Football Gives Me Joy- Coach Ezeokafor

By Uche Enem

Coach Donatus Uchechukwu Ezeokafor spent 18 years during his active football days in Nigeria. He is from Umuoka Kindred in Nduana village of Aguluzigbo. He was born 10th April and had most of football experiences in Delta state where he spent 17 years before coming down to Anambra State for grass root development in sports. He derives so much joy in sports to the extent he has given his life into football growth and development. Life wasn’t smooth for him especially in the area of trade and service; but he still strived till he fulfilled his dream and passion in Football. I hope you find this piece of his life inspiring. 

How did your sports life began?

Sports have been part of my life since childhood. I participated in sports during my primary and secondary school days. I attended Igboamaka Primary School, Aguluzigbo. I couldn’t continue my education at that time because of financial constraints. After my primary school, I left to Lagos in 1975 to join the business trade. When I started business, I began to take part in different line of education. I went to Ori Secondary School, Ojo. Before the exams, I was transferred to Ilorin in 1980. From Ilorin I moved to Ibadan in 1985. I went to Gboko, Benue State in 1980 and played football. At Gboko, I played Igbo league and later joined BCC in 1986 and 1987. When Coach James Peter came down from Abiola Babes to Gboko with his players, he dispatched all of us and began to use his players. So this made me to leave Benue State in 1990. From Benue, I moved to Sapele, Delta State to continue my Football Career in 1991.  I stayed for a while in Sapele before moving to Ibuza and then later to Isele Ukwu. This was where I settled and lived for 17 years. During my stay in Delta State, I went for my coaching course in 1996 at the Nigeria Institute of Sports (NIS), Lagos for my Grade 3 and then later my Grade 2 when I was still handling Delta State team who were preparing for the Imo State Sports Festival (Imo 98’).

In 2007, I was called to handle a team that played National League in Anambra state, so that was how I left Delta State for Anambra State. The team was owned by the former Commissioner for Environment, Ifedi Okwena. I managed the team for two years before it was disbanded. So I entered into grass root sports development. Later on I went to Kaduna to handle NUB that played in National League Division 2. I lost the opportunity because I was told that I was too young to handle a National Team. So I was advised by one Editor of Sports Link, Danlami, to build a team from U- 14 team and above first before moving into the National Team. So when I went back to Delta State, I raised a team called Olidbo Shooting Star between 1998/ 1999. I prepared the team to represent Delta State at Akanubiam Unity Cup, Ebonyi State in 1999. After the competition, I continued working in Delta State till 2007 when I was called to Anambra State.

Before 1998, I had my own team called Nuem Ojie Babes. It played in the State League in Delta in 1995 till 1997 when it faded away because of no sponsorship. So I took up Onuchugbo Highlanders. From there, I was able to get the team that represented Anaocha North Local Government in the State Festival and we came 3rd at Imo 98.

All my life is sports. During my primary school I was the youngest player among men and I was a good striker on the field.  When I was at Ilorin, I was picked in the first National U-17 player in 1985 but due to the fact I was serving somebody, I wasn’t given the opportunity to come out to join them in their trainings.

Presently, I am at Community secondary school, Aguluigbo where Dynamic Academy is located. In the Academy we have four teams like Still FC and Obeledu United and we have partnership and sponsorship from Lagos. The Obeledu United has the partnership and sponsorship of Chika Ilozumba.

How many of you are in your family?

We are 3 boys and 3 girls. I am the second child

Can you share some of your fulfilling moments so far in Sports?
One of my joyful moments was when we won the cup in Gboko in 1985. The game was played according to communities living in Gboko and I played for Nanka team. I was the toast of the tournament.  . I was the best player of the tournament.

Another moment was in 1981 when I came with my team from Lagos to play Africa Championship. We were the youngest team among the all branches that played in the championship and we did our best in the game.

Also, when we defeated Togo during the West Africa Elimination in 2009. We won the match with 2-0.

During State Festivals in Anambra State in 2008. I led the Aguata LGA team. The male team came first while the female team took the 3rd position and more others. I have won many other laurels in various competitions that I can’t really recall now. I am so much interested in marketing these players so that they can feel the game outside the country. To raise a formidable team is not easy especially at the grass root level. World players were developed by people and so it is our duty to develop these young talented players in their football dreams. I am so happy that in the last U-17 World Cup, two of my players made the team but they joined U-20 that went to South Korea in 2017. Some others are in abroad making name and we are still training others here to become greater.

What are your challenging moments so far in Sports?

The major challenge is finance. As we face the challenge, we try as much as possible to tackle them by meeting people who will help and support these players. The reason why we primarily need the government support is because of the need to expose these players at national tournaments so that the world will see them. But since the Nigeria system is not helping matter, we keep striving and doing our best to achieve best results.

In Delta state, I was faced with nepotism because I wasn’t an indigene of Delta state. Most times, I was always tossed around even when they knew I was very competent for the job.  And sometimes when I do the job and I end up hearing stories. When I came to Anambra State I felt I was home. I asked myself this question, ‘if Delta state has been developed to the extent of having mini stadium in every local government, then why can’t Anambra achieve the same feat?’  Delta state has State League Division 1 and 2.

Coming down to Anambra wasn’t so easy because we lacked stadium and sporting facilities.

So what’s your favorite food?

I am a vegetarian and I don’t have favorite food. I love fruits and vegetables.  I don’t have problem with my body because I am very fit to run long distances.

So what’s your favorite colour?

I love yellow and green

What year did you get married?

I married in 1993 and wedded in 1994.

How many children are you blessed with?

I have 6 children. 2 boys and 4 girls. Two are married while two are about to graduate.

Are any of your children into sports?

Sports is something that you must have passion for. Some like sports but hate the drills. My last child who is a girl is good in athletics

What can you say about sports and education?

Sports and education are intertwined. Sports helps in many areas of life. It helps students to be smart, intelligent and increases your learning abilities. It helps in concentration during studies. Presently, it is very difficult to combine your job with active sports because in one way or the other, you will have to drop one and focus on the other because sports is really time consuming . Notwithstanding, sports exposes you to meet people and sports creates a friendly atmosphere. Sport helps in body development and mind.

In my academy, I made education a compulsory task. We teach the physical, spiritual and theoretical part of it. Many of my athletes who went to Universities ended up becoming Director of Sports, Course Representatives and other uncontested positions because of their smartness. Some people go into the seminary not because they primary want to become a priest but because they want to receive moral discipline.

In my academy, we drill them in areas they feel may not be important to their wellbeing. We teach them computer studies and other subjects that will help in the mind development.

As an experienced coach, how will advice a novice the techniques, rules and laws in Football?

Sports is a passion. If you don’t have passion for it, don’t go there. Those with the passion have the zeal and they are the ones that become fruitful. It is what you have that you give out. In football, ball mastering and manipulation is very important. In football we don’t need second best rather we need the best. We need people who are exceptional in the game. Those who are doing well are those who are playing exceptional.

What’s your advice to the State and Federal Government?

The government should invest on the Local Football Academies because they are building the future. Within a space of 2-3 years, the football environment will change for better. For example, Brazil has so many Football academies and has made Football one of the curriculums for their schools. This is why they produce best players in the world. Many other countries have joined this trend.

Nigeria has Abuja College but now I heard it has been shifted to Rivers state. The government should look at sponsoring functional academies. For example in Delta State, local governments receive quarterly subventions by the government to help boost sports in the state. This is part of the reasons why they do great in most of the National Competitions they participate.

They should invest in sports. By doing this, they are creating an enabling environment for youths to develop themselves from roving round the streets. If the government can sponsor a workable and functional academy, sports will go far in the state. Also, they should go back to schools (primary and secondary) to spur students towards achieving their best in sporting activities. Sports is like religious studies because it contributes moral discipline to the society and it restricts these youths from going into the street to mess themselves up. The government should employ and train coaches.

The Nigeria government has neglected the essence of sports in the country. This is why the white men created many rooms for sports like divers, swimmers, boxers and many other sports in other to keep these children close to them and avoid them from engaging into juvenile delinquencies. I advice government to invest in sports and to take Academicals serious in the state

Sports festival is no longer holding anymore. Sport festivals could help athletes mix up and interacts with people from other tribes. This creates unity and cooperation in the society. Languages could be learnt, culture and religion can also be studied. This is why in my academy, we have some players who are from the North and some from the West. The government should take U13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 games serious to help Nigerian youths grow.

What are your other hobbies apart from sports?

I love music and singing.