The Nigerian football fraternity (as the cliched saying goes) woke up to a rude shock on Monday morning when news of the demise of former Enyimba captain and Kano Pillars defender Chinedu Joseph Udoji broke out. The Anambra state (South East Nigeria) born defender was known on the pitch as a tough tackling, no-nonsense defender with the charisma of an unwavering leader as exhibited while he captained Enyimba for four years.
www.aclsports.com’s Chief Football Writer, FISAYO DAIRO watched Udoji in stadiums, no fewer than a dozen of times during his lifetime and interviewed him on a series of occasions as well – since captains are always the likeliest to speak to the press. He recounts his last personal interview with Udoji.
The date was July 31, 2016 and venue was the Liberation Stadium (now Yakubu Gowon Stadium) in Port Harcourt. Reigning league champions Enyimba had till that point, endured a torrid time in defense of their league title and they came up against the People’s favourites Rangers FC.
The game ended 1-1 and almost effectively put paid to Enyimba’s ambition to successfully defend their title. I spoke with Udoji after the match, not at the Presser but at the back of the mainbowl shortly before Enyimba’s bus took off. I was there alongside my Chief Sports Writer (now), Queen John.
That session totally encapsulated what Chinedu Udoji stood for during his lifetime. An honest and consummate professional who accords every one he comes across with respect.
- Advertisement -
Apparently due to the disappointment of the result, many Enyimba players shunned the press and Mfon Udoh clearly beckoned on Udoji not to give us audience, a stance which infuriated Queen and other journalists with us.
Udoji never cared and comfortably spoke with us. It lasted for just over two minutes but being a fast talker – I can confidently say that Udoji speaks fastest of all NPFL players during interviews – he gave out plenty as excerpted below.
His replies were downright honest without sugarcoating things but always believes IMPOSSIBILITY IS NOTHING!
FD: Match ended 1-1 in one of your rescheduled games. You must be disappointed, aren’t you?
Late Udoji: Yeah I am very disappointed but it is one of those things in life. All I can say is that Glory be to God, nobody dropped dead, no injury. Some seasons are like that, I believe we have lost in the race to the league but we just have to concentrate on our remaining games and end up in a very good position.
FD: Talk of concentrating on the remaining games, do you think you can still contest for a Top two or Top three position?
Late Udoji: For now, I can’t promise anything because the way things are going now, it is very very difficult. We are faraway behind for us to contest the third spot, it is very difficult. We just have to keep on working hard, keep on believing, as you can see this season is very busy for us and disappointing. We are not playing on our home (ground), we have used like three home grounds in the Champions League and the league. As you can see, the thing is not easy, it is very difficult for us but we have to keep fighting and pushing to see where we will end.
Queen John: Your (Enyimba) fans seem not to be happy, what would you do to assure them?
Late Udoji: Yes it’s a normal thing. When you’re not doing well, your fans should not be happy. It’s one of those things in life. Last season, we were the same people that won the league and this season we are not doing well. They have every right to be angry but I just have to say that they have to keep on supporting the team, they can’t do anything than that. We the players just have to go back to the drawing board, keep on working hard and hoping that the results will improve.
FD: Your next game is in Egypt which can also define your season against Zamalek. How difficult will it be and what can we expect from that?
Late Udoji: I have to say it is going to be a very big game and a very difficult game. But to me I still believe nothing is impossible in life. For now, we are just fighting for only two trophies. When we get to Egypt, we will try and pull ourselves together and see what we can do. In Football, anything is possible. They came to Nigeria and beat us 1-0, we can go to Egypt and beat them too.
FD: On a personal note now. On Sunday, you’re going to Spain with the NPFL All Stars, are you looking forward to that trip?
Late Udoji: First of all, I will like to commend the LMC for making that organisation. It’s not easy. I’ll just like to say that I just have to go to Spain and try to protect the image of Nigeria and protect the image of the league and try to play my own game and do what I can do. I commend the LMC for selecting me among the players going to Spain and therefore I just have to go there and prove myself.
My final notes: Udoji left Enyimba at the end of that season to pitch tent with Kano Pillars where he was until death came calling yesterday.
That perhaps reduced my encounters with him as I watch games mostly at the Southern and Eastern regions.
The league has no doubt been robbed, by death of an emblematic figure.
The name UDOJI resonated across all league venues as Undaunting, Determined, Organised, Joust and Irrepresible.
Adios the Captain of All! Your legacy will live on for many years behind you.
Did you meet him while alive? What is or are your opinions about Chinedu? You can let us know at the comment section.