The Nigerian Professional Football League, the country’s top tier, kicks off this weekend and one of the country’s most successful clubs, Enugu Rangers, will be seeking to emulate their exploits the season before last when they won the championship for the first time since 1984.
The seven-time champions are also known as the “Flying Antelopes”, a nickname represented by an antelope in full flight on the club badge. Many fans may not be aware where that nickname came from. It was given to the club by one of its founding fathers – Jerry Enyeazu, who was the then East Central State Director of Sports – on the club’s formation in 1970.
From the book Rangers International: The story of Nigeria’s all-conquering clubside by Sam Mbah, Ikechukwu P Okoye and Okey Ezea:
In a bid to consummate its formation, Enyeazu proceeded to lay a philosophical foundation for the team. First, he fashioned the team’s motto, “through difficulties to the heights”, conceived as a reminder of the team’s origins [from the ashes of the Nigerian civil war] as well as the daunting challenges that lay ahead. The motto was to become handy in the years ahead as Rangers sought to register its presence, bulldozing every obstacle in its way.
The motto became the motivation behind the legendary fighting spirit, which ensured that the team never gave up even in the most difficult circumstances until the referee’s final whistle. The spirit has survived as an eternal source of inspiration in its most trying moments.
To complement this was the call name, ‘Flying Antelopes’. The Chambers 20th Century Dictionary (New Edition 1983) characterises an antelope as “a fabulous, fierce horned beast.” According to Chief Enyeazu, the name conveys an imagery of fabled excellence and amazing prowess; the combination of fierce horns and an antelope in top flight could not but produce devastating speed. The message this carried was clear, “catch us if you can.”
The name “Rangers” was in honour of the “Biafran Rangers”, described in the book as: a striking force that operated successfully behind enemy lines in the thick of the [Nigerian civil] war. The Rangers, otherwise known as the “Forest Marker” was one of the several paramilitary units in existence in Biafra during the war. Composed essentially of undergraduates and high school students, the thrust of their operations consisted in teaching self-defence tactics, carrying out sabotage operations, penetrating areas that have fallen to the “enemy”, knocking off the opponents where they were few and bringing back information on enemy disposition from the rear. Together with the Biafran Organisation of Freedom Fighters (BOFF), the Rangers successfully mobilised the youths of Biafra towards the war effort; their doggedness and hardwork elicited popular acclaim.