Time was when the mention of Rangers International FC of Enugu sent jitters down the spine of football clubs across the length and breadth of the country and indeed Africa.
In those days, the Flying Antelopes, as the club is popularly known, had impressive runs in both local and continental competitions.
The story is, however, different today as the club has become a run-of-the-mill side, starting the 2015/2016 premier league in a rather sloppy run.
When the club was formed in 1970 shortly after the Nigerian civil war, it was part of the process of re-integration under the then East Central State Administrator, Ukpabi Asika’s three Rs – `Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation’.
It was an opportunity for the youth of Igbo extraction to engage their counterparts from other parts of the country in a rather `friendly war’ rather than the just-ended fratricidal skirmishes.
The club went on to prove its mettle on the field of play, seizing great moments in the then first division league and Challenge Cup.
Late football supremo, Dan Anyiam was the pioneer coach of the club in 1970. The new club, soon firmly established itself, becoming a house hold name.
The club served as a rallying point for the youth of the five south East states – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi Enugu and Imo – that made up of the then East Central State.
With a charismatic leader like Jim Nwobodo as its Chairman, the club became of Movement and an industry of sorts for footballers of Igbo extraction that rallied from all over to star for the club.
Great players like the two-time captain of the National team – Godwin Achebe, Dominic Nwobodo, Nwabeze Nwankwo, Luke Okpala (Jazz Bukana), Ernest Ufele, Cyril Okosieme, Emeka Onyedika, Johnny Egbuonu, Ogidi Ibeabuchi, flocked to the team.
Many more flocked as the second generation of the team streamed in, including players like, Christian Chukwu, Emmanuel Okala, Christian Madu, Kenneth Ilodigwe, Mathais Obinika, Alloy Atuegbu, Nnamdi Anyafo (Waski), Nwachukwu Onyekwelu (Igariga), Ifeanyi Onyedika, Chibuzo Ehilegbu, Kenneth Boardman, Okey Isima continued the dominance.
Even, the likes of `Jay Jay Okocha, who went on to make waves in foreign professional leagues in Europe, had short stint, taking after his elder brothers and indeed, Obianika, his uncle, who was the real motivating personage.
Emeka Nwobodo who played for Rangers from 1986 to 1988 said it was the pedigree of club at the time that attracted him to play there for two seasons.
“Rangers are a team for the Igbos at a time that everybody wanted to play for in the 80s and 90s. We all are committed to making names for ourselves and the club. It is unlike these days that players go for money.
“The club still has good players that can make things to happen. All that they lack are commitment.
“But the quest for money and the bid to make it quick has led to below average performance by many upcoming players in the club,’’ he said.
Nwobodo also said that it was from Rangers that he was invited to the National team, then known as `the Green Eagles’ in 1987.
“In my days with Rangers, we could boast of away victories by ensuring the three points at stake were in our kitty, which might not be exactly the same today’’.
The mere mention of the name `Rangers’, then sent jitters `down to spine’ of clubs in 70s and 80s.
In fact Rangers need to be repositioned to in the Nigerian league and at continental competitions like the CAF Champions League.
Stanley Okoronkwo who played for the club 80s said that Rangers of old was fearless and no doubt far better than those of today.
He put the blame for the declining poor performance of the club, squarely at the door step of the current management, saying there was the need more than before to refocus the management of the club.
“If you channel your resources to the right direction, your business will flourish. You do not expect much from poor investment,’’ noted Okoronkwo.
He added, however that the “Rangers I saw in Akure against the Sunshine Stars was getting into shape compared to their previous matches this year “.
The club’s present Consultant (Coaching), Christian Chukwu observed that during his active playing days they played for name and recognition.
“Rangers after the civil war were solid because we had talented players that came home to make the team.
“We had players like Godwin Achebe and others who could inspire players to go all out to win matches for the club on their own.
“There was motivations then as a footballer, it was a rare opportunity to work in the state sports council, where you were assured of regular salary,” he said.
Chukwu, aka `Chairman’ also said the present set of players change clubs with virtual ease, which made it difficult to achieve stability in the running of clubs.
“When players change club at the end of each season, they start learning new playing patterns and new team tactics all over. It takes time to build the team spirit.
“At the end you discover that the entire team is new all the time, requiring fresh approach to manage at all times.
“This is what we are experiencing in many clubs, including the Rangers of today. I am optimistic that the spirit of Rangers of old will come back with reforms and better business approach to club management.
“With the help of the management and the technical crew, the club will survive many more for years ahead.
“We hope before the end of the first stanza of the league, Rangers will be counted among the contenders for the league shield,” Chukwu said.
An ex-Rangers player and present technical director of the club, Innocent Obiekwo said the club was able to perform better after the civil war because it was entirely an Igbo affair. The philosophy then was different.
“It was easy for the players to communicate in the Igbo language and this engendered more commitment toward the club,’’ he said.
The technical director who played for the club from 1976 to 1984 said the new generation of players play for money and only play well when their salaries were regular.
“In spite of the nature of the club’s administration as at then, we were able to write our names in gold.
“There was no money then in football but we did not care much because we were not really playing for the money but to keep our names ringing bell all over the country and beyond,’’ Obiekwo said.
“Besides, we were born as it were `with football running in our blood’ and so we played natural football; these days’ people learn how to play football’’.
Dominic Nwobodo (Alhaji), who played from 1970 to 1976 said the present crop of players were not as experienced as the foundation players.
“During my time, we had experienced players, who we looked up to. They were different. They had style and carriage.
“People used to come to the stadium to watch those exceptional players, who were magical with their mesmerising skills. But these days those classes of players are hard to come.
“Although, the players should be doing well, considering the huge funds now available to in the game, but how are we sure that the money gets really to the players directly without distortions in the system to stop it from reaching the players,’’ Nwobodo said.
Since the formation, Rangers had won the Nigeria Premier League six times — 1974, 1975, 1977, 1981, 1982 and 1984.
They won the Challenge Cup five times — 1974, 1975, 1976, 1981 and 1983 appearing seven times in the finals — 1971, 1978, 1987, 1990, 2000, 2004, 2007.
The club had won the Super Cup, just once in 2004 and then won the Africa Cup winners Cup, now the Confederation Cup once in 1977.
Rangers made it once at the finals of the African Cup of Champions in 1975. It also made seven appearances at the Africa Cup of Champions.
In 1971 and 1975, they made the quarter-finals and reaching the final and semi-finals in 1976 1978 and 1982. They made the first round in 1983; second round in 1985.
In the CAF Champions League, Rangers had two appearances, crashing out in 2006 in the first round but made the second round in 2013.
Among other former very notable players that also passed through the club, include, Onyekachi Apam, Michael Emenalo of the Chelsea of England fame, Joseph Enakarhire and Victor Ezeji.
Others are Emeka Ezeugo, Alhaji Gero, Sunday Mba, Kingsley Obiekwu, the Okala brothers Emmanuel and Patrick, Jay-Jay Okocha,
Chibuzor Okonkwo, Sam Okoye, James Okwuos and John Utaka.
Former Head Coaches include, Daniel Anyiam (1970), Roberto Diaz), Janusz Kowalik (1983–84), Kosta Papić, Okey Emordi (2008), Christian Chukwu (2008–Aug 09), Alphonsus Dike (Sept 2009–11).
In the current season the club has won eight matches, drawn three, lost nine with goals for standing at 26, goals against 23 with 27 points.
One thing still stands out for the club has been that Rangers are the only club consistent with its name that has yet to go on relegation from the premier division.
However, a club like Heartland had been close to the record but has changed names several times. Heartland started out as Spartans, before becoming Iwuanyanwu and now Heartland.
It remains to be seen if the club will once more survive the season. (NAN)