5 August 2019
The name Sam Onyeaka may not ring many bells with many Nigerian football fans. However, he was a folk hero for most fans of Enugu Rangers. Onyeaka was a right winger who was arguably the fastest thing on two legs in Nigerian football.
He played for Rangers for over 10 years from the early 1970s to the early 1980s, before leaving for the United States to study engineering at the University of Alabama. Onyeaka had the misfortune of being around at a time that Rangers were blessed with top quality right wingers such as Emeka “Owusu” Onyedika and Christian Ogbodo . This meant Onyeaka was not always first choice for his position. What made him part of Rangers folklore was his blistering pace, which earned him the nickname “404” – after the Peugeot model of the same name.
Onyeaka now lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and was a guest over the weekend at the annual convention of the College of Immaculate Conception Enugu Alumni Association, which was held in Seattle. During a Friday evening yacht cruise along Lake Washington, Onyeaka, who might not be as fast as he was in his heyday, was quick to regale guests with tales from his time with Rangers.
He recalled one particular day in the 1970s when he was training with teammates at the National Stadium in Surulere and the Nigerian national sprint relay team were also using the same facility. The banter between the footballers and the sprinters then resulted in a sprint challenge in which the national relay team squared up to four of the fastest Rangers players.
The Rangers quartet were Emmanuel Merenini, Charles “Wagner” Adimora, Emeka “Owusu” Onyedika and the fastest of them all, Onyeaka. To the shock of the national sprint team, the footballers won. The sprinters first thought it was a mistake, so they asked for a rerun and were beaten two more times by the Rangers players.
Nigeria never got an Olympic gold medal in the sprints or sprint relay. Maybe it was because Onyeaka and his Rangers teammates chose to focus on football.