They say patience is a virtue; indeed the foremost football team from eastern Nigeria, Enugu Rangers, have been patient for the last 32 years.
The ‘Flying Antelopes’ are very close to lifting a first title – be it league or FA Cup.
One of the stalwarts of the last title win, Onyedika Ifeanyi said, “I never expected that we would have to wait this long to witness another win.
“But I am grateful to God for keeping me alive to witness this occasion,” he told PREMIUM TIMES at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu.
When they host El Kanemi Warriors on Sunday at the ‘Cathedral’, the players led by Coach Imama Amakapabo, would be just 90 minutes from a historic triumph.
The amiable coach was quite ebullient when he related the 38-week journey that has put him on the precipice of history.
“First of all, I just believe it was the right time and that God ensured that I was here.
“People have always used my head but this season, God ensured that I was the head,” he said.
For many who do not know the story, this is Coach Amakapabo’s first time being the head coach of any club in Nigeria. He has assisted many top-rated coaches at Sharks, Kano Pillars, Enyimba, under the likes of Kelechi Emeteole, Okey Emordi, Paul Aigbogun, etc.
“When I was told that I would be the substantive Rangers coach before the start of this season, I begged to be given the opportunity to fail or succeed, all on my own.
“I asked to be given the powers to recruit the players I wanted and to instill the discipline I wanted.
“I can proudly say that all the players in this team were recruited before the season started and not one was added in mid-season,” he added.
The Commissioner for Youth and Sports in Enugu State, Charles Ndukwe, agreed with the coach that God made it happen for the team, as he sang the Rangers song – ‘Holy Holy Enugu Rangers is another champion…’
“if you look through the season, you will see God’s hand over this impending win,” he stated in Enugu.
“You know that by calculation, there were matches which we lost, especially to Rivers United in Port Harcourt [in Week 13] and Wikki Tourists also lost to Nasarawa United even though they led that game 1-0 until the closing stages. Wikki lost 2-1 as we also lost 3-1.
“There was also the game between Kano Pillars and Enyimba in May. If Pillars had won that match, they would have gone top of the league but they lost 2-1.”
He then explained further, “There are two teams in the NPFL, that you would not want ahead of you on the table – Pillars and Enyimba, because they are tough to catch when they seize top spot.”
Rangers scored the most goals – 60; got six draws on the road notably against Wikki and Enyimba in July and won three away games, most importantly against Ikorodu United last weekend in Abeokuta.
Now the players are waiting for the Naira rain as promised by some stakeholders after taking pay cuts.
“Most of us [players and coaches] took pay cuts at the beginning of the season but God is about to restore,” Coach Amakapabo said.
And what restoration! A day after Nigeria’s 56t Independence celebrations, Enugu Rangers would regain the highest point in league football, after a 32-year wait. There is definitely cause to celebrate.