The last post I made was about the first World Cup Team out of Nigeria featuring a number of players that are still considered some of the best talents from the country. As I continue this journey of documenting the thoughts, opinions and memories of the Diaspora, one theme that is slowly rising in significance is the fact that I can reach out for one story and end up learning about more stories that are tangentially related. Let me back up for a second and highlight a few of the topics that I have written about that resulted in similar connections. First, I wrote about Sunny Ade and learned about the business of music at the time in Nigeria. Then I wanted to write about a former president and learned of a chance meeting with Babaginda. When I wrote the previous post, one name I identified was Rashidi Yekini, the first goal scorer in a World Cup for Nigeria. What I did not know was that my brother-in-law spent some time with Rashidi growing up in Portugal and had a lot to say about the player, the man, and his legacy.
Rashidi Yekini was a house old name in the mid 80's and 90's in Nigeria football. It was a name that I heard on the radio anytime Nigeria was playing and one that resonated with me as I was initially developing my passion for football. I was around 6 years old when I probably recall hearing the name constantly on the radio. He was a hero; for Nigerian football and Nigerians as a whole and that's what I hoped to be someday. He later carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders and put the ball in the net in the 90th minute.
A few years later. My family moved to Portugal because of my father’s job (consulate at the Nigerian embassy in Portugal). His role along with many other important responsibilities was issuing visas to Nigerians citizens in Portugal and it was all a face to face interaction, needless to say he met a lot of people. So because of my dad's job many Nigerian athletes including Rashidi Yekini constantly visited the embassy, can't really recall for what reason but became fairly fond of my dad that he called uncle as we claim in naija culture even when we are not related at all.
As they grew closer, my dad at the time decided to invite him to the house unbeknown to the fact the he was my hero. So one summer afternoon around the time my dad came home for lunch, I answered the door when it rang and my dad walked in and behind him was a 6'3 figure man. I was extremely confused because I was not sure who I was looking at even though I was pretty sure who it was, as I was getting ready to greet him to say "good afternoon sir", he reached out his hand instead and said, " I'm Rashidi"!
You can imagine I was completely star struck and had no idea how to act but I was able to somehow compose myself and kept on a smile that almost stretched my skin out my face. I met Rashidi Yekini for the first time.
He was playing for a team in Portugal at the time Calle Victoria Setubal. A team at the lower end of the first division of the Portuguese league .On that team; he was also growing to be a hero for the club because of his scoring abilities. Soon, despite the fact the he played for a lower club, he became the highest goal scorer in Portugal and even in Europe in one year winning the prestigious golden boot in all of Europe.
He was now a family friend and he would come to the house often, and then every weekend. He became my "uncle" and we got closer because I would always ask him about games and tips to improve my skills. I remember one of the tips he gave me was that I needed to know how to juggle the ball with both feet because thenI would be a better football player. I never forgot that lesson. I also recall him being a funny person because he always had all the crazy stories about the time he played in Abidjan Ivory Coast/ Côte d' ivoir at the time. He told stories about how they used so much voodoo to play in Abidjan that he would see thing during games and the ball would look like a bird right before he kicked it or sometimes find charms in his boot before games.
I recall one time he took me to eat ice cream and decided to take the bus instead of driving. I remember how special I felt and how people were looking but not sure because he was not someone they expected to see on the bus. That's the kind of person he was - just really down to earth.
He went away for the 1994 World Cup when he score the iconic first goal ever scored my Nigeria In World Cup adding to his record breaking career. He had a very passionate celebration and I asked him when he got back what he was saying as the camera could not make out. "He said he repeated I am Rashidi Yekini of Nigeria.! I can imagine why he would say that even though that was one of the most succulent Nigerian team ever assembled and most talented, he said there was a lot of turmoil inside the team at the time and tribal segregation.
Another time I called was during my sister's naming ceremony, he was in crutches, I can’t recall what injury he suffered at the time, He called me O boy, not sure why, " get me some ice". I was happy to take care of him at the time.
As he became a bigger star in Europe, he was sought after by teams and eventually went to Greece for a short stint and Spain before coming back to Portugal. Then I remember the argument he was having with my dad that he was going to be called for the 98 World Cup but my dad did not think so because of his age at the time. Sure enough, he was called up although he was not a starter.
My most memorable was when he came to watch me play in our annual high school soccer competition Called match festival. That was my favorite time on the soccer field as a kid.
Shortly after that, he suggested to my father that I live with him even after his term was finished in Portugal and play for the same club because I was very good and he could help. My dad believed in education and as much as Yekini was a Nigerian hero, he was an illiterate. A fact that plagued him throughout his career. A player of his caliber should have made better choices with his financial and other decision making but he was always taken advantage of through agents and bad deals and just never really got a big break.
After we left Portugal we lost contact and literally never heard from him again.
As remembered by a Nigerian living in Chicago.