By Harry Awurumibe, Africa’s No.1 Women’s Football Journalist
Late Super Falcons Head Coach Pa Ismaila Mabo
The death in the early hours of Monday, March 13, 2023, of former Nigeria international player, club legend and foremost women’s football tactician, Alhaji Ismaila Mabo, has left a sour taste in the mouth of many who knew him especially his immediate family, relations, associates and indeed, the football fraternity within and outside Nigeria.
To say that Mabo who was the most successful Super Falcons Head Coach, bestrode the football world like a Colossus is to say the least moreso, if his exploits as a player, coach and administrator are anything to reckon with even as his private and public lives have been exemplary and worthy of emulation by the younger generation.
Tears and wailing filled the air as the remains of the former football tactician, who died Monday was lowered to the grave at 10:20 am in accordance with Islamic laws at late Alhaji Salihu Nakande’s resident located on Bauchi road, Jos, the Plateau state capital, to signal the exit of the last of the Originals, the three Pioneer Coaches who who took the Nigeria’s senior women’s football team (Super Falcons) to the 1st FIFA Women’s World Cup final in China in 1991.
The others who are also late were Paul Ebiye Hamilton (Head Coach), Peter Egudia Assistant (Coach 2) and Mabo Assistant (Coach 1). His demise has drawn a curtain on the glittering football carrier of the trio as players, coaches and administrators. What a great loss to their individual families, Nigeria, African continent and the football world.
Young Mabo, born 80 years ago in Tin City of Jos was a gifted Central Defender who started his long football carrier as a schoolboy international player who did exploits with the Nigeria academicals side that broke the chain of Ghana’s constant beating of Nigerian teams, when his team defeated Ghana’s academicals 1-0 in Accra on February 13, 1966. That victory was the first time any Nigerian team would defeat a Ghanaian football team on Ghanaian land.
Interestingly, six days later, the Nigerian boys once more defeated their Ghanaian counterparts 2-1 in Lagos with Mabo featuring prominently with his team-mates which included those later made the Red Devils later Green Eagles thick in those days. They are Peter ‘Baby’ Anieke; Peter “The Cat” Fregene; Paul ‘Wonder Boy’ Ebiye Hamilton; Tony ‘World 2’ Igwe, Sam Garba Okoye and Eyo Essien among others.
It was on the heels of that modest accomplishment, Mabo joined his city’s childhood club, Mighty Jets FC of Jos and was part of that club’s famous squad of the late 1960s and 1970s just as he also featured for Nigeria’s senior national team, Green Eagles, making his debut in a 1972 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match against Congo in Brazzaville on November 22, 1970. Like his colleagues in the round leather game, injury and old age will later set in and Mabo would now go into coaching, and was one of the Nigerians who received training within and outside the country to equip himself for the next level of his life.
Expectedly, he started off his coaching carrier with Mighty Jets FC of Jos, a club where he excelled as a player. He managed it for sometime until his breakthrough came when in February 1991 he was invited by then Nigeria Football Association (NFA) to be an Assistant Coach to Paul Ebiye Hamilton who was the Head Coach of the newly formed national women’s football team, Super Falcons that was taking part in the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup African qualifiers involving Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea and Cameroon.
Mabo can be described as a lucky man because he was not part of the initial three-man coaching staff appointed by NFA to prepare the Super Falcons for the team’s first-ever international match against a foreign country’s women’s football team.
Then NFA Chairman, Chief Effiom Okon and P.O.C.Achebe, Secretary General who were incharge in 1991 had earlier appointed former Flying Eagles and Super Eagles Chief Coach, Paul Ebiye Hamilton as the pioneer Head Coach of the women’s team with two coaches David Oyamunugha and Niyi Akande to assist him to mould a winning team that will face West African arch rivals, Ghana.
But before the first leg tie was played, Oyamunugha and Niyi Akande started bickering over seniority and the fued could not be managed by Hamilton who demanded for both men to be replaced after the match which saw Nigeria thrash Ghana 5-1 at National Stadium Surulere, Lagos on Saturday, February 16, 1991.
It was in that joyful mood that coaches Ismaila Mabo and Peter Egudia were brought in before the return leg tie at Oghene Gyan Accra Sports Stadium, Ghana on Saturday, March 3, 1991. Nigeria also defeated 2-0 to qualify for the next round matches against Guinea and Cameroon respectively.
A very disciplined tactician and reliable person with strong character, Mabo’s work-rate endeared him to the heart of his former national teammate, Hamilton just as he and Egudia assisted Hamilton to qualify Nigeria for the 1st FIFA Women’s World Cup final in China in 1991 and also 2nd FIFA Women’s World Cup final in Sweden in 1995 before he was appointed the Head Coach of Super Falcons in 1996.
Maiden Super Falcons Team poses for group photograph before the 5-1 thrashing of Ghana’s Black Queens in Lagos in 1991
From 1991 to 2003, Mabo was the most popular face in women’s football in Nigeria and across the world as he led the team to several battles and was undefeated as Head Coach of Super Falcons in the African continent until he served out his terms after many years at the helm of affairs spanning from February 1991 to October 2004.
Mabo’s day in the sun came in 1998 in the final of 1st African Women Championship (AWC) now called Women’s African Cup of Nations (WAFCON) at Moshood Abiola Stadium, Abeokuta after Nigeria beat Ghana 2-0 to lift the maiden AWC trophy donated by Mrs Maryam Abacha, wife of former Head of State, General Sani Abacha. The coach and his team captain Florence Omagbemi jointly lifted the cup at the podium as wide celebrations engulfed
Mabo’s Super Falcons won all the five matches played in the competition including the 8-0 pounding of Atlas Lionesses of Morocco in the opening match at Ranch Bees stadium in Kaduna just as Falcons did not also concede a single goal as the team scored a whopping 28 goals in the process. That was how too strong his team was for African opponents as long as he stayed in the dug-out for Nigeria in as many years.
Barely a year after helping Nigeria to win the 1st AWC trophy, Mabo as Super Falcons Head Coach also shone brightly with the team in the 1999 FIFA World Cup final in USA where the reigning African champions took the world by storm. Mabo’s Falcons got their tournament to a flying start with a 2-1 win over North Korea at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Los Angeles on Sunday, June 20. The win secured Nigeria her first FIFA Women’s World Cup win.
Although Nigeria was crushed four days later with a 1-7 loss to the Team USA in the second game even as the Falcons drew the first blood through Nkiru Okosieme’s 2nd minute goal at Soldier Field stadium in Chicago, Mabo and his girls recovered quickly from the loss to secure a 2-0 win over Denmark at the Jack Kent Cooke Stadium five miles away from Washington DC, to claim second spot in Group A with six points and comfortably reach the quarter finals at expense of more illustrious Denmark and North Korea.
Again in Washington DC against Brazil in the quater-final, the Super Falcons nearly created a bigger upset as they produced a superlative performance to secure 3-3 regulation time score after trailing 0-3 at half time.
But Mabo and his wards came back from the break with some tricks up their sleeves as overlapping defender Prisca Emeafu; impressive midfielder Nkiru Okosieme and attacker Nkechi Egbe scored to tie the match to shock the Samba Girls inside Jack Kent Cooke Stadium on the day.
With the Nigerians having the upper hand in the game, it was clear that they will drag the match to penalty shoot-out but disaster happy when the most likely player to score for Nigeria Patience Avre was red carded. Yet, Nigeria continued to probe for a winning goal until the referee awarded Brazil a free-kick just outside the box.
Unfortunately, Brazil’s superstar Sisi took a diagonal shot which beat the sprawling goalkeeper Ann Agumanu-Chiejine in the far post in the 104th minute of the epic match. The goal ensured Brazil prevailed following a golden goal rule which has since been scrapped by FIFA as Nigeria bowed out with head held high.
However, the quarter final feat guaranteed Nigeria a place in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games in Australia after finishing 7th in 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup final in USA, thus Mabo became the first Super Falcons Head Coach to take Super Falcons to WAFCON final, World Cup and Olympic Games in quick succession.
Mabo’s tactical magic also saw him take Super Falcons to their second Olympic Games in a row when he led the team to 2004 Athens Olympic Games thus stretching his reign as Head Coach of Falcons from February 1991 to summer of 2004.
In his long coaching carrier as Head Coach of Super Falcons, spanning 13 years, Mabo helped in giving many young women opportunities to play football at the national team level with many of his players winning several laurels and making it to the top as players and coaches.
After retiring from the national team job, Mabo returned to his city of Jos to spend time with his family but was quickly recalled by the Plateau State Sports Council where he served as football administrator, helping to set up local teams including Mighty Jets, Plateau United FC and defunct Tin City Queens women’s football club and later became the Chairman of Board of the Council. He was working until his health issues surfaced and he finally passed on in the early hours of Monday, March 13, 2013.
With his demise earlier in the week, tributes have continued to pour in like a torrent with many of them describing Mabo as a rare gem and a man of the people just as the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, on behalf of a grateful nation he served faithfully, penned a Condolence Message to the family of the departed.
Also, Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gusua, the President of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) on behalf of the football fraternity sent a lengthy tribute, saying “The death of Pa Ismaila Mabo came to me as a huge shock. Again, we have lost a great man and an accomplished trainer-of-trainers in the Nigeria Football fraternity, and my heart goes out to his immediate family and the other loved ones he has left behind.
“Mabo laid down a big marker for other coaches when he steered the Super Falcons to the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the USA in 1999. Yet, he was simple, humble and humane. We will miss him, but we are consoled that he left giant footprints in the sands of time and pray that God will grant him eternal rest”.
Heartfelt tributes also came from Plateau state government representated by the Commissioner for Youth and Sports Development, Mr. Dung Dalyop and Director of Sports, Simon Moven, who were present when Mabo’s remains was laid to rest in Jos to pay their last respect to their beloved son described him as “an accomplished footballer, top quality coach, experienced administrator and a detrabalised Nigerian”, pointing out that “his death has robbed the state and country of an important son”.
Many other tributes including from those in Nigeria football family who did not appreciate his hardwork in the development of women’s football in the country and Africa when he was alive have also paid glowing tributes to Mabo. But the most touching tributes came from his former players especially a tribute written by former Super Falcons midfielder Lami Rachel Adamu, a Jos indigene who later abandoned football to pursue higher education in USA and obtained First and Second Degrees in New Jersey.
Adamu who broke the news of Mabo’s death to the media wrote: “Our legendary coach and the last of the ORIGINALS is gone to be with Allah. Coach ISMAILA Mabo aka “The Almajiri” passed unto glory in the early hours of today (Monday, March 13, 2023).
“Coach Mabo was our coach, the Super Falcons from 1998-2005, one of the longest serving coaches of the NFF both male and female.
“Coach was a man of discipline, hardwork, commitment, dedication and he instilled all those qualities in us “his girls”.
Indeed, Coach Mabo produced and nurtured some of the greatest Nigerian women footballers, active and retired, today; and among those he and Hamilton groomed to be well known footballers in the world are longest serving Super Falcons captain, Florence Omagbemi (Skippo ), Mavis Ogun, Reliable goalie Ann Agumanu-Chiejine, Yinka Kudaisi, Maureen Mmadu,
Nkiru Okosieme and Eucheria Uche who scored a hattrick on her debut for Nigeria.
Others are strikers gangling Mercy Akide-Udoh, goalpoacher, Perpetua Nkwocha, Ugochi Oparku, Kikelomo Ajayi, Prisca Emeafu, Judith Chime (Kamala), Rita Nwadike, goalkeeper Precious Dede, Christy George,
Ayisat Yusuf, Adanna Nwaneri and goalie Ajobiewe Taiwo.
All Conquering Super Falcons Class of 1998 to 2000 that won 1st AWC (WAFCON) in style
Yet, Mabo as Assistant to Hamilton or Head Coach tutored the likes of Branch Omon Love-Branch, Florence Iweta, Olaitan Yusuf, goalkeeper Chioma Ajagba, Nkiru Okosieme, Ngozi Anyadiegwu, Cynthia Uwak, Effiowan Ekpo, Nkechi Egbe-Orji, Gloria Usieta, Stella Mbachu, Martha Tarhemba-Makir, Goalie Elizabeth Johnson, Lami Rachel Adamu and many more players.
Coach Mabo did not only teach the players football tactics and rules, he produced some of the must disciplined and dedicated women for Nigeria, Africa and world today.
Besides, Mabo was a He for She as he made his players comfortable and taught them with love and compassion hence he always called them “Almajiris” because they will always come begging him for favours.
Seen as a father-figure, Mabo made sure the football house (NFA or NFF) paid players their entitlements as at and when due even as most of his players have said that “some of our best years was during the then Secretary General Mallam Sani Ahmed Yariman-Toro and ex- NFA Chairman Col. Abdulmimuni Aminu (Rtd) regime.
“I’m very glad I was able to see or speak to him every time I’m home, and I did speak to him last week the plan was to go see him today. I want to thank you for all your prayers and blessings. May your soul Rest In Peace”, said ex-Super Falcons player Lami Rachel Adamu.
What more can anyone say as under the watchful eyes of Mabo as Super Falcons Head Coach, he produced two players who won the African Footballer of the Year Awards in Cynthia Uwak and Perpertua Nkwocha, the first women player in Africa to win the prestigious African Footballer of the Year Award five times, although another Nigerian Asisat Oshoala has won as many times too.
For practically changing the history of women’s football in Nigeria and Africa by being the only Super Falcons coach or national team coach to be in Nigeria’s dug-out in three FIFA Women’s World Cup final 1991, 1995 and 1999 and two Olympic Games in 2000 and 2004 respectively, late Mabo deserves a National Honour or Posthumous Medal of Honour if indeed the “Labours of Our Heros Past Shall Not Be In Vain”.
Simply put, late Mabo and all the compatriots who laboured hard to create the products known as women’s football especially those individuals and corporate bodies who provided the financial, technical and sundry supports to the cash-strapped NFA to form the 1st Super Falcons Squad that thrashed Ghana Black Queens 5-1 in the first-ever international FIFA match by Nigeria’s women team on that memorable February 16, 1991, because the world noticed Nigeria from that day.
Such national awards should go to the likes of pioneer women’s football club owners Elder Eddington Bola Kuejunbola of Ufuoma Babes of Warri; Prince Larry Ezeh of Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt, John Obijiaku of Flying Angels of Lagos and most importantly Princess Hannah Ngozi Zinab Bola Jegede, Proprietress of Princess Jegede Babes FC of Lagos, who single-handly sponsored 1st National Women’s Football Championship tagged “Lagos Open” in 1990 with NFA only present in the one-week competition on Observer’s Status through two NFA Assistant Secretaries John Banjo and Debbie Asagba.
The list of players selected from Princess Jegede sponsored football fiesta in Lagos was handled over to Hamilton and Mabo to open camping at National Games Village in Surulere ahead of the first international match against Ghana in February 1991.
Others to be rewarded for the noble roles they played in establishing Super Falcons team are late Chief (Mrs) Simbiat Abiola and Cadbury Nigeria Plc who donated huge sums of money for the team’s upkeep; Julius Berger Nigeria Plc; late Sabastine Babatunde Williams, Chief Nathaniel Idowu and former NFA Board Members, Chief Daniel Idama and Chief Femi Olukanmi as well as pioneer women’s football journalists like Harry Awurumibe (ex-Guardian Newspapers / Women Football Int’l Magazines) and late Miss Henrietta Ukaigwe (ex-Vanguard / Minaj TV)
Others are Dapo Sotiminu (Female Football Interest Group (FFIG), General Secretary) and members like Dare Joseph, Tonnie Okpara, Emma Njoku, Sammie Etuks, Toyin Ibitoye, Lorine Oyiwe, Caroline Nwankwo, Onyewuchi Nwachukwu, etal
Perhaps, Coach Mabo who was not rewarded alive will now be honoured in death by a grateful nation to serve as a Motivation for younger generation of Nigerians and by so doing his Gentle Soul will Rest in Peace.
Adieu Dear Friend, Patriot, Partner in Development and Promotion of Women’s Football