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Paul Hamilton: He served Nigeria, Nigeria shunned him – Ikeddy Isiguzo

*NFF, Isiguzo mourns former international, coach

By Oluwole Francis

Veteran sports journalist, Ikeddy Isiguzo, in an emotional outburst on the passage of coach Paul Hamilton was angry that, “he served Nigeria, but Nigeria shunned him” as part of the encomiums when the news of his death broke on Thursday afternoon.

In his piece titled, “The Wonder Man Goes Home…” wrote: “The passing of Coach Paul Hamilton is saddening. He died in bits, a leg was amputated to save him. He died. I wonder what passed his mind as he withered.

“In Nigeria, fame is inadequate to cater for you. Patriotism is a myth. The pioneer coach of Nigeria’s female football team in 1991, after the failed bid for a 1990 World Cup, Hamilton was unsung in his dying days.

“A thorough look at the books would place him among the many coaches the Nigeria Football Association used, dumped and refused to pay their entitlement. He served Nigeria, Nigeria shunned him.

“On the night of 12 August 1989, I drove in a daze from the National Stadium to the mortuary of the General Hospital, Lagos, cutting through Apapa to the Durbar Hotel, in Festac, as it was known then to meet coach Hamilton in tears – Sam Okwaraji was dead. I knew more than two hours earlier, but I wanted to get as many sides of that story as possible.

“Beside Hamilton was a meal he ordered, obviously before he heard, it was untouched. I didn’t say a word to him, it was not a day for words. I saw enough to enter another confirmation to a sad day.

“Weeks after, the determination to beat Cameroon was shattered in the most bizarre manner, not on the pitch. Hamilton was told Clemence Westerhof was the new coach. I rode in the same bus with a nervous Westerhof who pelted drums of the supporters club to calm his nerves. It was a tense drive from L’Hotel de Meridien to the Stade d’ Omnisport, where the Eagles lost.

When I ask Hamilton what happened, he told me, “Dianyi nmuo ereghi ihe enyere ya” loosely translated from Igbo language, “the spirit rejected our offering, our best wasn’t good enough.” His fluency in Igbo was first grade, some of his years were in Onitsha.

Many would not know that Hamilton was a key player, he scored, in the 1968 Olympic team that terrorised Brazil to a 3-3 draw in the tasking altitude of Mexico. Nigeria led 3-0 in the first half.

At what would have been a historic recap of the event, 20 years on, Nigeria was paired against Brazil at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. I had done a preview predicting a possible repeat.

You can only imagine the anticipations when the first half ended goalless. Mexico was on my mind, a win was even possible. Some of our foreign colleagues were lining up for our perspectives to the story. I was waving a story around Nigeria at the Olympian apex, apogee, peak, zenith.

In the next 45 minutes, Brazil made the score 4-0. The biggest story in the international media was how Nigerian journalists wanted to beat up Manfred Horner, the German coach, who superintended the smashing of the Eagles.

Adieu Wonder Boy, generations of top Nigerian players owe their career to you. One of them Emeka Ezeugo has paid a tribute that many others owe you.

The Wonder Boy, the Wonder Man, goes home leaving us to ponder and wonder why our football is in a wander.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) on Thursday paid glowing tributes to former Nigerian player and coach, Paul Hamilton, who passed on same day in Lagos after a protracted illness.

Dr. Sanusi Mohammed, NFF General Secretary, said: “we are in terrible shock. Paul ‘Wonderboy’ Hamilton was a perfect gentleman in the real sense of the word, despite being a former international player for Nigeria and a Chief Coach of the senior national team.

“He worked very hard and with his whole heart for Nigeria in all spheres, as a player, a coach and as an administrator. The Nigeria football family will miss him dearly.”

Hamilton, who played for the senior national team in the 1960s and early 1970s, including featuring in the football tournament at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, died in the early hours of Thursday in Lagos. He was said to have been diagnosed of heart and kidney related health issues some months ago and had his right leg amputated early this year.

Nicknamed ‘Wonderboy’ for his delicate skills and on-field wizardry, Hamilton was at a few times head coach of the senior national team, including taking the reins for the 1990 FIFA World Cup qualifying series, before Dutchman Clemens Westerhof took over with only the last match of the campaign (away to Cameroon in Yaounde) left in the series.

He was also head coach of the Nigeria U-20 squad that took the bronze medals at the FIFA World Youth Championship (now known as FIFA U20 World Cup) in the Soviet Union in 1985.

‘Wonderboy’ was also the first head coach of the senior women national team, Super Falcons, and steered the team to the 1991 and 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup final competitions.

He was also at different times Head of Technical Department and Head of Lagos Liaison Office of the Nigeria Football Federation.

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