|Thunder Balogun, a true legend – Son
Engineer Olamide Teslim Balogun, one of the sons of the Nigeria’s soccer legend, Thunder Balogun, in this interview idolises the effervescent star, saying that the late striker was one of the best players to have come out of the country.
Balogun, who is a director at the Lagos State Public Works Corporation (LSPWC), also advises the Super Eagles’ captain, Joseph Yobo, to quit the national team when the ovation is loudest.
Share with us the memories of your father, the soccer legend, Teslim Thunder Balogun. Balogun played at both professional and international levels as a striker before he became Africa's first qualified professional football coach.
He played for a number of teams which includes Apapa Bombers, Marine Athletics, UAC XI, Railways XI, Jos XI, Pan Bank Team, Dynamos Club and SCOA XI. He also won the Challenge Cup for seven times.
After originally touring with a Nigerian select team in 1949, he returned to the UK in August 1955 to sign with Peterborough United. He spent time with Skegness Town before signing with Queens Park Rangers, scoring three goals in 13 appearances in the Football League during the 1956-57 season. After leaving QPR, he returned to non-league football, playing with Holbeach United.
He was also a member of the Nigerian national side for 17 years and also became the first African to qualify as a professional coach. He was a coach for Nigeria at the 1968 Summer Olympics.
He was nicknamed Thunder because of his powerful shot and was also known as Balinga for a similar reason. During his time touring schools to coach youngsters, he was nicknamed Baba Ball.
Teslim Akanni Thunder Balogun was a complete gentleman. He speaks all the three major languages in Nigeria –Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba fluently during his life time which, I believe, helped him while playing for various clubs sides in the North and the Eastern parts of the country. He was well known to the like of Dan Anyam and others who were pioneers of the game in the country. I believe they succeeded in getting Nigerians interested in football with the way and manner the game was handled at that time.
Thunder was able to worm himself into people’s hearts with his football skills because he was a great dribbler and scorer too. I can also recall that he got his western education while in England where he played so many clubs.
He was a national hero too. He represented Nigeria and won so many laurels for himself and the country at international competitions.
We would like to know if he was discouraged from playing football because many parents at that time want their wards to go to school.
Well, he was fortunate because he has parents who were liberal. I believe his parents saw the talents in him and encouraged him to forge ahead in the game. As said, Thunder was educated and was able to combine his academics with football. He however encouraged his children to pay more attention to academics rather than football.
How do you feel being the child of this great soccer legend?
I feel humbled and honoured. My joy knows no bounds each time people talk about him and how he wrecked havoc on so many opponents during his time. At this point, I must commend the Lagos State Government for naming the sporting edifice in Surulere after him. The Stadium was named by Lagos State military administrator, Rear Admiral Mike Aikhigbe during his tenure and it was retained by former governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the incumbent governor, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola.
I believe the naming of the stadium was done in recognition of his contributions to the round leather game because he coached in Lagos after his playing career.
Apart from the naming of the Stadium in his honour, what is the family doing to further immortalise him?
We floated a foundation in his name and the idea was muted to give to the needy in sports. It was established about five years ago and we have actually touched so many lives. We also put together an academy and a football competition where talented players will be discovered from the localities. So, the first edition of the tournament will take place at Ikorodu and we hope the subsequent ones will be brought to the mainland of the state.
At the academy level, we are not doing badly as we have many kids in the Under-12, Under-13, Under-14, Under 15, Under-16 and the Under 17. Our team won the last edition of Yemi Tella football tournament and we are hoping to get to the quarterfinals of the state’s FA Cup.
How would you quantify the amount of football you played?
I would have equalled my father’s records if not for a back injury that I sustained. I played good football while I was in secondary school, but the injury stopped me from attaining the expected height in the game.
Are you likely to allow your wards choose football as a career?
Of course, football is in the family and any child that prefers to play the game should be allowed to do so. In fact, it is painful that none of us stepped into our father’s shoes, but let me assure you that Teslim Thunder Balogun’s replica will emerge soon. Some of our offspring are beginning to show interest in playing the game and we will definitely provide them all the support they need.
What is your take on the Super Eagles’ captain, Joseph Yobo’s exclusion from the list of players invited for the World Cup qualifier against Kenya on March 23?
For me, Yobo is a great player that has served this country with all his heart, but my honest advice for him is to quit the scene when the ovation is loudest. He should excuse himself and will be celebrated forever.