Many have heard about this match. Some think it’s an urban legend. Some think it’s only a joke. But only few know the truth.
A long time ago, few months after the end of the Nigeria-Biafra war, the Military Governor of Lagos decided to stage an exhibition match at the then glorious National Stadium Lagos. He thought it would be a special way of celebrating Nigeria’s victory in the war, a way of helping Lagosians to forget the sad bloody years that had just passed. He wanted to stage the match between Nigeria & Ghana but was advised against it. His advisers reminded him how Ghana trashed Nigeria 3-Nil at the 1960 Independence Match, that another loss to Ghana might defeat the purpose of the exhibition match. His advisers suggested that they choose a team that would be very easy to beat.
Brig Gen Mobolaji Johnson agreed. Ethiopia was considered. Zimbabwe was considered. India was considered. USA was considered. And India was chosen. He & his advisers believed that India would be a walkover. But had he known what would happen he might have chosen Brazil. Yes, Brazil were the reigning world champions at the time but… Oh, had he known.
India agreed to play the exhibition match with Nigeria. In fact, they were overjoyed. Nigeria was one of the best teams in Africa. And they had never played with an African team before. What more! They were most overjoyed that Nigeria had agreed to their three special conditions. What were these conditions?
Well, on that fateful day, a bright Saturday afternoon on August 15th, 1970, the National Stadium Lagos was filled with excited spectators. That was Condition No. 1, that the match be played on India’s Independence Day. As the players of Nigeria & India came into the pitch, spectators screamed with more excitement as they saw that all the twenty-two players were barefooted. That was Condition No. 2. (Remember that India had withdrawn from the 1950 World Cup because they weren’t allowed to play barefooted.)
Priiii… Referee Mohamed Touati blew his whistle to begin the game. (The Tunisian referee had been suspended by FIFA earlier that year but had accepted to officiate this special match.) Indian forward Amer Al-Amer made the first pass. And before anyone could say “Bosnia-Herzegovina”, one Majed Suleman fired the ball high into the air towards the Nigerian post. The gaint of a Nigerian keeper, Emmanuel Okala, dived to the right while the ball dropped into the left side of the net. Gooooaaal!!! 3-0. That was Condition No. 3, that each goal scored by India would be counted as 3points while each by Nigeria would be 1 as usual. (Nigeria agreed because they believed that India could never score. Or at least couldn’t score more than one goal.) Emmanuel was looking confused. He was very sure he had dived towards the ball. Every other person thought he’d deliberately let the Indians score just to spice up the game. Meanwhile, India’s fan club was going wild with jubilation.
Priii… The Nigerian forwards Sunday Atuma & Thompson Usiyen passed. As Thompson passed to Paul Hamilton, he was surprised when he saw India’s Faisal Al-Dakheel with the ball. Faisal quickly shot the ball into the air towards Nigeria’s post. Goooal! 6-0. Thompson was so confused. He could have sworn it was Paul his teammate he had passed to.
Priii… Sunday Atuma passed into the Nigerian half. Alloysius Atuegbu passed to Haruna Ilerika. Haruna made a long pass into the Indian half to Samuel Okoye. He was shocked when he saw the ball in the legs of Abdullah Al-Shemmari. Haruna wiped his eyes in disbelief. Too late! Abdullah shot the ball into the air. Goal! 9-0. Three goals in barely six minutes? Nigerian spectators were wondering what was happening.
Priii… Goal! 12-0. Yusuf Al-Suwayed. 15-0. Amer Al-Amer. 18-0. Majed Suleman’s second goal. 21-0. Abdulaziz Al-Buloushi. 24-0. Majed’s hat-trick. 27-0. Faisal Al-Dakheel’s second goal. 30-0. Waleed Al-Mubarak. At the twentieth minute, Nigeria’s Paul Hamilton ran with the ball all the way to India’s box-18. But as he raised his leg to shoot, he slipped & fell. India’s defender Mahboub Jumaa easily took the ball as Paul lay on the ground moaning like a baby. That was the nearest Nigeria had gotten to the Indian post so far.
Twenty-five minutes later & eight goals more, the score stood at 54-0. Some spectators angrily left the stadium even before the half-time whistle. Others waited patiently, hoping that Nigeria would revenge in the 2nd half.
“Boys, what the hell is happening out there?!” Coach Jorge Penna was furious. “You’re the damn captain, answer me!!” he was shouting at Emmanuel Okala.
Emmanuel was speechless. He didn’t know what to say.
“Co-co-coach…” Godwin Achebe began “I think I know what’s happening sir”
The coach was glaring at him now.
“Those Indians dey use juju. They’re using ma-magic.”
“Yes! Yes!” his teammates echoed & nodded & murmured amongst themselves.
“Shut up you fools!! Magic my foot!!! There is no magic in football!”