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Remembering Muda Lawal, 30 Years After

Muda Lawal
Muda Lawal

July 11, (THEWILL) – Thirty years ago, Nigeria lost a football gem and an inimitable player of repute. The country was thrown into mourning on Saturday, July 6, 1991 when the death of talented midfielder and Super Eagles legend, Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal, popularly known as Muda Lawal, was announced.

The memories of Muda Lawal’s giftedness were rekindled during the week, especially on the exact day that he passed on to eternal glory.  The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) paid tribute to the memory of the Nigerian football icon in a message sent through its official Twitter handle.

The tweet reads, “Muda Lawal inspired Nigeria to their 1st #AFCON title in 1980 and he was the first player to appear in five successive editions of the competition. 30 years ago today, the Super Eagles legend passed away, aged 37.”

The reflective account of the life of the player sums up what is known as an inspiring tale of football artistry, talent and determination to reach higher for the glory of self and team. It is a story that began in 1954 and, to be precise, in Abeokuta where Lawal was born on June 8, 1954.

Although Lawal worked as an automobile mechanic before his football talents were discovered, not much information on his youthful years has been collated for posterity. The Super Eagles midfielder, who marshaled the advance and retreat of the attack line with the dexterity of a commando, began to hone his football skills as a player with the IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan (now renamed Shooting Stars Sports Club or 3SC) in 1975 almost at the same time as he made his international debut with the Nigeria national team. He must have been 21 years-old at the time.

Lawal played decisive roles in his first foray into club competition with the Shooting Stars Sports Club. He played with the club between 1975 and 1984. He even returned to 3SC in 1989 as a player and coach before he passed on in 1991.

He won the African Cup Winners’ Cup with the club in 1976. The victory was a historic event of note because it made 3SC (then known as IICC Shooting Stars) become the first Nigerian club to win an international trophy in the history of domestic football in Nigeria and in the history of the country’s involvement in continental football competitions.

In 1985, Lawal moved on to the Stationery Stores after the military administrator of Oyo State at the time disbanded 3SC. He spent a year at Stationery Stores, another year at Abiola Babes Football Club before returning to a rebranded 3SC where the rest of his football career in domestic clubs was spent as an assistant player and coach until his demise. His high club mobility was a testament to the acknowledgement of his talent and the desire of all the clubs to have him in their payroll.

However, the rivalry for domination of the domestic league between 3SC and Stationery Stores meant that Lawal played on both sides with distinction. Of the three dominant clubs at the time, the only one he did not play for was Enugu Rangers International, where the extremely dogged ad fearsome goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala, held sway. Rangers were the type of club that approached every game seriously, as if their very lives depended the on it. To the management of the club and players, the passion for success was second nature.

In Lawal, a passion for home-based football carried the midfielder back to Abeokuta when he joined a young club financed by the corporate magnate and serial entrepreneur of his town, the late Bashorun Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola. The club eponymously named after the businessman, publisher and politician was promoted to the Nigerian First Division in 1984 after winning the Second Division trophy and Lawal joined them three years later.

Abiola Babes won the Nigerian FA Cup in 1987 and improved upon their previous appearance on the continental level. A first round exit in the year before Lawal joined the club was how they marked their debut in the Africa Cup Winners’ Cup. However, it was a much stronger side that went into the competition in 1987, with Lawal dictating the tempo of the game in the midfield. The team went as far as the semi-finals before they were knocked out.

Muda Lawal was capped 86 times and he scored 12 goals for his country from the midfield where he was most influential. His commanding presence in the midfield was enough to make him the only player on the continent to have appeared at five consecutive Nations’ Cup finals from 1976 to 1984. This was the fact recognised by FIFA in their tribute to his memory.

Lawal’s gift of midfield management, which was a defining factor in his club games, helped to guide Nigeria’s Green Eagles (now Super Eagles) to their first- ever African Nations Cup title in 1980.

As African champions, Nigeria’s football profile leapt high on a global scale and the national football team also qualified for the Moscow Olympic Games held in 1980. But it would be many years later, at the Atlanta Games in 1996, that a Nigerian team under the captainship of Nwankwo Kanu went all the way to clinch the gold medal in the football event.

Back in August 18, 1985, Lawal played his last international match in the colours of the Super Eagles in a match that Nigeria lost to Zambia while seeking qualification for the 1986 African Cup of Nations. Although, he did not lace his boots for country again, he continued in his role at 3SC until his unfortunate and untimely death. He was reported to have died in his home.

The Ashero Stadium in Abeokuta, Ogun State was named after Lawal, the homeboy who grew into a football icon and helped his country win two bronze medals, a silver medal and a gold medal from four AFCON tournaments. This they hope will keep his memory fresh in the hearts of football fans.