The History of the Nigerian national team; The UK tourists

The British colonial masters brought Nigeria a lot of good things. Things such as education and Christianity also brought corruption, among others. But probably the best thing the British colonial masters brought to Nigeria was football. Which has now grown to be joy in the hearts of Nigerians?

It all started in the 1920s.

According to the records told by the Nigeria Football Federation, the organization was formed in 1945. However, there is evidence that the Nigeria Football Association (which later became NFF) was formed in 1933.

An article from the Daily Times of 21 August 1933 explained that it invited people to the NFA’s first meeting at 7 pm of the said date’s night. This first meeting was held at the Health Office in Broad Street, Lagos, and was open to the football interested public.

As of the 1938/39 football season in England, the Nigerian football association had been recognized by the English FA, with F.B Mulford as secretary. Not until 1945 before the association was formally inaugurated, and a national team put together.

In 1942, a cup competition, the War Memorial Challenge, limited only to Lagos based teams, was started. The War Memorial Challenge was won by ZAC Bombers (1942), Lagos Marine (1943), Lagos Railways (1944 and 1945), respectively. One of the first points of duty of the NFA was to inaugurate the Governor’s Cup to replace the War Memorial Challenge.

The new competition encompassed the whole country, and the first winners were Lagos Marine. By 1948, efforts were underway to form a national team built around players discovered at the Governor’s Cup. Early star players in the national team were Dan Anyiam (Lagos UAC), Peter Anieke, and Teslim Balogun (both of Lagos Railway).

Nigeria’s first national team was named the UK Tourists, and after a few unofficial, warm-up games, went to the UK. The team boarded the RMSS Apapa on 16 August 1949 for a playing tour of England and arrived Liverpool 13 days later. The players who made the trip were: Goalkeepers: Sam Ibiam (Port Harcourt), Isaac Akioye (Hercules, Ibadan); Defenders: Justin Onwudiwe (Lagos Railway), Olisa Chukwura (Abeokuta), ATB Ottun (Lagos Marines), Isiaku Shittu (Lagos UAC), John Dankaro (Jos), Hope Lawson (Lagos Marine), Dan Anyiam (Lagos UAC), Okoronkwo Kanu (Land & Survey); Forwards: Mesembe Otu (Lagos Marine), Peter Anieke (Lagos Railway), Sokari Dokubo (Lagos Railway), Godwin Anosike (Lagos Railway), Tesilimi Balogun (Lagos Railway), Titus Okere (Lagos Railway), Etim Henshaw (Lagos Marine) and Edet Ben (Lagos Marine). Etim Henshaw was the team captain, making him our first-ever national team captain. Teslim Balogun was the star. The team had no shoes.

The first Nigerian team (photo credit: pinterest)
The first Nigerian team (photo credit: pinterest)

Nigeria’s first-ever official game was against Marine Cosby, which we won 5-2. During the next match, against an Athenian League XI, the English refused to play if the Tourists didn’t wear boots. The Tourists wore boots and lost, 8-0. The third game, which was generally agreed as the best, was a 2-2 draw with a Corinthians League XI. At the end of the nine games tour, the team’s record was P9, W2, D2, L5. All five losses were with boots on. On the return voyage home, the UK Tourists took on the new name, Red Devils, and stopped in Freetown, Sierra Leone. During that stopover in Sierra Leone, Nigeria played her first official game against another country, defeating Sierra Leone 2-0 on 8/10/49.

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