SUPER Eagles head coach Stephen Keshi and former skipper Austin "JJ" Okocha have applauded the organisers of the Nigerian Centenary Awards UK saying it is an admirable way of honouring Nigerians who have served the motherland with distinction over the years.
Due to take place at Waltham Forest Town Hall in east London on June 27, the Nigerian Centenary Awards UK in Collaboration with Ben TV, will involve awards given out to 100 outstanding Nigerians in the UK over the last century. It has been put together to honour Nigerians have excelled in numerous fields of endeavour across the UK including sports, medicine, law, business, engineering, the media, commerce etc.
Among the recipients will be several Nigerian footballers who have excelled in the UK, dating back from 1949 when Nigerian football first came to light after a visit by the national team. Dubbed the Nigerian Tourists, the national team played three friendly games in England, barefoot, delighting the crowd with their silky skills and trickery.
This tour opened the way for Nigerian footballers to come to England as six years later, Teslim "Thunder" Balogun signed a professional contract with Peterborough United in 1955. Ever since then, the English and Scottish leagues have always had Nigerian players featuring for the clubs and the first ever black player to play for England was Benjamin Odeje who featured for England Schoolboys against Northern Ireland in 1971.
Keshi said: "It is nice to know that a group of Nigerians have seen it fit to honour and respect the contribution certain footballers have made to the country and the UK over the years. Just like the Nigerians who succeed in other areas, the become a top footballer, you need to put in dedication, determination, a lot of hard work and sacrifice."
Okocha, who had a distinguished career in the UK himself, captaining Bolton Wanderers in the English Premiership for four years between 2002 and 2006, followed by a brief stint with Hull City, said it is nice to see footballers recognised. In March 2004, Okocha was named among the top 125 living footballers by Brazilian legend Pelé.
Both Keshi and Okocha were in London for the Super Eagles friendly game against Scotland taking place today at Fulham's Craven Cottage ground. Due to kick off at 8pm, the match will be the first in a series of friendlies the Eagles play as they prepare for next month's World Cup in Brazil.
Ayo Akinfe, the chairman of the Nigerian Centenary Awards UK planning committee, said: "Football is so central to our being as a nation as it is one thing that unites all Nigerians, so it is only appropriate that our event involves honouring some footballers. When the Super eagles play, everyone of our 170m citizens rallies round the team, so it would impossible to organise a Nigerian centenary awards ceremony without recognising a few footballers."
Ronke Udofia, the chairman of the awards sub-committee, added: "As a community, we have come a long way over the last 100 years with a lot of Nigerians achieving a lot in the UK in various fields. Sports is one of the sectors in which we will celebrate those hardworking and industrious people who have defied the odds and excelled."
Kate Anolue, the vice chairman of the Nigerian Centenary Awards UK, said that sports is a vital tool in Nigeria's socio-economic development as it provides hitherto unavailable opportunities for disadvantaged youths. She added that many young people who went on to have successful sports careers might not have been so fortunate had they not had access to football.
To emphasise this point, coach Keshi has written a goodwill message in the event programme, offering his full support. In his message, Keshi regretted the fact that as the gala dinner taking place on June 27 will be holding during the World Cup, he, his assistants and players will be unable to attend.
For more information contact:
Tijani Abass Jumoke Ariyo
DJA Media Secretary, Nigerian Centenary Awards UK
07946 811 253 07946 126 561
Chair, awards sub-committee, Nigerian Centenary Awards UK
Chair, programmes sub-committee, Nigerian Centenary Awards UK
07957 581 703
+44 208 808 8800