whole of Abeokuta area, and of course the entire Ogun State.”
Nevertheless, his goal against Egba High School in the quarter-final match in 1984 was not enough to take BBHS to the semi-final, as they lost on penalties, a defeat that Ozogula and his team were able to avenge the following year by beating Egba in the same quarter-final stage. He explained: “We avenged the defeat the following year and that took us to the Principals’ Cup semi-final against Premier Grammar School, Abeokuta.
“There was a protest and darkness was approaching, so the match was stopped. But to our greatest surprise, the match was given to Premier Grammar School. It was so painful because we had the game in our hands for us to win and it was the first time BBHS got so close to playing in the final of the Principals’ Cup in the Egba zone.
“I was looking forward to playing against Wasimi Grammar School, which had Ike Shoromu in goal then, but the power that be gave the match to Premier Grammar School because of people like coach Okunwa, who was the coach of Premier Grammar School then. It was also a painful experience because Premier Grammar School had the likes of Richard Tomino, who was the goalkeeper of UCC in Warri when I was in form one.
“And when I saw him again playing for Premier Grammar School, I knew that the school was using mercenaries. The only real student that played for the school then was Nojeem, we call him ‘Shaky Shaky’. He was the captain of Premier Grammar School, and one Sheriff, who is a lecturer in Mapoly today. The others were club players hired by the school, yet they couldn’t beat us. We were playing the best football of our lives but the Sports Council people did their ojoro and gave the match to Premier Grammar School.”
The disappointment of losing to Premier Grammar School not withstanding, Ozogula and the gang went on to humiliate Abeokuta Grammar School 7-1 at Lisabi Ground in the quarter-final of another edition of the Principals’ Cup competition. About that he disclosed: “I remember playing that match with a lot of fun. I really enjoyed myself and when it was 4-1, I signalled to my coach that he should remove me because we were playing them like kids. I made a lot of jest at them with the ball. I was just playing the ball over their heads. That was in 1985.”
That same year, Olopade and co met a stiff challenge against Oko-Ona Grammar School, a game he described thus: “My toughest match was against Oke-Ona Grammar School in 1986 at Egba High School play ground. The competition was played in a league format and we needed to win the match and they needed a draw to progress.
“The likes of Obisco and Babisco (now late) were playing for Oke-Ona then. Both of them had played for my school (BBHS) and had graduated but went to re-sit at Oke-Ona. We needed to win that match but Oke-Ona played like their lives depended on that match and they got the draw, which was not good for us.
“It was the first Principals’ Cup match that my dad and my siblings came to watch and so it was also very painful because the venue of the match was a stone throw from our family house in Car Wash, Abeokuta. Everybody in the neighbourhood came to watch that match, shouting Ozogula, Ozogula and I couldn’t deliver that day. I played so well but I couldn’t deliver the match for BBHS. It was my toughest match in my Principals’ Cup career.”
While in secondary school, Olopade got several calls to the state’s football team. He added: “I got called up several times by the state team, but unfortunately whenever you were called, you go and train and train but at the end, they would bring in the senior boys. The likes Papo Jokosenumi, Thompson and Kunle Obasere would come in the last minute and take your shirt and you would be sent back home, which is not good.
“That was why, when I became an administrator, I took it upon myself that if you are not a secondary school boy, you cannot play unless I don’t know you.”
Back to the dwindling fortune of school sports in the country, Olopade says that administrators are to blame. According to him, “administration is the problem we have in school sports because we as administrators have abandoned what made us what we are today. That is why there is failure in school sports system today. But if you notice in the last three to four years, Ogun State has been trying to re-awaken school sports.
“From the result we are getting now, you can see that we are working really hard. Under this government of Gbenga Daniel, we won Shell Cup competition twice, coincidentally with my school (BBHS). That is because we have done a lot of work.
“We now call it the Governor’s Cup, which we have yearly. The finals of the Governor’s Cup have always been packed full, with over 20,000 students from all over the state in attendance. I am grateful that we have started the journey and it is left for others to follow our footsteps. And I am very excited for this step taken by your newspaper (The Guardian) regarding school sports. It is a way of asking those of us who are administrators now how come school sports is suffering when we are part of it.
“I always look forward to this column (Heroes of School Sports) every Friday and I must say The Guardian is doing a wonderful job. I have read that of Taiwo Ogunjobi and I also read the one on Tony Urhobo, Seigha Porbeni and so many (others). It always gives a feeling of nostalgia whenever I read the article.”
He continued: “I am grateful to God that in Ogun State, we have the opportunity to give back to the young people. Aside from that, we also open opportunity for people to tap from and pick new talents. When you look at BBHS team right now or the Gateway football team, there are majority of U-15, U-16 and U-17 players that were drawn from the last Governor’s Cup.
“In our last match against Dolphin, two of the boys that played for Gateway FC were drawn from the Governor’s Cup three years ago. We are doing our best but I think we need to go back to basis and ensure that our football is waking from the grassroots. The best way to go about it is using school sports as a medium to raise new talents and we must continue to do it.”
Olopade has a message for parents: “They must encourage their children to do sports. Apart from the fact that sports is medically advisable, when you look at the number of families that are benefiting from sports today, either directly or indirectly, you would agree with me that the important source of economic development or economic empowerment anywhere in the world today is sports.”
He further advised the youths to strive hard and build a career for themselves while in school. According to him, “they must be dedicated, hardworking and have the fear of God in whatever they do.”