Festus Odini: ‘I was like in heaven’ – Surulere’s World Cup-winning hero. By Ayo Olanipekun

Festus Odini: ‘I was like in heaven’  – Surulere’s World Cup-winning hero. By Ayo Olanipekun

September 4, 1993 marks a memorable day in the life of one of Surulere’s greats. With the likes Kanu Nwankwo and Wilson Oruma, history was again made when he won the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Japan. Nigerians were not only expectant but pensive as the young Odini won the World Cup for Nigeria. Born 40 years ago to James and Janet Odini in Delta State he migrated at an early ago to Surulere. At a young age he started playing football, which was inimical to his parents’ wishes, but the young Odini persisted. Scouted by Coach Kamuredeen at the Eagle Club on Adeniran Ogunsanya, he said, ‘Football has been in-built and I resolved to make it a career and today I thank God for rewarding me with a World Championship.’ An attacking midfielder, he was instrumental in providing the likes of Nwankwo, Oruma and Peter Anosike who scored Nigeria’s winning goal against Ghana in the 1993 Under-17 World Cup in Japan.

On his memories about Surulere, he said: ‘I will always be grateful because of the Youth Empowerment Programme that was put in place by the local government authority.’ Rewarded by the federal government with the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON), he played for Obanta United, which metamorphosed into VIP (Vigilante Insurance Professionals owned by Chief Teluwa.

Internationally, he played for Tenis Borrussia and Kaisers Leverkusen in Germany from 1994 to 2002 but his career was cut short by injury.

Odini now engages in grass roots training of youths in Surulere. As he said, ‘My dream is to discover and groom young pupils to become world champions like me, especially here in Surulere where I made my breakthrough.’

He opined that government should do more to encourage football at the grass roots’ level because football has not only brought him into the limelight in Surulere but other prominent but also the likes of Nwankwo and Oruma.

Presently, he said that apart from the football academy he still plies his trade with the All-Stars team, comprising former Nigerian football internationals such as Victor Ikpeba, Godwin Opara, Ganiu Ajide, a former chairman of Surulere local government and former Lagos State governor, His Excellency Babatunde Raji Fashola now ably representing not only Surulere but Lagos State in its entirety.

‘If given the opportunity I will want to contribute to the development of football in particular and sports in general in Surulere for the sake of Lagos State,’ were his last words to me as I prepared to leave.

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