Reminiscing my ping-pong days in Lagos

It is gratifying to welcome you to my new born column, INSIDE QUEEN’S LAND, published with a view to updating readers, especially in Nigeria, my native country, of developments in the UK where I am currently resident. But before I go fully into what happens in the UK, I want to open this weekly column today with a particular reminiscence which connects with my background as a Table Tennis player in Lagos.

The event was a Table Tennis match, which was then regarded by the media as arguably the most interesting final between Atanda Musa and the late Yomi Bankole.

The competition was the 10th year anniversary of the Asoju Oba Table Tennis competition which was an annual championship hosted by the Lagos State Sports Council and funded by the late Chief Omolade Okoya Thomas, .a philanthropist with a profound passion for the game. He was the Chairman of  CFAO in Lagos, company with branches all over the country.

Information we had gathered before the competition was that prizes for that year edition would be different; that the star prize for the Men’s singles will be a brand new Peugeot 504 saloon car. So, we all intensified our trainings, even though we all knew the winner of the prize would be between the two topmost gladiators Bankole  and Musa, despite the fact that  Titus Omotara, another great player, was also in the race.

I was also participating alongside Fatai Adeyemo and some other players, but could not make it beyond the round of 16 after Bankole had defeated me, even though his win did not come on a platter of gold. He would go ahead and also defeat Bolaji Niniola in the semi-finals. That was another match played with the adrenaline of the prize at stake. The energy-sapping match ended 3- 2 in Bankole’s favour to set stage for the epic final with the one we all affectionately called King Mansa Musa.

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In all honesty, every player and official wanted Musa to win the coveted prize but were mindful of the danger ahead which was Bankole who was popularly called ‘The Hawk’ of the Nigerian Tennis. Musa was respected as the national number 1 who had won so many laurels for the country before the emergence of Bankole who became a thorn in his flesh, having recorded some upsets against him. They were both the pride of the national team and Skypower Table Tennis Club. Everyone was skeptical about where victory would go. Musa had mobilised support from all the players and also some non-players led by one Omo Aladja and the hall was filled to the brim.

The two finalists were called to action and the game started. Musa, being hailed by the crowd of his voracious supporters, took the first game amidst horrendous ovation. He again took the second game. With the 2-0 score line,  we all thought it would be an easy victory for him but that expectation was dashed as ‘The Hawk’ bounced back and leveled up to make the score line 2-2. Musa was obviously tired, and Olawunmi Majekodunmi, a female Table Tennis player, and other supporters sensing danger, allegedly switched off the light. Then darkness enveloped the entire hall but that moment afforded Musa opportunity to regain his waned strength.

So, when the game resumed, Musa was doing his best to win the last match and enjoying massive chorus of his supporters. I remember they sang  Eni la o mu, ola la o mu, ewo, ala ti o nile se, o riwaju o reyin, loba Oluwa mi ooo. That was a popular fuji music track from the then Alhaji Wasiu Ayinde Barrister, now K1, elpee titled ‘Tala 84’. I was the only voice that supported Bankole and thank God we lost the match. I later learnt that I had been marked for attack were the game went the other way.

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In the end of the tension-soaked encounter, Musa emerged the proud owner of the 504 saloon car while the second prize, a giant refrigerator was given to Bankole who was optimistic of victory and, based on that assurance, brought some cassettes to play to ‘wash’ the car as it is traditional in my country, Nigeria. That competition will forever remain indelible in my memory as the first of its kind in Lagos State.

I want to sign off this week with a special plea to our reigning billionaires to sponsor sporting activities with reasonable cash prizes to engage our youths and discourage them from crime which is currently at an alarming rate. May God forgive the late Chief Molade Okoya Thomas and the late MKO Abiola of their shortcomings. The duo were patriotic Nigerians who committed their wealth into youths’ engagement and empowerment through sports development. Amen.

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