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Tajudeen Disu: The Story of Rugged Defender            

P.M. News (Lagos)
May 29, 2001
Peter Demeyin
Lagos

The National Stadium was filled to capacity, the atmosphere was electrifying and the epoch-making occasion was the 1985 FA Cup final between the defunct Abiola Babes of Abeokuta and BCC Lions of Gboko.

As one of the highly-rated teams in the country, the Abeokuta-based team featured the best Nigerian players, while the cement company was an admixture of experience and green horns hungry for glory.

It was a thrilling encounter, during which spectators were, most of the time, at the edge of their seats. After both teams ended the encounter 1-1 at regulation and extra time, the normal spot-kick ensued to determine the victor and the vanquished. For ingeniously converting all of their five penalty kicks against their opponents who managed to score four, the pendulum of victory tilted in favour of Abiola Babes with a 6-5 goals tally. That FA Cup conquest became a watershed for the Ogun State team as that, significantly, was the first time they won the cup. That feat has remained evergreen in the memory of their captain then, Tajudeen Disu, who scored the last spot kick.

Recounting that encounter, Tajudeen Disu, who was in the fray, disclosed that they were destined for success that year because they had the goodwill and financial backing of their proprietor, the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola. He posited that it would have been a disaster for them to lose the cup that year, when considered after eliminating big teams like Rangers, 3SC and Stationery Stores at the preliminary stages.

"Again, the fact that we lost in the previous year's to the defunct Leventis United made it totally inconceivable for us to lose the cup again," he stated with a tinge of joy.

Disu spoke more on the match which he regards as the best in his entire career. He stated that as the last man and libero, he was specifically detailed by their late coach, Femi Ojo, to mark out speedster Dominic Iorfa, who was a nightmare to goalkeepers and defenders alike. Even though Iorfa gave the BCC the push to fight back, when he equalized late in the second half after Dehinde Akinlotan put Abiola Babes ahead, the tall former Nigerian junior international exonerated himself from blame for the goal.

"Iorfa got to the ball before me and placed the ball beyond the reach of Raymond King even before I got to him. There was nothing I could have done," posited Disu, who, nevertheless, contended that he played well in the match.

For that epic match, Raymond King, ageless David Adiele, Dehinde Akinlotan, Yisa Sholofuwe and John Zakare filed out for Babes. Eagles full back, Kingsley Paul, Moses and the late Terfa Kpakor, Japhet Timothy and Dominic Iorfa were in the colours of BCC.

On winning the Challenge Cup, late M.K.O. Abiola announced many fantastic gifts to the players and for Tajudeen Disu, the match has remained a memorable reference point as it was his last competitive match in the country. Disu, afterwards relocated to the US after securing a scholarship to study at the Alabama A and M University, U.S.A., courtesy of the late Pillar of Sports in Africa, Chief Abiola.

Taking a retrospective look at his soccer career from the formative stage, the lanky defender acknowledged that even though he was enamoured by the game, he never had things easy with his late father, Surajudeen Disu, who never wanted him to pursue a career in soccer.

According to him, he started playing the game at Itire. Among his peers then were Yele Adegoroye, Lambert Ubaechi, Jimoh Ago and many others with whom he won several laurels in Surulere for his primary school.

For his secondary education, the defender attended St. Louis College, but wrote his West African School Certificate (WASC) at St. Timothy's College. Disu's talent as a defender was first noticed at the famous Baptist Academy where he had his H.S.C. from 1979 to 1981. He became an instant success at the school where he played alongside budding stars like Yele Adegoroye, Friday Johnson, Nkem Olisa, Yomi Babajide, Segun Olusesan, the late Obey Adedeji, Franklin Howard and keeper Emeka Adigwe.

Regrettably for Baptacad, as they were known then, in spite having the rare honour of being rated as pre-Principal Cup winners before the competition, they ended up losing to St. Finbarr's College in the quarter-final.

"During my time at the school, I can only say we weren't lucky because we had everything: good players, good coach, but we were just didn't have the luck to win the cup," he lamented.

For those who thronged the U.A.C. Stadium in Surulere from late 70s to the mid 80s, the exploits of the school boys club players, who combined studies with academics cannot be easily obliterated from their minds. They made the game thick by their exquisite skill and brought large followership to the stadium. Taju Disu was particularly outstanding in the central defence with his scissors kick with teams like Vono, Johnson Whyte, and the defunct National Bank.

Particularly noteworthy was his five-star display in the National Bank defence under the tutelage of Coach Dan Ajibode who had a pool of young stars like Paul Okoku, Segun Olukanmi Femi Olukanmi, Kweku Mensah, Azubuike Anioru, keeper James Timiye and Yemi Adebanji. The bankers at that time were the team to watch as they practically eclipsed all the teams in Lagos.

He stated that twice in 1978/79, the team beat Stationery Stores which paraded the great Wakilu Oyenuga, Olumide Banjo, Tarila Okorowanta and captain Audu Ibahim in the prestigious 1978 and 1979 Oba's Cup finals.

He also mentioned the late Coach Peter Anieke as one of those who helped to hone his skills, while he was playing at Youth Sports of Nigeria (YSFON). Some of the silver wares he won while with the YSFON team are the 1980 Gothia Cup in Sweden and the 1980 Dallas Cup in U.S.A. He was also in the victorious YSFON squad that won the 1981 Dana Cup in Denmark and the Brazilian President's Cup.

Expectedly, due to the experience and exposure he had with the YSFON team, sweat merchant of the 1983 Flying Eagles, the late Chris Udemezue, decided to integrate the nucleus of the YSFON team into the junior national team. Automatically, Tajudeen Disu became a member of the junior team being prepared for the Tessema Cup alongside stars like Chris Anigala, Dehinde Akinlotan, the Olukanni brothers, Paul Okoku and Wahab Adeshina.

Against all expectations, the team not only qualified as Nigeria's first team to make it to the 1983 Junior World Cup in Mexico, they beat countries like Gabon, Zimbabwe, Guinea and Cote d' Ivoire enroute winning the African Championship. Even though many Nigerians are wont to believe that the Flying Eagles that campaigned in the 1983 Junior World Cup in Mexico performed well, drawing against Holland, beating Russia and losing 0-3 to the eventual winners of the competition, Brazil in their group, Disu still fumes over the championship. His grouse is that the team ought to have won the cup.

"NFA bungled our chance in that competition because all things they ought to give the players were not given to them. They collected everything for their selfish ends," he lamented. As sad as the Mexico experience, Disu always prides himself for the way he marked out former European and World Footballer of the Year, Marco Van Basten in their match against Holland.

In a lighter mood, the former junior star relishes his stay in the United States as he frankly stated that he had all he wanted while studying at Alabama A and M University where he bagged a degree in Agricultural Economics.

Again, Disu explained that despite his overt distaste for coaching, he has a Masters degree in Sports Management. Many Nigerian footballers cannot forget the large-heartedness of the former Abiola Babes defender. As captain of Alabama A and M University team, Disu assisted some of his colleagues like goalkeeper Wasiu Adebayo, Tosin Adebambo, his brothers Akeem and Wasiu and Victor Ogunsanya by taking them to Gods' own country. He claimed that not less than fifteen Nigerian players got scholarships to study in U.S.A. through his contact.

The former defender explained that if he traversed this world again, he would still play the round leather game because the sport has brought him fame and fortune.

"I have been to almost every part of the world and I got the opportunity to study abroad because of soccer, so I cannot ask for more," he stated.

Like him, almost all his children have shown inclination to the game. Adiyat, his first daughter has taken to female soccer and the three boys: Waheed, Taiwo and Kehinde are all playing American Soccer.

For a man who left the shores of the country for over one decade ago, there isn't anything to explain about the country's sports development.

He is particularly piqued by the level of football development in the country. The adopted son of the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola noted that if the former Pillar of Sports were still alive, he would have given football the necessary direction. He averred that the game has continued to dip because of the way government has been handling it. "Square pegs are put in round holes and because of this, our football is being managed by the wrong people," he lamented.

He explained that despite the snail-pace of football development in the country, there are abundant talents capable of turning Nigeria to a world-beater.

He, nevertheless intoned that as much as he is not a radical, he is looking forward to a situation when people-oriented and selfless administrators will take over the Nigerian Football Association (NFA).

Copyright © 2001 P.M. News. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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