My Husbands Death Was Shattering - Florence Omagbemi



Leaders are born and made. For Florence Omagbemi, she was obviously born to lead.
 Skippo as she is fondly called by teammates, started leading her peers on the pitch from her days in Warri, Delta state while playing soccer with boys up to the senior women's team, the Super Falcons and today she is the chief coach of Nigeria's senior women's team, the Super Falcons. 
In this exclusive interview with me, the young lady tells an amazing story of her rise to stardom, the joy and pains she has had to endure in life.

GE: Let's meet you
FO: My name is Florence Omagbemi. A retired soccer player and now a coach who hails from Warri South Local Government Area of Delta state.
GE: Tell us about your parents and what growing up was like
FO: My dad is itsekiri, he was a civil servant and mum was a tailor and trader. I was very close to my dad who was a socialite, he loved me so much and we had so many things in common. My mum is partly from Ghana because his dad was from Accra. My parents had five boys and three girls. Sadly we lost our elder sister during childbirth. I grew up a Tom Boy because I played football with my brothers and some other boys after school hours and this was when I was 8 years old or there about. As expected, my parents were worried that I was mingling with boys on the football field and feared I could get injured in the process. As a former footballer himself, dad later encouraged me. I lost my mum in 2014 and dad passed in 2016. I miss them both so much.
GE: At what point did you take football seriously
FO: People who were impressed by my performances on the pitch connected me with my first coach, Napoleon Aluma who was then the youth coach and founder of Invisible Leopards Football club of Warri. And the rest as they say is history.
GE: Was there a women's team in Warri at this point?
FO: No. I played with the boys because we couldn't find enough girls to raise a team. However, we were able to put together a women's team in 1990/91. I became a foundation member of Ufuoma Babes football club of Warri in the 1991/92 season and we were very good.
GE: You became popular playing for Princess Jegede in Lagos
FO: That's true. Actually, my quest to further my education made me leave Ufuoma Babes for Princess Jegede because she told me I could go to the University of Lagos and still play the game I loved so much. This was in 1992/93.
GE: Did Princess Jegede fulfill her promise to you
FO: Yes, she did. I went to the University of Lagos where I obtained a diploma in Physical and Health Education. In fact, going to school was fulfilling my brothers dream who wanted me to combine football with education.
GE: Biggest move of your career
FO: This was when I joined Pelican Stars of Calabar in 1997 as the highest paid player in the league. I can't remember the amount now but the money was good. The late Ntiero Effiom was our coach. We won the league and FA Cup that year.
GE: Who would you credit for the growth of women football in Nigeria
FO: Credit must go to so many people who pioneered what is known today as women football in Nigeria. People like Eddington Kuejubola, Princess Jegede, Alhaja Ayo Omidiran, Larry Angels, Christopher Abesuga and many others. How can I forget the late Alhaja Simbiat Abiola and late Mariam Babangida? These are people who invested in the game without support from the private sector. While Kuejubola took the game to a different level, Princess Jegede put structures in place for its growth. I was very close to the late Marian Babangida and I could remember how well she treated us whenever we visited Dodan Barracks to ask for support for the Super Falcons in 1991. I was like a daughter to her.
GE: What was it like when you were Invited to the national team in 1991.
FO: I was very excited even though I knew it was just a matter of time for me to be called up because I had worked so hard and was good at what I was doing. I was just 15 years old. The only thing I missed was my family that I was used to seeing everyday back home in Warri. But they were all happy for me.
GE: How easy was it playing in the national team.
FO: It was different in the sense that one was representing Nigeria but it was easy because I had most of my team mates from Ufuoma Babes in the team. We were picked from Princess Jegede's mini tournament held in Lagos which was used to recruit players in preparation for the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup scheduled for China same year. We beat Ghana and Cameroun to qualify for the event.
GE: How come you've always been captain of all the teams you've played
FO: True, From the very beginning, from start to finish it's always been like that. It's the grace of God. I've always led my team mates from Ufuoma Babes in Warri. I can't say what all my coaches saw in me. But I think my leadership qualities on and off the pitch. I am an organizer, I was born with the quality to lead, I call it destiny.
GE: What impact did coach Paul Hamilton have on you and the national team in 1991
FO: Paul Hamilton was the first national women's coach who took a big challenge that many coaches in his shoes would have turned 
down. Coaching women isn't easy but he did a great job and laid the foundation for others to follow and improve upon. Credit also goes to the man who assisted him, Niyi Akande from 3SC of Ibadan. We also can't forget others like coach Ismaila Mabo and a few others who also played their parts in elevating women football in Nigeria. I learnt a lot from them.
GE: Favourite food
FO: I love rice, chicken and plantain. I used to love Ghanaian food because my mum cooked delicacies like kenke, mixed with oil and plantain a lot. Unfortunately, I can't cook Ghanaian food.
GE: Who was your best friend in the national team
FO: As a leader, I made all my teammates my friends. We were one big family and I can't point out one who was my best. All were my friends. Same thing applies to the clubs i played for.
GE: One issue that trails women football in Nigeria and the world over is lesbianism, have you ever seen your teammates practice it and what's your opinion about this
FO: I will be lying to myself to say that I haven't heard about this but the truth is that there's no fact or proof that any of my colleagues engaged in it in our time in the national team or even now. Women will always bond as a group. Nothing more as far as I know.
GE: Role model
FO: The late Stephen Keshi and Samson Siasia inspired me so much. I never missed any opportunity to go to the stadium to watch them play as a kid. Another player I looked up to was Wilson Oruma. I knew him at Invisible Leopards back home in Warri.
GE: Tell us about your first relationship
FO: It happened in Lagos in the early 90s while playing for Princess Jegede. He was a course mate at the University of Lagos who was also playing football in the league in Nigeria before he went abroad. We dated for so many years and we naturally thought it was going to end up in marriage.
GE: Why didn't the relationship end up in marriage
FO: I think we were too young and inexperienced to understand how to handle a relationship. He had his career ahead of him just like I had. We were busy trying to make it in life and we drifted after we both travelled out of the country. He's a Yoruba guy who is happily married now. We are still good friends though.
GE: Regrets in life
FO: Losing my husband in 2009 was tough for me. His death was shattering. He was sick while in Nigeria in 2004 and I was in the states.
GE: You're in love with jersey numbers 14 and 17
FO: I wore so many numbers in my career. Like 2, 14 and 17 but 14 was a number that kept me going. Daniel Amokachi also made me fall in love with it too.
GE: Favourite colors
FO: Blue is the colour. I love it because it symbolizes peace. I do put on other colours though.
GE: What did you do with your first salary
FO: Can't really remember what I did with my first salary. Fact is I've always been a bread winner as an adult, I spent almost all I earned on my family. I would change all the furniture in the house, and so many other things that would bring comfort to my family. One thing is certain and that is God places you in a position no matter how young to lift your people. Don't get me wrong, I am not from a poor home. My family was middle class. I still provide for my family even as we speak because we are one great family and we love each other so much.
GE: Any phobia
FO: Not at all.
GE: Tell me your experience at the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup in china
FO: Hmmm! We were struggling to convince Nigerians that women could play football. We had a point to prove that we expected would earn us support back home. We went to the World Cup with passion and love of the game. We went out of Africa for the first time with little or no experience and we did our best. It was a good experience and that certainly opened the door to others.

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