Brodrick-Imasuen: Reliving a lifetime of scintillating football
Friday, 08 April 2011 00:00
OLALEKAN OKUSAN Sport - Home
At 73, Sebastien Brodrick-Imasuen is as fit as fiddle. The reason for this is not far-fetched: For over five decades, he was actively involved in football as a player and coach. The 1985 World Cup-winning coach was a school athlete at Bishop Shanahan College in Orlu, Imo State, in the 1960s when he captained the football and tennis teams. As a pupil at St John Primary School, Onitsha, where he featured for the school in various competitions, his passion for football was just gaining foothold in his life, and on moving to Bishop Shanahan College in 1955, Brodrick-Imasuen became an integral part of the school colts (junior) team and within a short period of time, he set a record of becoming the first junior player to make the school senior team.
At several competitions, he single-handedly lifted his team and this prompted the coach to hand him the captaincy as a fourth year student, which also made him the first player to captain the school team as a non-class five student. Aside football, he captained the school’s tennis and table tennis teams while he was as well involved in athletics, but football pulled him with an unrivalled urge. He was instrumental to the victory recorded by Bendel Insurance during the 1972 National Challenge Cup. The erstwhile national team skipper told OLALEKAN OKUSAN at his Benin residence that though he was unable to further his education, he thanked God for the success he achieved playing football.
TO Sebastian Brodrick-Imasuen, football is life. All his endeavours revolve round the game and it was through the sport that he became famous. His mesmerising skills endeared him to many at St John Primary School in Onitsha in the 1950s and he was nicknamed “The Incurable Disease” because of his proficiency at dribbling. From his secondary school at Bishop Shanahan College Orlu, he started featuring for UAC Football Club and this aided his migration to Lagos after he was singed by the Electric Corporation of Nigeria (ECN) Football Club.
The septuagenarian recalled how he began his romance with football: “For me, engaging in sports was natural because I found while in primary school that I was the best in my group, especially in football. I noticed that I had the talent, which I developed, as nobody taught me how to play the game, it was a natural phenomenon. I later learnt that my father played tennis, which I believe I took after him though I never saw him play,
“In my primary school at St John Primary School in Onitsha, there were not much competitions to take part in but I remember I was always a regular in practice or any match we had to play. I was nicknamed ‘Incurable Disease’ because I dribbled a lot and was unstoppable whenever I dribbled.”
Brodrick-Imasuen enjoyed playing football his prowess aided his admission into Bishop Shanahan College. As he said, “after sitting for my admission examination to Bishop Shanahan College, Orlu, my sporting prowess indeed aided my admission because in those days, if you passed the entrance examination and go for interview, it was just a formality for you if you were a good sportsman.
“When I went for this, there were lots of sportsmen and they wanted everybody to show his or her skills. But when I got to football, I was so good that they never bothered to try me in other sports to quickly conclude that I had passed the interview.”
In his first year at Bishop Shanahan College, he made the school colts’ team, but never spent much time with the team as he got an automatic shirt to join the senior team even as a junior student. He revealed: “In those days, we had the junior team called the Colts team and it was made up of students from class one to three while students from class four to five constituted the senior team. On gaining admission to the school, I started playing for the junior team from my first day in school and as a junior student you cannot play for the senior team.
“But I was so good that I started playing for the senior team as a junior student. Though I was small, my skills made up for me in the team. Also, in the senior team, it is only class five students that were allowed to captain the team but I was made the skipper when I was in class four. So these were my records in the school team.”
Taking a cue from his father, Brodrick-Imasuen was also exceptional in tennis and table tennis, where he became the captain of the school teams: “Aside football, I played tennis to the extent of becoming the captain of the school tennis as and table tennis teams,” he said. “I was also a member of the first 11 of the school cricket team. Though I did a bit of athletics by taking part in events like long and high jumps, including pole vault, I did not go further in other sports because I focused more on football. Also, most of my good friends I met while playing football in school.”
Brodrick-Imasuen was also a member of the Eastern school team that played against teams from Europe and it was during this match that he met Super Eagles’ former handler, Paul Hamilton. He recalled: “I will not forget in a hurry my last year in my secondary school in 1960, which was also the year of Independence. A team comprising players from schools in the eastern part of the country was camped in Enugu, which was the headquarters of the region at that time, and we were to play against a foreign team.
“It was there I met Paul Hamilton and our captain then was Friday Okoh, who is now late. We were assembled from different schools and I played in the second half of the match. Okoh was impressed with my performance and he encouraged me by telling me that some of us were the future of the game because we had the talents. We also did so well in the match.
“School sports was wonderful because parents were very much interested in sports but they did not want it in the early stage where it would interfere with our studies. People saw students who play football in those days as never-do-well students and it was after our era, when the game became business, that parents now encouraged their wards to play football.”
For him, football was all that mattered in life and he never regretted not pursuing his education: He said: “I did not go further in my academics because after finishing my School Certificate exams, all I wanted to do was playing football. Football was doing well and I never regretted not going to school because some of my colleagues used to envy me, saying that sometimes it was better to make names than to have all the money in the world. So I think a good name is better than riches. I was able to make name for myself in the game.”
After secondary school, he joined UAC FC and it was at one of the in-house competitions organised by the company that he attracted the interest of ECN officials. According to him, “during our time, we did not play much of academicals because in those days you go to school at older age, unlike now. I left secondary school at 22 in 1960 but now a student of that age is doing his or her masters degree in the university.
“But the most important thing is that we enjoyed what we were doing. When I left secondary school, I was at Onitsha playing for UAC football team with players like Oko, C.E. Asoluka and Sam Ibiam, who were all older players that were imported from Lagos. I was employed at UAC and I started playing for the football team. During one of the UAC games in Kano, I played so well that the person in charge of ECN Lagos, known as Walter Obiawun, came to watch us and was so impressed with me that he approached me to join the team in Lagos, which I agreed.
“Prior to joining ECN, Paul Hamilton had joined in 1961 and I was called up to join in 1962 and I started playing for ECN. Most of the top clubs in the country were based in Lagos and most of the national players were from these clubs. So if you were outside Lagos playing football, you had to come to Lagos because nobody would know about you outside Lagos. Within few months of getting to Lagos, I started playing for the national team under the late Dan Anyiam, who was the coach of the national team at that time.
“In those days, the national team used to camp in Victoria Island for the West Africa Championship Cup against teams from Ghana, Togo and a host of others. That was my first outing for the national team and since then I became a regular and featured for the team for nine years (1962-1971).”
With Ghana’s continued dominance over Nigeria, it was during the era of Brodrick-Imasuen that Nigeria broke the jinx of Ghana beating Nigeria with long margin. He recalled: “In the national team, we played lots of matches and it was then that Ghana used to beat Nigeria with big scoreline. But during our time, we broke the jinx by scoring lots of goals against Ghana. I could remember that we played against Ghana at the Liberty Stadium because construction work was going on at the Lagos National Stadium.
“Ghana had a fantastic goalkeeper called Robert Mensah, who stopped most of our shots in the first half. But in the second half, I got a ball from the midfield and took a shot over our own half of the field, and Mensah had come out for the ball. Unfortunately, the ball passed over his head into the net.
“I think that was one of the great goals I scored against Ghana in the 1960s and that was the only goal in the match and it was a great achievement for me and a big breakthrough into the national team. After that time, I did not look back as I was playing in most of the matches for the national team. I travelled all over the world with the national team.”
Brodrick-Imasuen captained the ECN team and won several laurels with the team in Lagos: “At ECN, we had a lot of duels with our arch-rival, Stationery Stores of Lagos,” he continued. “We used to beat each other but by the time we went for the Mexico Olympic Games in 1968, we were the champions then because there was no national league, the Challenge Cup was the mainstay then.
“As a club, if you were able to win one or two competitions, three quarter or half of the players in the team would form the bulk of the national team for the sake of blending and understanding. At the time we went to the Olympics in Mexico, we had players like Hamilton, Ekunwen, Muyiwa Oshode, Augustine Ofuokwu, Sam Opone, Willy Evans, Fred ‘Baba Alli’ and Ernest Ineh, all from Stores and ECN.”
Having played for ECN for eight years, he quit in 1970 to join Vipers FC, later named Bendel Insurance, where he played for two years before becoming the team’s handler. He spoke further: “At ECN and national teams, I was captain and after leaving ECN, I was employed at Bendel Insurance as coach/player. So I had very short time to play because I was guaranteed to later become coach of the team. In 1973, the government decided to send me for a coaching course in England. Prior to going abroad for training, I had attended series of coaching courses all over the country.”
For Brodrick-Imasuen, 1965 and 1985 are unforgettable years: “As a player, I will not forget 1965 when we won the Challenge Cup in Lagos against Mighty Jets of Jos. As a coach, leading the Nigerian team to win the maiden U-17 World Cup in China was a moment I will cherish forever in my life,” he said. “After joining Bendel Insurance, we made it to the final of the 1972 National Challenge Cup against Mighty Jets and the match was played at the Onikan Stadium in Lagos.
“We were leading 2-0 when they scored a goal but toward the end of the match, somebody used hand to throw ball into the net and the referee awarded the goal to Mighty Jets. But the fans were not happy with the decision and this led to chaos at the stadium because that ended the game. But later, a replay of the match was scheduled for Liberty Stadium in Ibadan and this was the first time a Challenge Cup final would be replayed and even played outside Lagos. Also, the government, which ordered the replay, sacked the centre referee for the stalemated match, Badiru.”
“In the replay match in Ibadan, we scored twice and Mighty Jets equalised. But being an assistant coach cum player for the team, I was on the bench throughout the first half and 15 minutes to the end of the match, I came at a time a free kick was awarded to the team in the centre of the field. I took the kick and it beat the Mighty Jets goalkeeper for the match to end 3-2 in favour of Insurance. This is the first time Insurance would lift the national Challenge Cup and it was indeed a great victory for the state, especially the sports loving Governor of Bendel State, Samuel Ogbemudia. For me, it was sweet victory, having won same laurel with ECN before joining Insurance.”
On his engagement as coach of the 1985 World Cup-winning team, he said: “I was lucky that while I was coaching the youths, some people were watching me. It was the late Anthony Ikhazoboh, who was NFA chairman that engaged me. I did not know that people noticed me when I took the Bendel State team to win the first National Sports Festival U-13 football event in 1973. I also took Edokpolor Grammar School to win the School Sports Championship at Liberty Stadium. We defeated St Gregory’s College of Lagos 3-1 to lift the trophy in 1983.
“I could remember that the late Dokun Abidoye was the chairman of Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria (YSFON) and they had a youth team and being the first time Nigeria was taking part in the U-17 World Cup, the late Ikhazoboh sent for me while I was coaching in Bendel State. At the same time, Delta Steel Company, Aladja, wanted me to coach its team and was dangling lots of incentives at me and the national assignment was also beckoning. So I decided to choose the national assignment.
“However, the main team of the U-16 was the YSFON team but when I got there, I observed that most of the players were from Bendel State and I knew that most of them had played in the senior team of some clubs. So I had to adjust quickly before we were thrown out over age cheat. So I got people from junior clubs like my captain, Nduka Ugbade, from Eagle Club under late coach Yemi Tella. I went to schools in Lagos to get more players into the team. This was how I assembled the players that won the World Cup in 1985.”
However, Brodrick-Imasuen believes that most African nations are guilty of fielding over-aged players for age grade competitions. He said: “Take it or leave it, most African countries are not honest about age. Even Saudi Arabia that won the U-17 in 1989 had men who had beard in the team. Even the MRI machine introduced to ascertain the age of players never helped the game. I think we should try as much as possible to be clean because you cannot have 100 per cent under-age players in a team.”
For young players, he said: “In Edo State, we now have soccer academies that lay emphasis on education and sports. The players must go to school before coming for training in the evening. We are educating our players to go to school and also take part in sports just like what FIFA and IOC are preaching now globally.”
Aside the fortunes that Brodrick-Imasuen got from playing football, his wife was one of the gains of the game. He added: “I met my wife through football as well but above all, at my age I am very healthy and I think football played a big role in my health that at 73, I have not been to the hospital for serious treatment. I thank God for this because this is what you cannot buy with money. There are people who had all the money in the world and are bedridden. I think remuneration comes second to my health.”