Some died young; some passed away in their middle ages and quite a handful are still struggling today.
There is no doubt that these Eagles, alive or dead gave us some wonderful moments in Nigerian football.
From the 70s and 80s which many football followers believe to be the golden age of Nigerian soccer, to the present day, our dear beloved Super Eagles continue, against all odds, to bring pride, honour and happiness to our people.
This article is intended to honour those who have fallen and who will forever remain in our hearts
Widely regarded as the finest striker to ever wear the Eagles Jersey, Rashidi Yekini was born on the 23rd of October 1963 in the northern city of Kaduna.
He was the highest all-time goal scorer in Nigerian soccer history. Before he died on the 4th of May 2012, at the age of 48, he had played for many clubs at home and abroad, namely, the Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Africa Sports of Cote D’ voire, Spanish team Sporting Gijon, Olympiakos of Greece , Victoria Sebutal of Portugal and Julius Berger of Nigeria.
It was to his credit that he bagged the highest goal scorer award with Victoria sebutal. He died in controversial circumstances as he reportedly suffered from acute depression and other mentally related issues.
His neighbours at his Ring road residence, however, claimed he was a man that preferred to be left alone.
He had dismissed his security guard some months before his death and not one single member of his immediate and extended family members lived with him.
His marriage lasted only 3 weeks and he thereafter separated from his wife. He claimed his wife was fetish and after their arrival from their short honeymoon abroad, he sent her packing.
He went on to have children from other women, but none ever stayed with him.
He was a very generous man to the end as he was always assisting his friend and neighbors in their time of need, He started playing at the age of 17 and he first club was UNTL of Kaduna.
He left and joined Shooting Stars of Ibadan After a taste of continental football, he joined Victoria Sebutal and there he scored a total of 90 goals in 108 appearances.
He also scored Nigeria’s first ever goal in the world cup against Bulgaria in USA 94. His last club was Gateway FC and he thereafter retired to Ibadan where he passed away. He was 48.
STEPHEN “BIG BOSS” KESHI
Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, popularly known as the Big Boss was born on the 23rd of January 1964 in the northern city of Azare in Bauchi state.
His career as a footballer started in 1979 and was to span the next 19 years as a defender for both club and country.
A certified coach, he led the Super Eagle to the 2013 Africa cup of Nations in which Nigeria emerged victorious.
This was undoubtedly the highest point of his career as a player and a coach.
Apart from the Eagles, he also coached the National teams of Togo and Mali.
He began coaching the Super Eagles in 2011.
Keshi went on to set a record as the only coach to qualify 2 African nations (Togo and Nigeria) to the world cup finals.
He was one of the only two living men to win the prestigious Cup of Nations as a player and a coach.
On the evening of 7th June 2016, in Benin City, Keshi suffered a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. He was buried in his hometown Illah in Delta State. He was 54.
SAMUEL SOCHUKWUMA OKWARAJI
Of all deaths of our late Super Eagles heroes, none was more tragic than that of Samuel Okwaraji, a midfielder with the Super Eagles.
For one thing, he was tragically young and the nature of his death traumatized the nation for many years. He slumped at the National Stadium Surulere on the 12th of August 1989 in a world cup qualifying match against Angola with just 13 minutes of play left.
He was later confirmed to have died of cardiac arrest. Autopsy reports confirmed that he was hypertensive and had an enlarged heart.
Okwaraji was luckier than most of his late colleague, 26 years after his death his bust still stands at the same stadium where he died.
This was the nation’s way of paying tribute to a true hero who gave his life in the service of his country.
Apart from this, his portraits were displayed at the 8 venues of the 2015 Confederations Cup quarter-finals in Benin, Enugu, Lokoja, Abuja, Ilorin and Makurdi.
He was born on the 19th of May at Orlu in Imo State.
He played for the following clubs- Dinamo Zagreb, Austria Klagenfurt, VFB Stuttgart and SSV Ulm. He had 8 paying appearances for the Super Eagled between 1988 – 1989 and scored one of the fastest goals in the history of Nations Cup against the indomitable lions of Cameroun.
Haruna Ilerika was born in October 1949 and until his death on the 2nd of December 2008, he was the Lagos State Football Association Vice Chairman. He apparently died of natural causes having exhibited no outward signs of illness according to family members. He was however rushed to the General hospital in the early hours of that day and died shortly after.
Rumors had it that he had liver problems. In 1970, Ilerika came into limelight when he led the underdogs Zumratu College to left the Lagos State Principals cup.
Thereafter Coach George Penar of the then Green Eagles invited him to camp. He broke into the main team in 1972 when he played in the game Against Senegal just before the All Africa Games.
His exploits and dribbling skills contributed to Nigeria winning the Gold medal as hosts. He was also a member of the bronze winning Super eagles team in Ethiopia in 1976.
He was to go on to play out his remaining career at the Stationery Stores till his retirement in the mid 80s,
Mudashiru Lawal was born on the 5th of June 1954 in Abeokuta Nigeria and had no formal education. He trained as a mechanic and started playing soccer at an early age.
Lawal made his debut into the National team in 1975. Lawal was the Captain of the old Green Eagles that won the Nations Cup on home soil in 1980.
He was to feature in 86 games for his country and only Nwankwo Kanu matched this record in the history of Nigerian football. He was the only player in Africa to appear in five consecutive Nations Cup finals between 1976 to 1984. He was a member of The Eagles for more than ten years as Captain.
He also played for the Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Stationery Stores and Abiola Babes. He scored 12 goals in 86 appearances for the Eagles.
He reportedly slumped and died on the morning of July 6th 1991. He was 37.
ALOYSIUS “BLOCK BUSTER” ATUEGBU
Aloysius “Blockbuster” Atuegbu was born on the 29th of April 1953 in the northern city of Jos. He was the youngest member of the famous Atuegbu brothers – Mathew, Andrew, Nicholas and himself.
All of them were to have illustrious football careers. He was one of the best forwards ever to play for the Super Eagles and was nicknamed “Blockbuster” for his ferocious shots at goal. He played for the Eagles as a striker from 1975 -1981 and made 60 appearances scoring 7 goals.
He was a member of the famous Nations Cup winning Eagles of 1980. He was a stalwart for Enugu Rangers – in fact he was instrumental to the successes of the team in the 70s and 80s.
He also played for the Mighty Jets of Jos where his exploits earned him a call-up to the national team.. After his retirement from active soccer, he pursued a coaching career and was a one-time coach of the Eaglets National U-17 ream. He also coached Keffi United until his death on the 25th of May 2008.
After his death he was described by the former Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola as a prolific football ambassador. He reportedly died on his way to illorin to watch a match between Kwara United and Bayelsa United.
Best Ogdengbe was born on the 3rd of September 1954 in Lagos. He was one of the famous team of Eagles that won the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations. Best Ogedengbe passed away while undergoing eye surgery at the University College Hospital Ibadan.
He failed to come out of post-surgery coma and died a week later.
He played for 2 notable teams in Nigeria namely Abiola Babes and Shooting Stars FC of Ibadan. He was an extraordinarily gifted goalkeeper who managed to displace Nigeria’s first choice goalkeeper Emmanuel Okalla.
His service in the national team spanned 3 years from 1980 to 1882. After an illustrious career, he graduated into coaching and was Assistant Coach to Wikki Tourists FC and also Dolphin FC. He was also Assistant Coach to the 2008 National Football team to the Olympics where they won Silver. He died on the 28th September 2009. He was 55.
KELECHI “CATERPILLAR” EMETEOLE
Popularly referred to as Caterpillar in his playing days, Kelechi Emeteole was born in 1957 and succumbed to cancer of the throat while undergoing treatment in India. He played for various clubs in Nigeria and was known for his rugged style of defense which earned him the nickname “caterpillar”.
He was a member of the Eagles team to the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations in Ethiopia. He played a total of 17 matches for Nigeria and scored 4 goals between 1975 to 1977.
After his playing career, he took up coaching and he excelled with many clubs in the Nigeria league including the Super Eagles where he was Assistant Coach.
He was also head coach of Heartland FC, Enugu Rangers, El-Kanemi Warriors and the National Beach Soccer team, the Beach Eagles. Emeteole started complaining of voice problems in 2015 but was not particularly concerned because the problem had occurred before. Things went from bad to worse and he was finally diagnosed with throat cancer at the Lagos University Teaching hospital in 2016. He was flown to India in 2017 but died shortly before undergoing surgery which could have saved his life. He died on the 21st of June 2017. He was 66.
JOHN ENE OKON
John Ene Okon, a former Nigerian international was born on the 15th of march 1969. He was a master dribbler who endeared himself to many with his skills.
Tragically, Okon died on his birthday 15th March 2016 at the age of 47. He was a member of the Chile 87 squad and also part of the Super Eagles team to the 1992 African Cup of Nations in Senegal where they won the Bronze medal.
He played for various local clubs including Acada United FC, Calabar Rovers FC, BCC Lions FC and Akwa United FC. He also at one time played in the National U-20 team.
Before he died, he was the Head Coach of Calabar Rovers. Okon scored Nigeria’s first goal in the World Youth Championship in Chile 1987.
He reportedly died of liver problems at the University of Calabar Teaching hospital. He was 47.
Wilfred Agbonavbare was born on the 5ht of October 1966 in Lagos Nigeria. Before he succumbed to the deadly disease of cancer in 2015, he had played for various local and foreign clubs and was a goalkeeper for the Super Eagles between 1983 to 1999, He made a total of 15 appearances for the senior national team. At the local level, he played for New Nigeria Bank FC and BCC Lions FC between 1983 to 1990.
His foreign career began and ended in Spain with Rayo Vallecano FC and Ecija Balompe FC all in the Spanish 2nd division.
He was always a reliable back-up to the then first choice goalkeeper, Peter Rufai. After his retirement, he stayed behind in Spain with his family and got a job as a delivery man and also as a goalkeeping coach. Sadly in 2015, he was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment in Spain but lost the fight to the disease on the 27th of January 2015. He was 48.
TESLIM “THUNDER” OLAWALE BALOGUN
Teslim Balogun was born in Lagos in 1927 and played as a striker throughout his playing career from 1947 to 1961. He attended St Mary’s Catholic school in Portharcourt.
He was nicknamed “thunder” because of his extremely powerful shots at goal. He played for local clubs like Apapa Bombers, Marine Athletics, UAC X1, Railway X1, Jos X1, Pan Bank Team, Dynamos Club and SCOA X1. He played for the National team from 1948 to 1960 and eventually became the National Coach in 1968. During his playing days, Balogun won the Challenge Cup five times in seven finals with various clubs. He coached the Nigerian team to the 1968 Olympics where they drew 3-3 with Brazil. He also played for the English team Queens Park Rangers and scored 3 goals in 13 appearances during the 1966 to 1967 season. He died peacefully in his sleep on the 30th of July 1972. He was 45.
The Lagos state Government built the Teslim Balogun stadium in Surulere in his honour.