Remembering Sam Okwaraji...

The rather posh club teemed with frenetic people in the heart of the South African suburbs. I was one of the people there, relaxing, watching live on TV the FA Cup football match between Spurs and Bolton. 
I winced with many others when the game was abandoned late in the second half, no thanks to a Bolton player collapsing in horrific fashion on the pitch. It was Fabrice Muamba, who was apparently having a heart seizure!
The paramedics got in on the act, rushing to help Patrice on the turf.
Players were shocked; some like Spurs’ Jermaine Defoe were in tears. TV shots showed some people among the crowd, mainly women crying too.
A horrible, constricting feeling gripped me. Déjà vu! I have gone through this before! Of course - as my mind reeled - it was that terrible day in August 1989 when Nigerian player, Sam Okwaraji had collapsed and died in Lagos during a football match!
How well I remember that ill-starred, repugnant match back in 1989! In those days I used to shuttle between Ibadan and Lagos mainly, and like other young football enthusiasts, I wanted to be at the then National Stadium in Surulere (Sports City) to watch the World Cup game between Nigeria and Angola live.
But that day, my friends and I were having too much fun, procrastinating, and although we were already in Lagos, we did not exactly make it to the stadium. We were ensconced at a joint at Palm Grove, eating and drinking. We decided to watch the game live on TV - like many others who thronged the joint.
I recall, even now, that although Nigeria won the game 1 - 0 it was a difficult match. Etim Esin, one of my favourite players in those days, lit up the game with some scintillating runs, but when Sam Okwaraji went down and was carried off, very few people could have imagined that the fit, young man would soon be giving up the ghost.
Yet by early next morning the whole nation was horrified to learn that Okwaraji was dead! The melancholic news was splashed all over front pages of national dailies then! Some might recollect that a certain national newspaper then got tough with its editor for missing out on this story, but that is neither here nor there.
Sam Okwaraji, the fine player and patriot, dead! Yet years later  (2003) Cameroon’s Marc Vivien Foe would suffer the same fate, and die, whilst playing for his country at the FIFA Confederations Cup. And experts say about 40 players worldwide have suffered this fate in the new millennium alone!
So the whole world prayed for young Fabrice Muamba of Bolton as he fought for his life in a London hospital. By press time it seemed he was somewhat on the way to recovery. Good luck to him....

Omoseye Bolaji
From: South Africa


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