ECN Brought Me In To Limelight —Hamilton

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Coach Paul Hamilton, a renowned footballer during his hey days is one of the stars of yester-years who should be celebrated by Nigerians.

The former Super Falcons coach started his career at a tender age of five in a small village called ‘Agbere’, Bayelsa State in the South South area of Nigeria.

Just as great players such as Haruna Ilerika, Christian Chukwu and Adokie Amaesimaka to mention just a few, shone like million stars many years ago, Hamilton was a household name in Agbere village because of his football talent. He was outstanding among his peers, and the dark skinned Hamilton’s football skill was natural.

As a very young football star then, Hamilton did not spend much time in Bayelsa before his style of play earned him a move to Onitsha in Anambra State, where he joined up with his parents.

Hamilton, popularly known as ‘Wonder Boy’ amongst his teammates, in his calm manner, could not control his emotion, as he narrates how he became a super star shortly after he arrived in Lagos, where his football career blossomed in the early 60s.

His coming to Lagos in 1961 was not by accident, a perfect design by God to reward his hardwork as a football genius.

Walter Obianwu, a member of the defunct Electricity Company of Nigeria, ECN Football Club, had approached Hamilton and told him that his service was needed in the club. Obianwu actually selected Hamilton then because he watched him play on many occasions in Onitsha, and was convinced he would help the team to greatness in Lagos. Trust the young Hamilton, he did not disappoint.

“It was a dream come true when I joined ECN FC of Lagos. When Obianwu told my mother that he would take me to Lagos to sign for ECN then, she was happy and gave me her support. But my father did not know why I was going to Lagos until a month later,” Hamilton recalls.

The one time coach of the senior national team, who attended Zik Secondary School in Onitsha between 1957-1961, revealed that he never regretted playing for ECN, as their wonderful fans were always there to cherish their players.

“I enjoyed my stay at ECN. I could not leave the club because they treated me like a king back then. I enjoyed my time at the club because the fans and management of the club liked my game.

“When the fans saw my game, they did not want me to sign for another club, so they always monitored my movement. I can’t forget my late friend, Chief Ralph Beresford Bamidele Johnston, who died a few days ago. He and many ECN fans supported me with everything and I also played my best for them.”

Hamilton, who got his nickname ‘Wonder B,’ from ECN fans and his late friend, Johnston, recalls how football earned him a place among the big boys of the 60s.

“Like I said, the fans of ECN were very influential and vibrant just like the fans Manchester, Liverpool or Chelsea of today. It was always crazy when we filed out to play because they cared for their players. Don’t forget that I was a striker during my playing days, and I scored regularly for ECN. So the fans nicknamed me ‘Wonder Boy’ because my goals often brought joy to the team. But, deep inside me, I also knew that my goals brought pain to our opponents, but I had no choice since that’s what I was paid to do.” said Hamilton, who is the Proprietor of the Weekend Football Academy based in Lagos.

The former Green Eagles coach said he came to the limelight when he started playing for ECN of Lagos. His scoring prowess then could be compared to that of Robin Van Persie of Manchester United of England.

Going down memory lane, Hamilton’s goal led ECN to win the 1965 Challenge Cup and he still cherishes the feat till today.

“I can’t forget the 1965 Challenge Cup final, when we confronted the defunct Stationery Stores of Lagos. It was a tension soaked match that we played at King George IV field, now known as the Onikan Stadium. The stadium was filled to capacity and fans of both teams were chanting war songs during the game. Before we knew it, Stores got their first goal.

“I knew that we would win the match, so I was not afraid, neither was I jittery because we had a balanced team. As the game progressed, my late friend, Johntson cried out from the stand, saying ‘Hamilton, where are you?’

“That’s the way our fans react anytime our club was down those days. The word touched me and it was long after hearing that message from the stand that I scored the equaliser.

“And…Wao, the atmosphere was charged and our fans went into wild jubilation. I can’t remember who scored the winning goal but all I knew was that we eventually defeated Stores 2-1 to emerge champions of that year,” the ex-player said.

While recalling his happiest day in his football career, Hamilton said the day he scored a goal against Stationery Stores was his happiest. He explained that his performance on that day was outstanding, as he gave his best to ensure that his club won the Challenge Cup.

“I was on top of the world when the fans carried me shoulder high from Onikan to Marina, where our team camped at that time. What happened after our team defeated Stores was new to me as a player that time. I was so happy because I did not disappoint our fans who believed in me.”

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Hamilton also recalls how he was celebrated in the Nigerian media after the victory. Then, the West African Pilot published his story with a screaming headline ‘Hamilton Brings Down LAFA Building.’

“After the Challenge Cup, I became known to the country. The top Journalists in the country ran after me for interviews, and many people told me I was a super star and that I was a popular player who played for the national team.

“I got a call up to the Green Eagles in 1961 and played for Nigeria till 1974. I scored many goals for Nigeria during the period for my country,” he said.

Asked why he ended his career with ECN, Hamilton said it did not occur to him to change the club because ECN was one of the best clubs in the country those days.

“I enjoyed myself at ECN and never thought of leaving the club for any reason.”

Having succeeded as a player, Hamilton was given an appointment to lead the Super Eagles to the African Cup of Nations held in Morocco ’98, where Nigeria lost 1-2 to Cameroon in the final.

After retirement, he was again hired as coach of the U-20 national team. He also coached the Eagles in 1989, before the Nigeria Football association relieved him of his job when the country failed to qualify for the 1990 FIFA World Cup.

Hamilton also coached the Super Falcons to their first World Cup in China in 1991. He said coaching the female team is different from coaching their male counterparts.

“It is an opportunity for me to taste almost all the national team assignments. I did my best for my country as a player and a coach. I never regretted working for the country at all. That’s why I want to thank the NFF, for giving me the opportunity to serve my country those days.”

Hamilton sure enjoyed a lot with good memories, but he told P.M.News how an ailment nearly cut short his life recently. He described the period as a very sad one, “the saddest day of my life was when I was struck by an ailment called prostate cancer.”

He said it was God who saved his life because many of his colleagues who once suffered such ailment did not survive it.

Hamilton, who was on his sick bed at LUTH for nine months, narrated how some good Nigerians rescued him from the ailment.

“The ailment brought sadness to my life but I thank God that I survived it. I can’t believe that I can still be alive to tell the story of my life today. I want to use this medium to thank Dr. Akinyemi, Dr. Ogunjimi, Dr. Bello and other consultants who treated and saved my life.”

Hamilton, who was in tears while recalling his experience during his time at LUTH, also thanked the media for the role they played during his travails. He thanked Sunny Ojagbese of Complete Sports, Larry Izamoje of Brila FM and other newspapers such as P.M.News, The Sun, Punch and many others for their support while he was in the hospital.

“I cannot forget my wife, who stood by me during my stay in the hospital. I thank the Nigerian coaches and football administrators for their unflinching support,” he said.

Hamilton is expected to be a happy man, having enjoyed a swell playing career and ending as a respected coach who handled the Eagles. But…

“My son, Priye died in 2003 in his sleep in America. I can’t say this or that caused his death. Oh! Please….please…(Hamilton burst into tears)…I don’t want to remember his death again because I don’t want to cry over this anymore…(sobs)”.

Hamilton said he would have been an Engineer if he didn’t play football, disclosing that his father was an Engineer during his life time.

“I would have followed his footstep, but that was not my destiny.” Hamilton received his UEFA coaching license in the summer of 2006 and remains a grateful for all that he has achieved in life.

—SUNDAY  AKINTOYE