Zubby: Player, Coach Recounts Dramatic Sports Life Story

Hello readers, you are welcome to this edition of Sports Profile. In our last edition, we x rayed the life of Umudu and his sports activities so far. In this edition, we will look at Coach Azubuike Okeke (Zubby). His sports life is quite interesting and motivating. Zubby is the second to the last child in the family of seven (3 boys, 4 girls). He was once a Football player but now he is Coach. During the interview, I pictured a great personality who could do anything to fulfill his passion for sports development. He spent most of his sports life in the North where he met great men like Mikel Obi and many top Nigerians who trained under him. Greatly affected by the 2009 Jos Crisis, Zubby now finds some of his fulfillment in DOSAD Football Academy where he works as a Coach. I hope you stay tuned to the end of this interview. Thank you

Coach Emmanuel Azubuike Okeke was born and brought up in Gusau Town presently under Zamfara State Capital, Dutse.  He hails from Anam in Anambra West Local Government of Anambra State. Football runs in the family blood of Zubby, so that triggered him in loving sports more beginning from his childhood. Also, his Elder Brothers and Cousins played Football in the country. The truth is that Zubby grew up in a family of Football.

Coach Zubby is 57 years old. He was born on the 2nd October, 1960. He looks healthy, strong with a sense of beauty embodied in him. The North which has been his home and shelter since childhood, ended up being the source of tragedy and misfortune for Zubby.

He attended Shettima Primary School, Gusau and graduated in 1975. He went to Nigeria Military School, Zaria for his Secondary School and then finished his Secondary Education at Government College, Gasau where he has rewrote his Geography exam. He left Secondary School in 1980.  After the interview, I took a deep breath and told myself that life was a hard knock and later on I smiled I said to myself, life is all about determination and passion.

Meet Zubby as a Player…

Coach Zubby started his Football career in Gasau where he represented the Old North Western States comprising of Sokoto State in Football, Basketball, Hand ball, Table Tennis and Lawn Tennis. In fact, he participated in almost all the sporting activities you could ever imagine. The only sports he didn’t take part in were Boxing, Judo and Karate. With his natural skills, Zubby captained and played for Sokoto State Academicals at National Sports Festivals in 1979 at Ibadan till 1981 where he greatly took part in the National Festival at Edo city. His rare skills in Sports took him far and wide even till the extent he played NIPOGA which is now called Polytechnic Games and NUGA Games while in Secondary School. In fact this gave him advantage over many others both in his Sports life and in his physical relationship with people.

As the popular adage goes, where there is life, there is hope. Zubby continued to wax stronger after his Secondary School and wouldn’t want to give up easily on his dreams. He started his First National League Games with Zamtex (Zamfara Textile Industry) and in 1979, he moved to Club 50 of Gusau till 1983. In 1984, he left for Hawks of Makurdi now Lobi Star of Makurdi where he showed his talents and skills. In 1987, he joined BCB Lions of Gboko. Later on, he joined Vascoda Gama FC in Enugu. When he left Vascoda Gama in 1990, he entered Premier Breweries, Onitsha in 1991.

After some time in Premier Breweries, he joined Jasper and then to Eagle Cement of Port Harcourt (presently called Dolphins of Port Harcourt). In 1996, he joined Niger Tornadoes and then left briefly to Ghana in 1998 to play with Accra Heart of Oaks On his return, he came back to Niger Tornadoes where he ended his active Football Career as a player in 2003. He plays NO 8

Fulfilling Moments as a Player…

Zubby has two striking moments as a player. One was when Zamtex FC (Zubby’s team) beat Abiola Babes in the FA Cup, 1984 at Ahmadu Bello Stadium, Kaduna, with 1-0. The Match was very significant and it made record in Nigeria because nobody ever thought the giants of Nigeria Football (Abiola Babes) could be defeated at that time because they were No 1 in the country. It was also a match nobody thought his team would win. According to him, the match gave him confidence that he will go places in playing Football.

Also, during the Old Anambra FA Cup between Rangers and Vasco da Gama FC where his team defeated the mighty Rangers Team. It was another moment of joy in my life

Also, in 1999 when Niger Tornadoes (Zubby’s team) defeated Rangers at National Stadium, Lagos during the FA Cup

Challenging Moments as a Player…

Zubby joined Premier Breweries FC in 1992 and that was where he wasn’t comfortable with some welfare issues. The same goes with Jasper FC. They didn’t take good care of their players neither did the management of Jasper and Premier Breweries give room for Job security which made most of his colleagues lost interest in Football while some others joined other Football Clubs for greener pasture

They could get a coach today and get him fired the next day. It made some of us to lose interest in the game. It triggered many of us to leave for other clubs. In spite of these, I have always maintained that Football is the profession I chose to live with. So whatever thing I see going on in a club, makes me less concerned because that is what I have the passion.

Zubby as a Coach…

Between 2002 and 2003, Zubby’s Coaching activities kicked off although he didn’t go to Nigeria Institute of Sport. He however has so much experiences in Football Coaching coupled with the fact he attended so many Coaching Seminars which has helped him in his Coaching experiences. As a coach, he started with Niger Tornadoes for a Season and later on joined Zamfara United where he worked as the Assistant Coach. Later on, he came to Jos to Coach.

Zubby’s fulfilling Moments as a Coach…

One fulfilling moment was when I was in Mighty Jets and we defeated Plateau United in the 2006 FA Cup. Presently, he finds joy in DOSAD Football Academy where he coaches the players. Another thing that gives me joy is serving God and having a strong personal relationship with God.  After Zuby formed Mgbakwu United, he stayed in Mgbakwu for a while until the announcement for Governor’s Cup in 2016. Zubby decided to train and develop Community Secondary School, Isuaniocha. Since the Principal didn’t like sports, the students didn’t engage in any sporting activities. But when he came, he was able to spur the students from the crash. He took up that interest and groomed them morning and evening at Mgbakwu Polytechnic till they marched victorious and won the Governor’s cup in 2016.

Zubby’s challenging Moments as a Coach…

Zubby’s challenge as a Football Coach was mainly in the area of Job security where a Coach could be hired today and fired the next morning. Another major challenge Zubby had in Sports was during the Jos Crisis in 2009 where he lost everything including his house and two cars. According to him, I left Jos with Knicker, no Shirt and with no Slippers. It was also fortunate that his family were living in the East when the crisis broke out. After the crisis, Zubby thought returning to Zamfara where he grew up but was advised to come back to the East. Immediately he returned to the East, he started the All Sports Foundation Football Academy, Nimo alongside with Coach Igboka. He was the first Coach that started the Academy. After some time, he left the Academy because he wasn’t fully taken care of as a Coach. So, he went to Mbakwu where he formed and raised up a Football Team called Mgbakwu United.

Zubby’s personal life and story…

Zubby got married in 2005 and he is blessed with two children (A boy and a girl).  His wife loves him so much that she understands him so much. He enjoys Rice and Tuwo Shinkafa as his favorite meal in the North and Rice and Stew here in the East. He takes his hobby to be making friends and singing Gospel Music. It is interesting to note that Zubby speaks and understands so many languages. He speaks Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Tiv, Nupe, Niger Language called Zabaramachi. As an Igbo man who grew up in the North, he understands Igbo very well but not fluent in Igbo like other languages. He takes pleasure in Yellow and White as his favourite colours.

I threw a test on Zubby to know more about his dream and life achievement in the years to come. I felt the great passion he has for sports. He strongly believes in himself that God will make him a worldwide coach so as to transform youths to be better players.

Other questions about Zubby’s personal and Sports experiences…

You were seriously engaged in Sports, so how were you able to manage your Sports life with your family responsibilities?

My wife understands the kind of profession I chose. It is only death that can make me part with football. This is why I need much support from my wife, children and family members. Combining sports with family responsibility is by God’s grace. Since I came back from the Jos crisis, I have been managing myself through the help of my wife and family friends. They have been of great support to me. I have a target which is in the line of Coaching, a great future which I strongly believe will manifest. I am so blessed by God with wisdom and the natural gift for coaching.

You have lived in the North and in the East, how will you compare Sports in the two Regions in the area of Sports Development?

Sports in the North in terms of management and grass root development is quite different from the South. In the North, Football competitions are sponsored by the government and the individuals who wish to sponsor Football whole heartedly not minding or taking it with business sense or looking at profits they will accrue. In the South, they love Football but not with so much passion like the North.  Football development started in the South before moving to the North but presently, the North has taken over because the South East most especially, believes in Business Football and this is why the sports development in the North is different from the South. For example, we could see that from the National Team. We have more Northerners than Southerners in the National Team. Ifeanyi Ubah Club in Anambra State has little percentage of Igbos in the club. Those who are from the South East mush have gotten their Football foundation from the North. In the South, they don’t fully believe in grass root development so they should borrow a leave from the North in that area.

With the coming of DOSAD Football Academy in Anambra State, it is giving more room for grass root development in sports. The things I am seeing in DOSAD is the same thing I am seeing in the North where you give grass root footballers the opportunity to play and develop their skills. Football in the South most times is played by matured adults and doesn’t give room for younger ones but in the North, you play Football as a kid from the grass root level. The best foundation for football success is by starting it at the grass root level. The times of Christian Chukwu and his other colleagues played football starting from the grass root level through Primary and Secondary School training.

What would you have studied if given the opportunity to go to a University?

If not because of Football, I would have become a Soldier today. Of recent, I met with a Catholic Priest who is in the Military (retired). I was marveled when I saw a Priest who was a Retired Army Officer. My aim of joining the Military was to be an army and still nurture my Football career. When I noticed that it wasn’t possible to do the two of them at the same time in the Nigeria Defence Academy, I left the Academy to focus on my Football career.

You have been a Player and a Coach too, how difficult is it?

Playing football is an act of talent. Some people play because they are talented naturally while some play as a result of continuous hard work. For example, let’s look at two world players, Rolando and Messi. Rolando plays as a result of hard work and training while Messi is a good player who plays as a result of natural talent from God. These are the two things I personally look at in Football. A Footballer could be talented naturally and another could get his as a result of hard work in learning. This also applies to coaching. There are Coaches who attend courses and acquire certificate but there are some others who didn’t attend Professional Coaching Training but with a lot of experiences on their head, they still perform well. Now, those coaches who didn’t acquire certificate go it naturally from God as a talent while some others who got it from Coaching Certificates got it as a result of hard work in learning. It is very important to have that certificate. In DOSAD here, the Coach, Emeka Ugwu has a certificate while I do not have a certificate

Coaching is not difficult. I don’t see it as something difficult especially when I put my mind to do it. If there is anything that gives me joy, it is coaching. In fact nothing on earth gives me joy on earth than coaching. I derive great pleasure and fulfillment in coaching because I see it as a talent and obligation I owe God. I coach with all my heart with no sentiment attached to it.

How would you explain to a novice, the benefits of being a player or a coach?

There are lots of benefits in sports but people are so impatient because they want to start reaping immediately.  Sports can be attributed to a farmer who put a grain of corn on the ground, clear the farm, till the ground, make ridges, pray for rain to fall and wait patiently for it to germinate till he reaps its fruits. This is the same way I look at sports. For example, in the Management of DOSAD, people think that the director is supposed to be swimming now in millions but they forget the fact that he is into sports development. I work under him and I know what he is going through. He is putting a lot into it not minding of himself what he gets out of it. He wants to see people grow which is a very big avenue to help people grow.

Football is a gift from God to poor families because no Governor or Senator’s Son plays Football neither do any multi-millionaire Son play football. For example, Mikel and his brothers played under me in Jos but now his parents and family members are enjoying the benefits. Fr. Obinna is trying to make some children to be of great help to their families. It might not be today but a journey of a thousand miles start with a step.

As a Coach naturally blessed with skills, how do you think Nigeria could make good use of your wealth of experiences?

I love speaking with bible quotes and I quote from the bible, ‘if my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves, seek my face, turn away from their evil ways, then will I hear them and heal their lands’. So, if people who are in charge of sports in the state could come down fully to youth and grass root development, very soon it will yield very good result. For example Trinidad Tobago FC came into Nigeria and took a coach from this country, Coach Festus Adegboye Onigbinde and developed their Footballers. The products of Trinidad Tobago who are currently playing are all products of Onigbinde training and development of the U-13 team. He really laid a foundation in that country.

The problem we have today is that the people who are in charge of sports in this country especially in Anambra State do not think on how to develop these youths. All they believe in is setting up a cup for competitions and making use of Adults even when selected cannot stay long in the Nigeria Football Team. How many years will they give the National Team if eventually chosen? They should come back to grass root development starting from Primary and Secondary School level because they are the ones with future for Nigeria Sports. Developing a cup and tagging it Traders Cup and Governor’s Cup for matured men is not a way of developing grass root sports.

If they eventually begin grass root sports development, they should equip school or Local Government Councils with a good Coach. It will help a lot.  A Games Masters of a school may not attain that perfection in coaching and training because most of them have little idea of Sports and coaching. I laid a Football foundation in Isuaniocha and after the competition in 2016, I stated the U-12, U-13 and today they are growing very well. Also, All Sports Foundation in Nimo is moving well because some of their players have been chosen by different countries. Some of them are in Turkey, some others in Italy and one is presently in IfeanyiUbah.

Presently, the Youth Development Center is in Shambles. I suggest, Anamabra State use the facilities for Camping for players and for youth development. In youth development, the youths are charged on habits such as alcohol intake, smoking, kidnapping that are very dangerous to them thereby reducing juvenile delinquency. And when they are grown, the discipline that has been given to them makes them better citizens of the country. For example, I have never smoked before in my life and the first time I took alcohol was as a Coach in 2005. I tell youths that such habits are bad. At my age I still do so many things a young person cannot do because I didn’t engage in such bad habits.

You are barely 57 years old. Do you still keep fit?

I train every day except Sundays

Do you also have special food that you eat to keep you stronger?

No special food, it’s just God’s grace that keeps me going

In summary, how do you think Anambra State can improve in Sports?

Get the right people to do the job. The right people shouldn’t just be people who are talented in training people but should be self willing in doing their jobs because sports development requires a lot of sacrifice on the side of the players and the coach. By doing this sacrifice, the state could grow. Also, the Anambra state government has Football Coaches who are doing not or less of what they are supposed to do. It is a pity to hear that the Great Anambra do not have a Team and still the Coaches haven’t been able to assemble Footballers to make up Anambra Team. Anambra state was known in Nigeria to be the home of Football but now it is no longer home for Footballers. The youths in this state leave to other states to play football and our leaders are not worried. In fact, the Coaches they have in the Sports Council are merely working. When competitions are organized, they call teams and select players they will use. If you get to some other states, Coaches are mapped in every Local Government and reports are given by these Coaches in their Local Government to the Chief Coach showing their progresses and challenges so far in that area. Although, Anambra State was formerly like that but now the story is different.

In the last gubernatorial elections, the youths were used in the campaign. If many of them could engage in sports activities, they won’t think of political campaign because sports is recreational and keeps you busy, relaxed and happy.

Thank you for this interview

You’re welcome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *