By Emeka Obasi
The Year of Independence, 1960, brought a harvest of accomplishments for left-back Fabian Duru. As Salaudeen Akano of the Navy lowered the Union Jack down Nigeria’s green-white-green, the footballer changed from red to green jersey.
The national soccer team was known as the Red Devils until October 1960, when a new name, Green Eagles, was adopted. Duru was team captain against the Ghana Black Stars on September 10, 1960. In October, he led the team to the West African Games, the first time green jerseys were worn.
It was in 1960 that the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) lifted the Challenge Cup for the first time. Duru was the captain of the Lagos Electricians to achieve it. It became a five-year contract when the team won again in 1965 and did so again in 1970.
ECN was on track to clinch a fourth Challenge Cup in 1975, with a dangerous forward, According to Adeleke, driving the attack. That ambition coincided with Enugu Rangers’ glory years. Both teams met in the semifinal. Sam ‘404’ Onyeaka made a huge difference. The Flying Antelopes headed home to victory.
Duru finished the year 1960 as Sportsman of the Year. It was the first time a footballer had won the award in Nigeria. They participated fully in the qualifiers for the Rome ’60 Olympics, although Nigeria was unable to do so. One player who shone but went halfway was Chris Ohiri.
When I met Duru in 1992, he was proud to inform me of his accomplishments in 1960. Last Red Devils captain, first Green Eagles skipper, Captain of Challenge Cup champions, ECN and Sportsman of the Year.
Duru never forgot the 7-0 humiliation Nigeria suffered in Ghana in 1955. Goalkeeper Carl ‘Gentleman’ O ‘Dwyer was made to look so ordinary. NFA Secretary General Effiom Okon and his assistant Oyo Orok Oyo never forgot that game until they passed away.
The defender also had reason to celebrate in Ghana. Nigeria won the Nkrumah Gold Cup just before President Kwame Nkrumah. The Osagyefo presented the trophy to Duru. Nigeria relied on the away goal rule after a 1-1 draw. The far right, Baba Yara, was the captain of the Black Stars.
Throughout Duru’s captaincy, Ghana didn’t have it easy with Nigeria. In their last game as the Red Devils, the hosts were forced to draw at two. Godwin Nnamoko and Dejo Fayemi scored for Nigeria. Edward Acquah’s brace saved the visitors.
The Nigerian team consisted of: Clement Andre in goal, Cletus Onyema, Duru, John Onyeador, Godwin Achebe, Dan Anyiam as defenders. In the middle were Godwin Nnamoko and Amusa Shittu. Fayemi and Boniface Okoro completed the list. Substitute goalkeeper Ezekwe warmed up the bench with Elknah Onyeali and Emenako.
Ghana had goalkeeper Dodo Ankrah, Captain Baba Yara, Ben Simmons, Emma Oblitey, Mamah Ankrah, Addo Odametey, Joe Aikins, Wilberforce Kwadwo Mfum, Acquah, Edward Aggrey Fynn and Mohamodu Salisu.
The referee was Kurt Tschenscher from West Germany. Ghana coach Joseph Ember also took over the Nigeria team later. Keeper Ankrah once served as Sam Ibiam’s backup at Accra Hearts of Oak. The Black Stars then won their first African Cup of Nations in 1963.
Duru was nicknamed “Mechanic” due to his robustness. He gifted me with stories from his outstanding display against visiting Moscow’s Dynamos in a friendly in Lagos. Once again, the game was played in 1960, an extraordinary year.
He said: “In 1960, during a friendly with Dynamos Moscow, I stopped a goal shot with a sliding tackle and the next day a newspaper headline appeared, ‘Duru Bites the Dust.’ I also got a miniature Sputnik with the other Nigerian players. “
In 1961 he left to continue his studies in the United Kingdom. Duru had trained as a teacher at Kafanchan, but studied Engineering at the University of Liverpool. To make ends meet, the player replied or …