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Rangers and Afrinvest: Partnership of Champions ordained to rule the turf

Prince. Ike Chioke

By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

 The crowning of Rangers International Football Club of Enugu as the winner of the 2023/24 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) is a resounding affirmation of a lofty dream. As Rangers players and officials dominate the streets in their victory parades with AFRINVEST emblazoned on their jerseys, it is crucial to recall that back in October, 2023, the legendary football club signed a sponsorship deal with Afrinvest (West Africa) Limited, a leading financial services and investment management holding company operating out of Nigeria with a focus on Africa.

Rangers and Afrinvest are joined together as unstoppable champions destined to rule the turf, nationally and continentally.

The words of the personable Group Managing Director of Afrinvest, Prince Ike Chioke, at the signing of the sponsorship deal are forever inspirational, thusly: “As a boy born in Enugu and as someone who has supported the state for many years I am particularly delighted. This partnership isn’t just for Afrinvest and the branding partnership for Rangers. What it is, is about the players, about the opportunity to uplift a group of football talents who can in turn become the beacon of hope and restoration for many other young talents. The reason is, if you think about our country today and all the challenges we face, insecurity, poverty, high cost of electricity, petrol and people trying to leave the country in search of greener pastures, what we are trying to do is really to say – since not everyone can be a politician, not everyone can be a musician and then not everyone can go to Nollywood, not even everyone wishes to leave the country and (Japa) like they say, we need to begin to help ourselves. If we can help a group of different Nigerians who happen to play for Rangers to excel and become professionals and hopefully rise to international standards, they too will in turn help other young talents and show them that there is value and pride in doing things professionally. We are wholeheartedly committed to Rangers. Rangers is an embodiment of excellence and we need to continue to foster that. So a victory for Rangers is a victory for all of us, victory for our human capacity to succeed.”

As Prince Chioke eloquently stated, the victory of Rangers is a victory for all because Rangers is not just a football club but a movement.

Now that Rangers International, following the partnership with Afrinvest, has won the coveted Nigerian league title for the 8th time and therefore automatically qualifies to represent Nigeria in the 2024/25 CAF Champions League, it’s worth looking back to understand that the club was born out of dire circumstances.

When the Nigeria-Biafra war ended in January 1970, there was gloom in Igboland. Even as the then Head of State General Yakubu Gowon made the famous announcement of “No Victor, No Vanquished”, the vanquished ones knew themselves as they sauntered back into Nigeria, hungry and broken, after the end of the Biafra struggle.

The legendary football administrator, Jerry Enyeazu, strongly felt that football could lift the spirit. Enyeazu was ably backed by the legal luminary BSC Nzenwa and the financial muscle of Chief AW Ibe for the club eventually named Enugu Rangers to be birthed on January 29, 1970, and baptized on February 25, 1970.

The eminent Nigerian football administrators of that time, notably the iconic Oyo Orok Oyo, at the end of the war stressed that a team from the erstwhile rebel section must be involved for a true national champion to emerge. The Nigerian Army football team, Lagos Garrison, was the reigning kings that had to be matched up with the team from the East. In the pulsating match, the boys from the East defeated the Nigerian Army team 2-1, a clear case of the vanquished turning the table on the victors. A key player from the Nigerian Army team, Paul “Wonder Boy” Hamilton, recalled that the then Col Olusegun Obasanjo was so enraged when he saw the army team in the office of the team coordinator Col George Innih that he nearly had them flogged for “losing to those hungry boys”.

The eastern boys may have been hungry but they were quite determined such that one of their star players, Dominic Nwobodo, who would eventually become a Rangers legend, had his head broken and bloodied but completed the match with a completely bandaged head that earned him the nickname “Alhaji”.

The Rangers team truly lived up to the club’s motto: “From Difficulties to the Heights.” It was from the ruins of the war that Enugu Rangers was formed in 1970, and the team represented Nigeria in the 1971 African Cup of Champion Clubs, reaching the quarter-finals, only to lose to ASEC Mimosas of Cote d’Ivoire.

The pioneer Rangers team of 1970 was made up of Cyril Okosieme in goal, Ernest Ufele and Johnny “Wheeler” Nwosu as full backs, Peter Okeke as defensive midfielder, the skipper Godwin Achebe as central defender with Luke “Jazz Bukana” Okpala as his partner, while the forward players were Mathias Obianika, Kenneh Abana, Dominic Nwobodo, Chukwuma Igweonwu and Shedrack Ajaero.

The founding fathers of Rangers formed the club as a private concern but the government eventually took over by offering financial and sundry logistic support. Rangers had thus far been owned by the East Central State Government, the old Anambra State, and now the Enugu State Government, but the support base transcends geographies.

Strong leadership in chairmanship, coaching and captaincy aided the successes of Rangers over the years. After the founding leaders Jerry Enyeazu and BSC Nzenwa, charismatic Jim Nwobodo took over as chairman before becoming Governor of the old Anambra State. Now the inimitable galvanizer Barrister Amobi Paulinus Ezeaku is at the helm of affairs as G.M/CEO of Rangers International.

The renowned early coaches of Rangers were Dan Anyiam and Godwin Achebe, and the current winning Technical Adviser is Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu.

It is remarkable that crack centre-half Dominic Ezeani who had displaced Skipper Achebe in the gold-winning national team, the Green Eagles, at the 1973 All-Africa Games staged in Lagos equally took over from the legendary Achebe as captain of Rangers, and henceforth led the team to winning the double, that is, the League and Challenge Cup, in 1974.

Skipper Christin Chukwu continued the winning streak. From 1974 to 1984, Rangers captured the F.A Cup four times and won the national league title a then record six times. Rangers International recorded the feat of being double champions (F.A Cup and League winners) back-to-back for an unprecedented three years in a row – 1974, 1975, and 1976.

It is also a record that Rangers represented Nigeria in more continental and sub-regional competitions than any other Nigerian football club. The club played in the CAF Champions Cup in 1975, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1983, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2017, as well as competing in the CAF Cup Winners Cup/Confederation Cup in 1977, 1984, 2007, 2019 as well as WAFU Cup in 1979.

Rangers International won the CAF Winners’ Cup in 1977.

The hope is that with the solid backing of Afrinvest Rangers International will eventually win the coveted CAF Champions League title, the one title that has eluded the club thus far.

Rangers International F.C takes pride of place as the only Nigerian football club that has never been relegated from the top division of the league.

After winning the 1984 F.A Challenge Cup, Rangers suffered a long period of title drought that lasted all of 32 years until winning the 2016 Nigerian Premier Football League (NPFL) trophy with Imama Amapakabo as the coach.

In 2018, Rangers won the FA/AITEO Cup in a titanic match that has come to be dubbed famously as “The Asaba Miracle.”

The honours list of Rangers International is as follows: F.A/Federation Cup Champions – 1974, 1975, 1976, 1981, 1983, 2018; League Champions – 1974, 1975, 1976, 1981, 1982, 1984, 2016 and 2024; CAF Cup Winners Champions – 1977; CAF Champions League Finalist – 1975; F.A Cup Finalist – 13 times.

The current officers of the club are: Barrister Amobi Paulinus Ezeaku – G.M/CEO; Coach Fidelis Ilechukwu – Technical Adviser; Barrister Ferdinand Ugwuarua – Admin. Secretary; Dr. Wen Udorji – Team Doctor; Emeka Ike – Protocol Officer; Christopher Okafor – Kit Manager; Okolie Norbert Okonkwo – Media/Communication Officer; Coach Gabriel Ezema – Chief Coach; Coach Benedict Ugwu – Assistant Coach; Coach Anthony Donwa – Goalkeepers Coach; Coach Okey Odita – Trainer; Albert Ogbodo – Camp Commandant; Onaga Emeka – Psychologist; Gregory Eya – H.O.D Transport; Edwin Obodo – H.O.D Accounts.

The joy for Rangers International today is that the esteemed club has formed a winning partnership with Afrinvest (West Africa) Limited, arguably the most reputable investment banking group in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Given the backing and sponsorship of Afrinvest, winning the coveted 2024/25 CAF Champions League is a charming possibility for the lionized Rangers International FC of Enugu.

 

 

 

 

 

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